Lessons on diversity from the Mediterranean

There is much to be learned from the Old World on maintaining peace through embracing differences.

Identity is a powerful thing. So powerful that when I arrived home in South Africa from a two-year study/travel stint in Madrid, I sobbed my guts out in the bathroom stall listening to the vibrant traditional Zulu choral singing of the cleaning ladies in the bathroom of the KwaZulu-Natal Airport.

I left the country as many have because they feel that in their own country, they’re not welcome. When I arrived home from Madrid, the singing in the bathroom signalled I’m home. Something that would be considered so foreign to me was also very much a part of me. While I was warmly embraced in Madrid, I couldn’t let my South African identity go. Somehow parts of me resonate with South African Nguni choral singing, it had woven itself into my identity.

In Spain, everyone thought I was British. And yes, to a degree I am, I’m a colonial descendant in what was once a Commonwealth country. But the thing is, I’m not British. I don’t have any shared history with British people my age living in Britain today. If I were to live there I would find it hard to fit in because at age 38, I have a fair amount of distinctly South African experiences that compile my psyche, and quite simply because I like South Africa, I am a genetically mixed South African citizen and it is my home. Which brings us to the question, what makes you who you are? Diversity is arguably one of the most important topics today as it concerns our ability to accept the differences of others. To embrace and to learn. This is the cornerstone of democracy. But embracing others doesn’t mean “anything goes”.

In the EU, diversity is not a case of “anything goes”, or expressing yourself at any cost. It’s about managing the inflows of foreigners in such a way that they embrace the values of the EU, while their own values are embraced by the locals. It’s complete acceptance of difference. According to the in-depth report on diversity by Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Madrid, diversity should convey the idea that people can be completely different and still be treated the same.

Diversity is the complete rejection of discrimination against anyone, for any reason whatsoever. Alan Turing, the famous mathematician and code breaker was 29 years old when he cracked the Nazi’s infamous “Enigma” machine. He was also a homosexual. Because of old discriminatory laws, instead of celebrating his incredible and heroic feat, he was sentenced to chemical castration in Great Britain. So a young man, a genius, with everything to offer the world committed suicide due to depression, following his chemical castration. This is what discrimination is. It doesn’t care who you are, whether you’re a genius or an everyday person, according to old discriminatory laws, you’re done for. If discrimination is allowed to run rampant in society the effect is toxic at all levels.

In 2020, when the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom signed the Diversity Charter, its vice president Sabine Leutheursser-Schnarrenberger said;

“Establishing a sign of appreciation for diversity is, therefore, a human social imperative, but also an economic one. In addition to discrimination, the Diversity Charter is also directed against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia”.

Many who support the proclivities of Putin and the Kremlin discriminate against minorities. We can see how the principle of diversity and non-discrimination is important as ever when in 2023, 70 years after the death of Turing, discrimination caused what has been referred to as the worst atrocities committed since World War Two by Russia against Ukraine.

Some reading this might say, but your country is falling apart, the crime level is sky high, the unemployment is outrageous, your lights go on and off throughout the day and night and everyone is poor. Why should we trust in diversity?

But this isn’t an article about how bad things are here. It’s an article about how we can take our differences and turn them into a fabric woven with cultures from all nations. Despite the blackouts, floods, riots and bad governance in South Africa, everyone is intrinsically a part of everyone else, this is diversity, it can’t be removed, it’s who we are and because of it, we are more able to withstand adversity together.

Have we come a long way from cutting the throats of people we disagree with? We’ve certainly struggled and are still struggling through the grit that produces the pearl, learning to recognise ourselves in the other. It was indeed a wonderful confirmation of progress that after the death of the famed singer Johnny Clegg in 2019, he was not accused of cultural appropriation but instead loved and cherished as a South African who took Zulu tribal culture into his heart and made it his own.

Spain, Portugal, and Italy, with their rich histories and diverse cultural landscapes, are prime examples of countries that benefit immensely from embracing diversity. These nations, known for their historical encounters with various civilisations have become vibrant melting pots, blending the old with the new.

How do countries Spain, Italy and Portugal fight for freedom? By connecting liberal-minded individuals and institutions from across the Mediterranean, West Africa and Europe. They combat intolerance by finding cross-regional solutions in the areas of migration, economic cooperation, energy, human rights, the rule of law and integrated security.

The FNF Madrid office for Spain, Italy and Portugal put together a special documentary compiled of discussions from prominent liberals and everyday people who have experienced discrimination and play their part in eliminating discrimination by bringing their own intrinsic individual diversity and experiences into the conversation.

Watch the documentary here:

At this point you will find an external content that complements the content. You can display it with one click.

© FNF Madrid