Cultural diversity? It is our best chance to have a future
Elisa Pierandrei 21 April 2011

“By birth, training or professional choice, we all belong somewhere, but we must not allow ourselves to become enslaved by this belonging. We must overcome identity obsessions opening our eyes to the great opportunities offered by the world.” It is thus that one wins the challenge posed by cosmopolitism, explains Roberto Ruffino, secretary general of the Intercultura Foundation, for years committed to international exchanges. This is a destiny already experienced by many young Italians, who are increasingly educated abroad in order to face the challenges of a global society. Intercultura data reveals that this year 1,565 high-school students will take part in an international programme (over 100% more compared to 10 years ago), half of which will spend a school year away from Italy, mainly between the United States (275), Germany (47) and China (45). This is a world in which the leading players must be citizens of the world and for whom the concept of identity is no longer linked to a nation, but rather to a process of cultural formation.

The Iranian expert Vahid V. Motlagh, a member of the World Futures Studies Federation, and founder of, observes, “When asked ‘Where do you come from?’ some youngsters nowadays have problems in answering since they no longer feel they belong to a specific country, culture or language etc,” says Vahid. “Nowadays there is a post-modern concept that is more interesting to explore, that of “multiple identities,” hence, one of people who have acquired a degree of cultural “fluidity.” One practical example is that of linguistic identity, explains Vahid. “My parents obliged me to learn Persian, the American empire obliged me to learn English, Ayatollah Khomeini made me learn Arabic, but no one obliged me to learn Italian. This is my linguistic freedom of choice.”

At the international conference entitled “Recreating Babel; teaching cosmopolitism” organized by the Intercultura Foundation in Milan from April 7th to the 9th, Motlagh and the other 36 experts (among them Fred Dallmayr, John Lupien, Giancarlo Bosetti, Marco Aime, and Ramin Jahanbegloo) explained how social, political and economic events in the 20th Century, including the very recent events in North Africa and Japan, are almost all of an international nature and allow us to understand well how it is impossible to live within the political and cultural borders of one’s own state or nation.

The author, director and scientific publisher, Francesco Cavalli Sforza, who at the conference in Milan discussed “Science and Cosmopolitism”, says cultural diversity is without doubt the best chance we have to ensure we have a future. “Since every culture provides a distinct approach to interaction with the environment,” explained Cavalli Sforza, “living and thinking styles developed by each of the 5,000-6,000 peoples inhabiting the world, represent as many alternatives for interaction with global environments, each with elements of success. They are as a whole like a store filled with means made available to humankind, in which one can search for what one needs to face the challenges posed by a continuously changing environment. Poor societies, that draw their livelihood from the earth or the sea using methods we consider primitive and using traditional tools, are today in a position of great disadvantage compared to the developed world’s urban societies. Should we lack the energy that feeds these societies, the situation could be overturned and there would perhaps be many more peripheral cultures we now consider backwards that would find themselves at an advantage in ensuring their own survival.”

The conference also attempted to find an answer for the following question: “To what extent are Italians ready to interiorize a comparison with other cultures and societies?” An IPSOS survey reveals that this is a country divided into three when people were asked what their attitude was towards a multicultural Italy inhabited peacefully by people of different ethnic origins. 28.4% of those interviewed fear such an idea and observe it with suspicion and curiosity, 29.7% awaits it with confidence (in particular the younger generations) while 35% considers it inevitable, especially according to those in the north-east and the centre of the country.

“I find it rather strange that in Europe people have recently been listening to speakers (authoritative ones such as for example Angela Merkel) proclaiming the failure of a multicultural Europe,” commented Roberto Toscano, President of the Intercultura Foundations and a former Italian ambassador to Teheran and New Delhi. “It is strange because Europe is already, like it or not, objectively and irreversibly multicultural. Multiculturalism (or perhaps it would be better to say multicultural) is a fact, not a political-ideological option. The idea of homogeneous European countries is simply a reactionary utopia.” This does not only apply to present times. “As clearly emerged from the first conference held by the Intercultura Foundation on Italian identity, held in Siena in December 2008, Italian culture (just like that of other European countries) is historically, ethnically and linguistically multicultural. Only Mussolini could believe that Italians are the direct and exclusive descendents of the ancient Romans (forgetting the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans, the Lombards, the Visigoths etc.)”. “Just as Babel should be experienced not as a loss but as enrichment, on condition we are capable of recreating universal communication based on the acceptance of diversity, will the disconcerting incomprehensible cacophony of the Biblical Babel become harmony, cultural and human polyphony.”

Translated by Francesca Simmons



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