“If only you really knew them, you’d understand them better!”
“By exposing our [students/customers/employees/children] to a diversity of cultures, we ensure better understanding and a greater appreciation for members of diverse communities.”
Often, with this sort of pronouncement, there is an unspoken but understood “and you [they] will like them and get along with them and stop being judgmental about them (and give them what they ask for).”
Except, historically, that’s not always what happens. In fact, historically, the reverse is often true. When exposed to a strongly different culture, the response frequently is to enforce strict separation of cultures/religions/ethnicities on all sides, get one’s back up, and be even more [culture/religion/ethnicity] than before! Oops.
It appears that humans, on an individual level, can appreciate and enjoy other cultures, study them, eat their food, attend their festivals, and have very positive experiences. Small groups can encounter small groups, trade, nod in passing, and when they get home, talk about these fascinating or interesting people they met and wonder what the other party’s homes are like. They can meet for trade and get along great, party hard (see the fur trapper rendezvous in the American and Canadian West, or the Maikop cities at the edge of the Caucasus and Pontic Steppe just east of the Black Sea, around 3500 BC/BCE or so. Or your last visit to an ethnic food emporium or dining establishment. I love Thai food, Chinese food, Ethiopian food, Tex-Mex, Mexican (some kinds, not so much others), Japanese food, Hungarian food, Laotian food, Vietnamese food, Indian food in all its kinds . . . And in some cases, like the Comanche Indians in North America, or the Shang and Zhou dynasty nobility in China between 1200 – 2200 BC/BCE, they adopt chunks of a different culture, adapt aspects to fit their needs, and reshape part of their operating software, so to speak.
However, most often when you force different cultural groups into close proximity, peace, love, and happiness do not usually ensue. Examples that spring to mind are the steppe nomads and settled Europeans (Magyar vs. Europeans, Mongols vs. Europeans, Tatars vs. Russians and Austro-Hungarians, Ottomans vs. Serbs, Ottomans vs. Croats), Berbers vs. Visigoths and Sephardic Jews in Spain, Spanish vs. Comanches, Spanish vs. Navajo, Masai vs. settled farming people, Zulu vs. Boers, Zulu vs. British, Sioux vs. Everyone, Irish vs. English . . .
The fascinating book The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise goes into detail about the strict legal rules drawn up for Christians and Jews after the Berber conquest of Iberia. These community rules were not created by Moslems, although they did have them in the form of the dhimmi codes within sharia. No, these were created by the Jewish community to keep Jews from mixing with others, by Christians to protect themselves from contamination by others. Similar things happened in India when the Christians (British et al) ruled the Subcontinent. The British came up with all sorts of informal and formal rules to prevent undue familiarity and cross-contamination by the various cultures of the Subcontinent. There were caste rules for the English just like there were for Muslims, Parsee, Jains, Sikhs, Hindus, everyone else.
The English understood the peoples of south Asia. The peoples of south Asia understood the English. That did not bring about brotherhood, mutual affection and respect, or all the other things that the modern media claim happens. Yes, yes, evil imperialism and all that. Still. How well did the Hopi and Navajo get along? How well do they get along today? Yes, part of it is the folly of the checkerboard reservation system (“You get this square and you get the next square, alternating.”) but look at Hopi oral traditions about massacring other tribes. Look at how much the Vietnamese loathe the Chinese, or what ethnic Chinese think about their neighbors. They knew each other, understand each other, but do not care for each other.
Only when assimilation is forced by population pressure and the sword, or chosen, does familiarity bring melding and adoption. And even then there will be a few with long memories, and descendants who growl about why did Grandma and Grandpa stop speaking [old language] or convert to [current faith] when the old one was so neat? Or, in a wealthy enough society, and with small-enough outsider groups, you get the tolerated Unusual Minority, fascinating and colorful and harmless, like the Amish in the United States.
Since 2001 I have come to know a great deal about Islam, the history of the religion both as Muslims trace it and as western scholars have discovered over the past 200 years or so. Since 1985 or so I have become rather familiar with the history of the Soviet Union, with the history of Fascism, and while I understand how those two entities came about, and can sympathize with the people who saw Fascism as the best hope to bring order and stability to their world in the 1920s-30s, I do not care for Fascism or the Soviet Union. I can understand Hungarian nationalism. I do not care for it. I can understand the appeal that Salafist Islam has for people in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Americas, especially young men. I intensely dislike it, and the more I know, the less tolerance I have for people who say, “Just learn more about it and you will appreciate it!”
What’s the answer? Well, stop saying that just having people from different cultures around will solve everything. Stop trying to shove cultural hedgehogs down people’s throats (“If you don’t like people ritually slaughtering animals in the parking lot, you’re racist!” No, I have serious animal cruelty and/or public health concerns.) Stop pretending that history, unless Europeans are in it, is all peaceful, harmonious accords. And be aware that there’s a difference between eating at a Pakistani/North Indian restaurant and welcoming members of, oh, let’s say Jemaah Islamiyah, with open arms and giving them social benefit payments and ordering people not to offend them.