The Dilemmas of Multiculturalism

Not that I have anything in particular to say about Belgium (took a trip to Brussels one time and found it delightful -- I'm personally a huge fan of both Renée Magritte and mussels) but Ingrid Robeyns has an interesting teaser for projected future coverage of Belgian politics:

For those of you in countries where there hasn’t been any reporting – it’s day 82 after the federal elections, and the Flemish and Walloon parties are so bitterly opposed to each other’s demands, that commentators are talking aloud of “the end of Belgium” (which is not going to happen soon, since neither of them wants to give up Brussels – but there are signs that the crisis between the Dutch/Flemish-speaking and Francophone regions is deeper than it has been in decades).

And the more I thought about what I should write, the more it became clear that it’s a complicated issue to write about. One problem is that the interpretations of the political events differ dramatically between the Dutch-language and the Francophone Belgian press – truly as if they are from two different planets – so any (foreign) journalist/reader who masters only one of those two languages will almost inevitably get a distorted or one-sided pictured. Then there is the question whether, as a Flemish person, I can write sufficiently neutral about this.

Whenever I try to chart a course between the "Iraq would have been great if we'd just had smarter people in charge of the occupation" and the "Arabs can't handle democracy" school of thought, I tend to come back to things like this -- the great difficult Belgians have in creating a viable, legitimate binational democratic state. Or think of the Canadians. Or the endless problems in Spain with the Basques. It's genuinely difficult to work these kinds of things out. And then there's the former Czechoslovakia where it couldn't be worked out, or else Northern Ireland where it also couldn't be worked out but where there proved to be no adequate line of partition. None of these places are precisely like the others, of course, but the general point is just that there's shouldn't be anything surprising about the fact that it's proven very difficult to come up with a vision for Iraq that's appealing across sectarian and ethnic lines in Iraq.