Ethnic violence in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis has been ongoing for years with no expectations of a peaceful cease-fire. Earlier this year, conflict between the two had escalated to unprecedented levels. Tensions still had not ease with the continued military incursions of the Israeli army and the suicide-bombing attacks of Palestinian militants. This brings us to the issue of communication across cultures and ethnic groups.
Communication, as we all know, is vital to us as human beings. Communication is a two way process. It involves listening and speaking, giving feedback between two parties of people. However, more often people tend to speak a lot but listen rarely or not at all. Especially when feedback seems negative, people will tend to shut it out even though it may be constructive. Reaching out effectively across different cultures requires continuous and proper communication between the peoples of the different cultures. Singaporeans who live in a multi-cultural society will probably understand this concept the most.
The problem of not having cross-cultural communication can be seen through the history of wars between countries and racial violence in certain parts of the world. This brings us back to the conflict between Palestine and Israel. The problem is not that communication is non-existent between the two, rather it is not enough or not done properly. There is a lack of ongoing peace talks and negotiations between the leaders of the two nations. There have been few talks in the past but these were not followed up with more further discussions. Communication is an ongoing and continuous activity especially between cultures and races. The channels of communication have to be always open to promote higher levels of understanding between the two parties and to consequently reach a mutual agreement.
Good and proper communication serves to dissolve false conceptions and misunderstandings between different cultures. In turn, it will also dispel unnecessary friction and conflict. Some people may say that it is extremely difficult to get these two groups of people, who are so steeped in their beliefs and hatred of each other, to just sit down to listen and talk to each other. This may be true, however deep-rooted beliefs and hatred do not come overnight.
They are the result of the many long years of violence and armed conflict between the two. From the Israeli military occupations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967 to the recent suicide bombings by radical Palestinian militants, armed assaults and coercion have often been the preferred option of settling disputes. If the leaders of the two ethnic groups had been more pro-active in holding talks with each other to resolve the conflict during the initial stage, the conflict will not necessary have dragged on for years till now and there would not have been so much needless bloodshed.
Cross-cultural communication has an even more important role to play in this age of globalization where national boundaries seem to blur and people are allowed almost free access between states and countries. Societies are becoming more complex and diverse within themselves as different cultural communities live and work together in a same country or state. Communication across races and cultures is very vital to promote greater understanding and tolerance and, hence, harmony within these societies. The country of Singapore has also experienced racial and ethnic violence in our past. Clashes between Chinese and Malays during the early 1960s threatened to destabilize the nation. That is why the Singaporean government emphasizes the need for cross-cultural communication in our country.
According to a news article dated, 15 March 2002, our Minister of State for Community Development and Sports, Mr. Yaacob Ibrahim, said in a speech to Muslim students at NTU, “As a step, in order for the different communities to appreciate each other’s differences, there must be contact and interaction. Through contact and interaction, one begins to understand and, hence, develop the necessary skills to deal with such differences.”(Straits Times pg. 27). Mr. Ibrahim understands the importance of reaching out and communicating between different racial communities. It is an important reason for the social harmony that we enjoy today in our country. Without communication, societies will fragment into racial factions and may, ultimately, engage in serious conflicts and violence.
Governments and leaders can play a significant role in promoting and facilitating social and cross-cultural interaction between communities. They can promote and even organize meetings or gatherings that include members of the different ethnic groups between countries and within them. However, to do this, the leaders themselves must be willing to be the first ones to reach out to each other. There has to be somebody to make the first move and if the leaders do not do it, then how can their people be expected to do so? Of course, ultimately, the choice will still have to be made by the people to reach out, to befriend each other. It is an individual choice of each member of the different groups. The leaders cannot make that choice for them but can help by being examples and facilitators.
Humankind’s success as a species is due to its remarkable diversity within itself. Communication enables this diversity to work for our success. There may be people who after reading this essay think that my thinking and arguments are simply impractical ideals which do not matter in a world so torn apart by wars, violence, hatred, and unilateralism. While I must admit that they are very difficult, humanly speaking, to follow in a world like ours, I think that it is not impossible either. In our history, some of the great leaders, who are idealists, have managed to inspire and even change the world. People such as Karl Marx, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King have significantly shaped the world we live today through their great ideals.
In foreign diplomacy between countries, the importance of cross-cultural communication as an effective tool cannot be discounted. When reflecting on all the news articles concerning United States diplomacy in the world, I have to wonder whether the tragedy of September 11th could have been avoided. Here is an example of a government trying to understand and judge other countries and people based on its own standards and beliefs. Instead of trying more to listen, understand, and view these people through their individual beliefs and cultures, the US government has adopted a unilateral policy toward countries like China and Iraq. It is an example of a country that has failed very drastically in its cross-cultural communication.
Communication is a key element to greater understanding between human beings and is the basis of all human relationships. Cross-cultural communication, therefore, is essential to humans who are so diverse and different from each other, who belong to different cultural groups and ethnicity, all living on the same planet. Without this interaction across different cultures and peoples, different ethic groups or communities will necessarily live in fear and suspicion of each other. Without the sharing and understanding of the different belief systems, friction will arise between the different ethnic groups and conflict will be inevitable. In a world increasingly connected as a result of globalization, countries will need to recognize the importance of cross-cultural communication as an essential tool in resolving conflicts between different races.