The wise evolution of cultural affinities and loyalties is something nations must pay careful attention to, warns Ayaan Hirst Ali in a National Post article documenting her personal history. In fact it appears from her advice that it is a maxim that cities must understand in order to evolve governance that works in their post-modern pluralistic realities.
Ali is a Somalian born woman who speaks from the experience of surviving the brutalizing Islamic beliefs and practices of her Somalian heritage, with childhood transits through Saudi Arabia and Kenya until she immigrated to Holland. Remarkably she became a film maker and politician who risked her life (before, during and after her affiliation with producer Theo Van Gogh who was assasinated because of their joint actions) documenting the travails of women in Islamic culture in the Netherlands. Those experiences brought her into confrontation with the Dutch consititution which essentially could not protect her against the immigration cultures whose religious rights trumped the more progressive rights of the European Dutch culture.
Ali points out the irony, that the Dutch culture (along with most other European cultures) has a bloody and conflicted history that has emerged a pluralistic society, that permits allegiances to religious and cultures that basically undermine the very tenets of Holland’s permissive nationhood. Thus, Ali has chosen to emigrate to the United States. Why? She points to the melting pot precepts enshrined in the US constitution that separate politics and religion and demand loyalty to nation that supercedes loyalty to less inclusive cultural entitities (like religions, professions or organizations). The US conditions for cultural life, Ali, apparently believes will ensure greater wellbeing and freedom for individuals with careful circumscription of the tyrrany of collectives, and represents a hallmark of how she wants to live and therefore where she wants to live.
What catches my imagination about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s story is that she seems to have defined a critical pre-trans fallacy related to governance. She points out that at the national scale, it makes no sense to subjugate more complex governance systems to the precepts of less complex governance systems. In a permissive society like Holland (or much of northern Europe, Scandinavia, UK and Canada) if you tilt the law so that the cultural rules of immigration cultures are allowed to trump the cultural rules of the country who enabled the immigrants into the country, then you recreate the conditions from the country of origin in the country of greater progress. Essentially she seems to be saying, beware that the rules formed in the traditional and pre-modern cauldrons of families, clans and feudal dictators do not get imported into the modern and post-modern nations of constitutions, rules of law and social safety nets. Do not taint the privileges of the social safety net with the horrors of Sharia law, honour killings, female circumcision, gender inequality and religious schools supported by the state.
Such is the all too real description of the pre-trans fallacy that uses the arguments from less inclusive cultures (the “pre”-inclusive cultures) to undermine the values of more inclusive cultures (the “trans”-inclusive).
With such a stark warning at the national scale, it raises a similar warning flag at the city scale. For the same considerations need to be given for the undermining of school systems (eg. the rules that include or exclude children based on cultural divides), health care systems (eg. rules that mis-match health solutions with health challenges), civic governance (eg. rules that govern public and private spaces) and city development (eg. rules that privilege some investment decisions over others).
If we care about our cities we must create governance systems that enable us to Take Care of Ourselves, Take Care of Each Other and Take Care of This Place in a way that includes the transpersonal, transcollective and translocal without undermining wellbeing with what amounts to “idiot compassion” on a grand scale.