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Mixing cultures a human right, says UN expert

Human Rights. Photp: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

New York Oct 22 (MNN) A UN human rights expert today called for greater recognition of human rights-respecting ‘cultural mixing’, and increased respect for mixed and multiple cultural identities, while recognising that cultures do not always mix from a position of equality.

“Cultural mixing and syncretism, or the combining and merging of various cultural elements, have been constants in changing human cultures and in the lived realities of people around the world throughout history,” said Karima Bennoune, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. “Understanding and acknowledging this is closely related to promoting coexistence and intercultural solidarity.”

“People celebrate holidays jointly, take part in each other’s practices, mix languages, share in the dress and food of others, learn from their traditions, and experience different kinds of love. The acceptance of joy and rights-respecting experimentation around culture should be a source of pride, not a cause for shaming on social media. Our cultural lives and rights are all connected.”

“Cultures often do not meet on a level playing field. Rights-respecting cultural mixing should happen within a framework of equality, and requires challenging cultural inequalities, internationally and nationally, especially those which affect marginalized people,” the expert added.

In recent years, increasingly monolithic ideas about culture and identity and purist views of the interrelationships between diverse cultures have taken hold around the world, and have been advocated by some Governments, Bennoune said.

“Refusal to respect cultural mixing or mixed cultural identities leads to many human rights violations,” the UN expert said. “For example, rejection of syncretism has led to attacks on religious sites and relics important for some Afro-Brazilians, such as the destruction of terreiros from Umbanda and Candomblé.

“Today, under the control of the Taliban, the rich cultural diversities and syncretic culture of Afghanistan, in heritage, in women’s dress, and in music – which has now been banned, are threatened with obliteration.  Meanwhile, Afghan artists and cultural practitioners are gravely at risk and in need of international support.”

In many places, people face multiple exclusions due to their mixed identities, Bennoune said. “When the concept of being mixed is viewed as ‘impure’, they are more likely to be excluded from equal participation in cultural life. Meanwhile, their contributions to our understanding of the richness of identities and cultural life are considerable. In fact, we must recognize that everyone has multiple identities; this is simply more pronounced or obvious for certain people.

“A central challenge for this mixed and diverse human family, endowed with universal rights and equality, is to find ways for our cultural borrowing and creative fusions to promote those human rights and our co-existence.”

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