Who are we?

first_imgKHURUM BUKHARI examines Oxford’s diasporas and questions of identity within the UniversityIn the 12th century, the Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi wrote “While I in western lands do pine, My heart is in the East.” For the “diaspora”, the Jewish communities outside Palestine, those lines poignantly reflected the anxious yearning for one’s homeland and encompassed the difficulties of living in one culture while belonging to another. In an increasingly globalised world, where mass immigration and travel allow people of different cultures to settle in those of others, diasporas of diverse nationalities and ethnicities are created every single minute and accompanying them are those potential anxieties about the loss or subordination of native culture to the host. Often the central question to these communities and their offspring is that of identity. Britain has played host, and still does, to countless numbers of communities from across the globe. Bringing their own customs, lifestyles and beliefs intertwined within the social and economic fabric of their respective homelands, the notion of a cultural identity seems to be enduringly potent within such groups. But what of the children of immigrants born in the host country? As someone born and brought up in Britain, in a Pakistani Shia Muslim household, I was bound to be aware of my background. I had always felt a sense of “otherness”, something engendered mainly by the language of my household and the religious and cultural activities particular to my community. In addition, my exposure to other, different communities was severely lacking, only having had significant contact with members of my own. Coming to Oxford was a revelation; I was confronted not only by people of different class, ethnic and cultural backgrounds but also by a growing realisation and anxiety, that I belonged not only to one culture but to another, the “British”. It was “bi-cultural anxiety syndrome” such as that found in books such as Hanif Kureshi’s Buddha of Surburbia and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. For those in a similar situation, Oxford’s many student societies offer direction. Societies from Turkish Soc to Majlis Asian Society, to Jewish Soc and the Islamic society aim primarily to promote and publicise their respective cultures, be they ethnic, national or religious. But they are also places for people of a certain background to mix with other members of their communities who experience the difficulties of trying to reconcile one culture with another. For Jewish Soc President, Roni Tabick, who has lived and was educated in predominantly Jewish areas, Oxford life proved to be somewhat unusual. “Fridays nights were difficult because of Sabbath” and everyday conversation became a humorous affair, “I was using Yiddish words with non-Jewish people.” The Jewish Soc provided him with a forum to meet other student members of the Jewish community who faced similar difficulties. But many question the “ghetto” effect that such societies have on what is intended to be a “multicultural“ environment. Members of a similar community often cluster together, their interaction indirectly exclusive to members of their own university community. A student at St Peters comments “it’s obvious when people of one community hang around together, especially if they are of a different colour. They are very cliquey – they seem to be segregating themselves and are ruining things”. Roni Tabick disagrees, “Of course when people of one particular community who do solely hang about together it’s a shame as it ruins their experience of the wider world”. But for many attached to their culture, the joy of mixing with members of their own community is both inevitable and a matter of pure circumstance rather than an active and discriminating effort to find people of similar backgrounds, ethnicity or religion. Cee at Worcester says, “I think people make a mountain out of a molehill. It’s a commonality thing, an interest matter, its not a racial, ethnic or political issue. Sure the society I’m part of is where I met most of my friends, though I’m not friends with all of its members am I? It’s purely coincidental that most of the people I know are from the same background. I have a mixture of friends, White, Black and Asian but my close friends happen to be of a similar culture. I’m learning more about my identity that way, so what?” So what indeed is the problem? The quest for an identity is an important search and one often overlooked. It is one that has long existed not only as a cultural dimension for ethnic, national and religious communities but for other groups too; feminists find their identity in their womanhood and the Welsh in their language. A multi-cultural society can only work if the search for an individual’s identity is respected despite it appearing to be discriminatory or exclusive. A heart can indeed be in the East, but over time it can be in the West too.ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *