By Abdelaziz ElHammouchi
By Abdelaziz ElHammouchi
Morocco World News
Meknes, September 18, 2012
In their ground-breaking book, “Intercultural Communication in Contexts,” Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama (2010) tackle approximately every notion related to how people should co-exist in a world which embraces lots of ethnicities. Intercultural communication, either intra or intergroup interaction, is almost a must nowadays to solve problems that are ignited especially from misunderstanding and clashes related to stereotypical cultural issues. There are, in fact, two main approaches to examine an intercultural communication. The American (practical) Approach which sees the world from a western viewpoint and the Alternative Approach which figures in reconciliating between the divided parties: the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’.
Culture is a product of mixed civilizations. No culture has come from the blue, but rather each one takes from different styles of living in the world. Moroccan culture, for instance, is comprised from a Jewish, Christian and other external civilizations. Thus, the so-called ‘Other’ has never been a problem to the ‘Self’. Understanding the other is the only means to reduce anxiety and fear so as to contribute in building a ‘healthy community’, where tolerance and negotiations bridge ways of reciprocal communication between people of different parts of the world. More importantly, reconciliation of various values breaks fixity and rigidity which hamper intercultural communication.
It is wrong to say that ‘we are the product of our culture’. It is so because if we suppose that we are a mere creation of our culture, it would be so silly to talk about dynamism and creativity in terms of cultural interactions. Human communication is characterized by fluidity and dynamism. The more we interact with people, the more likely we intend to modify or remove [a state of give-and-take interaction] certain views that we have experienced somewhere.
The imperatives [reasons] why people, not necessarily students, should study intercultural communication are many, but for the sake of brevity, I will pinpoint the most important ones in this article. To start with, the peace imperative should be highly considered because the world is living in an interconnected network. It is true that intercultural communication does not solve political and economic crises, but it is also true that it helps in making the interactants understand what the problem is. Indeed, locating the problem is a first stage to step in before thinking about its solutions.
Globalization renders the economic imperative an important one; it is so because understanding the host culture boasts one’s business. Since the world is interconnected in a virtual shrunk world, the technological imperative entails that people should be multicultural as well as multilingual. Multiculturalism develops for interactants a sense of international spirit, which renders them to listen to the others and to be open to difference. Regarding the demographic imperative, it would bring us to think about us as a population that weaves with different colors, a fabric society, in which each community decorates with its own dying materials but on the same fabric to create at the end a mosaic production.
“A study of intercultural communication begins as a journey into another culture and reality and ends as a journey into one’s own culture” epitomizes the self-awareness imperative. Putting questions, like why I pray five times per a day and others do not? Why we [as Moroccans] wear the Jellaba but others break in different clothes? Why I say Bissmillah [by the name of Allah] whenever I want to eat or drink while others make invocations?, leads an individual to ponder a bit about who s/he is. Eventually, the ethical imperative is also a pivotal reason why we should study intercultural communication. Since that ethics are culturally bound, elevating one’s cultural ethics on someone else’s culture is an implicit way to exert hegemony.
Intercultural communication is an entity which is comprised of four main blocks and hampered by four major barriers. While culture, communication, context, and power are means of building a strong intercultural communication, ethnocentrism, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination are intricate boundaries that hinder interactants from striking constructive communication.
History is an indispensable ingredient in intercultural communication. Histories (religious, gender, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic, diasporic, and colonial histories) rather than history in singular make a person aware of his/herself. Historical facts and realities push a person to examine other cultures. If such exploration is not done with a sense of forgiveness and responsibility, it would definitely contribute to severe clashes. The Myanmar events and the exhibition of “Innocence of Muslims”, the film which maligns to the Prophet [PBUH] in the United States, are cases in point.
Kenneth J. Gergen’s “I am linked therefore I am” is an expression which clarifies how important negotiation and communication are. Among the different types of identities, religious identity is very intriguing and important at the same time. From one angle, it is considered one of the barriers to intercultural communication. This is so because most religious creeds are introvert and do not accept change and creativity. Such people are usually called fundamentalists and extremists. Religious participants usually do not broach questions, though sometimes are to the point, because their answers might embrace certain notions that would go against the appointed mainstream doctrine. Though some might say that whenever there is religion, intercultural communication is a failure, religion could contribute to coexistence if there is respect between participants. The so-called Sam Bacile, the filmmaker who produced the “Innocence of Muslims,” did not consider the feelings of millions of Muslims around the world. Depicting the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] in obscene scenes is something that Muslims can never ever accept. Yet, reacting to this through violence and burning flags and consulates of foreign countries is not accepted, too.
In fact, religions around the world could be split into two main angles: humanistic and hegemonic. European colonization [European missionaries], for instance, considered religion as one of the tools through which people could be converted to believe in what the colonizers have already planned for them. Herein, religious creeds are but for manipulating natives in a manner to facilitate the way for intruders to settle in their countries. Contrarily, Islam and Christianity, especially in the era of the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH], constituted an ideal model of intercultural and religious interaction between people from different clans. Mecca has always stood as a place of homogeneity and interfaith dialogue.
Maligning to the Prophet [PBUH] is an event which stands as an example of intercultural communication failure. Developing multicultural identity, thus, is one of the solutions to stop such crises. People should consider themselves global nomads, or Third Culture Kids, who live on the borders. That is, post-ethnicity and intercultural personhood should be welcomed by people around the world to create cultural brokers rather than divided clans who fight for, maybe, stupid things.
James W. Neuliep (2009) expressed in his book, “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach”, that intercultural communication is a process of connecting historical data to formulate an ‘attitude’. Perceiving the world is a subjective operation that goes on three stages. Perception of stimuli, the first stage of turning the input to an output, is “a mental interpretation of external stimuli via sensation”. Interpreting these stimuli is encountered by psychological, sociological and physiological filters. Since those filters are unavoidable, the least we can do to build a healthy community is to be aware of them. The more a person likely to be aware of his/her filters, the more s/he would build a successful intercultural communication. The second stage is about storing information into our memory. In fact, without a memory people could not communicate at all. Eventually, the third stage is related to recalling and retrieving information.
Categorizing information is a routine mental process; yet, it becomes an intriguing act when it comes to intercultural communication. It is so because categorization may lead to racism, stereotyping, prejudicing and discrimination. The question which has to be broached here is why stereotypes are so common?
Explaining these three theories will lead implicitly to answer the aforementioned question. Out-group Homogeneity Effect is about a group of people who consider any out-group member as less important. Illusionary Correlation Principle is related to those people who generalize the wrongdoing of an individual to his/her whole community. The third explanation of stereotyping lies in power relations. Stereotypes are sometimes spread for political purposes. Presidency election, nowadays between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are a case in point.
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