Multiculturalism is no enemy of democracy

In the wake of the recent death of a British soldier at the hands of extremists, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s commentary misappropriates the term "multiculturalism" and consequently muddles the discussion ("Multiculturalism is the enemy of democracy," June 2).

Mr. Ehrlich argues that multiculturalism, which he sees as promoted by progressives, and which entails the maintenance of separate cultural enclaves that do not partake in American values, has no place in the United States, since it disrupts the image of the melting-pot that remains a powerful metaphor in our quasi-mythological self-conception.

Whether intentionally or not, he presents a false dichotomy between assimilation and what he labels multiculturalism. Few would argue that the phenomenon he describes — something more akin to cultural segregation — should be a model for cosmopolitan nations like the United States.

In reality, however, immigrants do not choose between the two extremes of keeping their native culture completely intact (a virtual impossibility in a new environment) and changing everything about their social identity.

Instead, people living in a new culture preserve some practices and beliefs while adopting others they find among their new neighbors. True multiculturalism is merely the recognition that while we may share certain things — such as Mr. Ehrlich's examples of "personal freedoms, baseball and apple pie" — there is no need to share everything in common.

Contrary to what the former governor implies, there is no homogeneous "American culture" with which all recent immigrants are in conflict.

Suggesting that good-hearted Americans should refuse to tolerate the continued traditions of people both from foreign countries and from culturally diverse regions within our own borders does not contribute to the American ideals he espouses; on the contrary, it contradicts them.

Regardless of how the London attacks come to be interpreted in the future, they surely were not the harbingers of multicultural doom Mr. Ehrlich takes them to be.

Doug Bafford, Eldersburg

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