Are multiculturalism and sustainable development attainable?

Everybody living together as brothers and sisters around our common lake, the Oceans, sharing and enjoying multicultural diversity, learning each others' languages, trying each others' food, dancing, singing, playing together, studying each others' religions. A pipe dream? Attainable or impossible? Do we expect too much from Humankind?

Wonderful words and ideas and ideals from the sixty winners of the recent Many Languages, One World essay contest organized by the United Nations Organization. The sixty were the one per cent selected from a universe of six thousand participants representing 170 countries and almost 2,000 universities around the world. Their message on global citizenship, cultural understanding and the role of multilingualism was delivered in the six official languages of the UNO.

Six "official" languages out of 6.909

The "official" six languages. But there are 6,909 languages in the world, speakers of which Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish do not represent. Around 25 per cent of these many languages have fewer than one thousand speakers and experts estimate that by the end of this century, in 83 years' time, three thousand of these languages, meaning 3,000 cultures and secrets and stories and hidden knowledge, will have vanished. Forever.

There are more speakers of Hindi than Arabic, there are more speakers of Portuguese than French, there are more speakers of Bengali than French. Yet fifty per cent of the "official" languages are those of the world's main ex-colonial powers - English, French and Spanish, languages which dominate the areas these countries colonized, to the detriment of the languages spoken in these areas.

Even today, this process continues. Two hundred years ago there were over three hundred distinct languages spoken in North America. Half of these have disappeared and today 165 of these languages are trying, or fighting, to survive.

The world has come to accept, and live by, the theory of survival of the fittest - the law of the jungle. English represents the 165 languages of the peoples of North America; three languages from ex-colonial powers represent fifty per cent of the "official" languages of the United Nations Organization. The reality is as simple as saying that if you are big, you kick people's backsides and if you are small, you get your backside kicked. So let us all assume once and for all that we, collectively, are no further or better than or different from apes hooting and swinging from trees, scratching things on rocks or using bones to break open nuts.

If we cannot even agree on what year it is...

Occasionally we have a meat frenzy in which we hunt for fresh blood. Sure, there is a pecking order. Those at the top get the best parts, those at the bottom get morcels to survive or else they themselves are the victims of the kill-fest. Fast forward to the year 2017... why 2017? In the Islamic calendar this is the year 1438-1439, in the Armenian it is 1466, in the Assyrian it is 6767, in the Bahá'i calendar it is the year 173-174. It is 2967 in the Berber calendar, 2561 in the Buddhist, 1397 in the Burmese, 4713-4714 in the Chinese, 1733-1734 in the Coptic, 1395 to 1396 in the Iranian calendar,  5777-5778 in the Hebrew and in the Mayan calendar today is 13 baktun 0 katum 4 tun 13 uinal 12 k'in, the Mayan Tzolk'in date being 13 Eb', the Haab date being 10 Mol and the Lord of the Night tonight is G2.

So is it not a tad arrogant to expect everyone to say, in English, that today is August the twenty-ninth twenty seventeen, or August nine twenty seventeen or the ninth of August two thousand and seventeen? Even in English there are different versions of the same expression.

The point is that we speak about celebrating multiculturalism and cultural and ethnic and religious diversity and most educated, instructed, enlightened or intelligent people welcome the idea as being wonderful, fascinating and totally desirable. But looking at the world around us, which is as uniform as the dating system and in which one power group predominates and the others challenge or follow suit, the question arises whether the multiculturalists are barking up a tree that does not exist. To have multiculturalism we need mutual respect, to have multilingualism we cannot make half our existing languages extinct. To have sustainable development we need multiculturalism.

Our collective religions and ancient writings clearly point towards the multicultural approach as our final destiny and usually Humankind achieves its dreams, and this is a common global dream. So isn't it about time we, collectively, did something about it?

Taking stock, we have our oceans full of plastic, not only on the surface but right at the bottom, we are destroying species before we have even discovered they exist, so lose potentially millions of secrets every year, we are devastating our forests and the habitat of animals and plants struggling to survive or yet to be encountered, the land is polluted, the air is polluted, our rivers are drying up, even Space is polluted. Gender equality does not exist, there is racist and homophobic  and religious intolerance on an alarming scale, murderous bigotry the likes of which the world has never seen - and I am speaking not only about the dogmas followed by Islamists such as Islamic State but also about Islamophobia. Russophobia. Koreophobia. Phobia against those who wish to have national sovereignty or try to exercise the right to self determination, the ideals which saw dozens of States arise out of regions under colonial administration.

Again, those at the top, with every bullet, grenade or missile fired, with every aircraft sortie and with every hour a ship sails at sea will make cents or dollars or thousands of Dollars... or Rubles, or Pounds, or Euro, or Forint, or Dinars, or Dram, or Lempira, or Ngultrum...

The conclusion is that like this, and as we are, human nature stands against multiculturalism, multilingualism and therefore how can we possibly attain sustainable development as a collective world? Until we are, we cannot. Which generation is going to make this happen?



Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


Twitter: @TimothyBHinchey

[email protected]


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*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey