I confess to mixed feelings about the term "multiculturalist". Yes, I've used it as a term of abuse. Too often, it seems to describe only the self-hatred of Western liberalism, and an excuse for the intellectually lazy to cry "racist" at any who would criticize those whom the political Left wishes to claim as clients. This seems especially true since 9/11, when anyone who dares to find anything wrong with Islam, even if drawn from the Qur'an and Hadith themselves, would suddenly find himself decried as illiberal and chauvinist.
Yet I would like to call myself a multiculturalist. My second language is Chinese, which I read as well as speak, and I even make a few extra dollars translating documents from that language to my native English. I've even learned some Classical Chinese (古文，文言文), and have read some of the Confucian Classics, Lao Zi, and Tang poetry. I love the fine arts of China, and respect the long continuity of its culture. I served as US vice consul in Guangzhou, in Mainland China, for two years; and while I am not means pro-Communist and have little sympathy for the alien smugglers operating out of the Fuzhou area, this experience did nothing to damage my interest in China and its culture. While teaching English in Taiwanese colleges, I met my wife and started my family. Had I the right kind of job there, I could probably live very comfortably in crowded Taiwan.
I've also gotten my feet wet in Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia, thanks to two years of diplomatic service in Bangkok, Thailand. I still retain a little spoken Thai (but, alas, have forgotten how to read), and wish that country well.
Add to this, I have explored the roots of my own Western Christian tradition through studying ancient Hebrew and Greek in order to read the Scriptures in the original tongues. Hence, my interests beyond the confines of the white American culture of the 20th and 21st centuries are wide temporally as well as spatially.
Perhaps I believe and dare to hope that a meeting of at least some of the world's cultures is possible; even if it remains necessary to maintain a critical stance towards others.
This began during my first stint teaching in Taiwan. I was young, a theology student in the American Midwest, and a Chinese friend arranged for me to work a year in a technical college that was soon to be transformed into a university. Not only did I get to know the students to whom I taught English (and also evangelized to the extent acceptable under the guidelines of Taiwan's ministry of education), but also got to know faculty members and people in the wider community, too.
One professor whom I met through the faculty's Christian fellowship group was a Chinese nationalist in both large- and small-n senses of the term. He loved his country deeply--and saw it as embracing the unredeemed, Communist-ruled Mainland as well as the rump of Sun Yat-sen's Republic of China on Taiwan and its associated islands. I'm sure that today he probably votes pan-Blue in every election. He had gotten his doctorate in the States, a country he generally liked and respected, but had always planned to return to his homeland to contribute to the building of its technological capabilities. He was quite proud of China's long traditions, the glories of its language, its ancient proto-scientific technological breakthroughs from engineering to papermaking to gunpowder to the invention of the compass, and its enduring character. He was also a card-carrying member of the Guomindang.
Yet, having studied Chinese history in the West,I wondered how he squared his Chinese nationalism with his Evangelical brand of Christianity. After all, I had been taught about a "deep-seated xenophobia" among the Chinese (it was still, after all, the 1970's), and this was used to explain the political and diplomatic stance of Communist China. Precedents for this attitude had been found in the Boxer Rebellion and the Ming overthrow of the Mongols, after which foreign contacts were limited to a few carefully selected coastal enclaves. And, on the streets of the Hakka-speaking town where the college was located, I had heard the Christian faith spoken of as "Fung-mo Gao" (红毛教), or "Redhair Religion" (for the record, Uncle Cephas has never been a redhead).
The Professor smiled and laughed gently and bemusedly at my shallowness and ignorance. He went on to explain to me that neither Sun Yat-sen nor Chiang Kai-shek (who had not been dead for very long at the time) found no contradiction between Chinese nationalism and the Gospel, so why should anyone else? He then went on to note that the first introduction of Christianity into China (along with Judaism, Islam, Manichaeanism, certain schools of Buddhism, and the like) had occurred during the glorious Tang dynasty, when China was a great trading and immigrant-receiving power; certainly the greatest organized state of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. I gulped. He had a point, for the story of the Tang had been part of my Sinological education, too. I was not only living in a meeting of East and West in the late 1970's, but being reminded that there had been precedents for similar meetings of civilizations, and not necessarily in the contexts of lord-client, empire-colony, or center-periphery.
Years later, after having served as US vice consul in Guangzhou, and having gotten my Ph.D. as a non-traditional grad student at a Midwestern university with a large international population, I discovered that while there remain serious issues in America's relationship with China, the USA is not necessarily the land that the Chinese love to hate; and perhaps American attitudes towards China can, for better or worse, embrace both an admiring Sinophilia (not necessarily a bad thing) as well as "Yellow peril" racism.
And, indeed, perhaps after 30 years of marriage to a Taiwanese lady, I've become a little bit Sinicized myself, much as I remain grateful to all that I have received from a Western heritage whose roots I trace back to Sinai, 'Eretz Yisroel, and Mesopotamia, as well as to the lands between the Mediterranean and North Seas.
Yet as a political conservative, I can't help but note the growing hostility between the lands of Islam on the one hand and the West on the other. I've made a reading acquaintance with the likes of Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, and Peder Jensen, who formerly blogged as Fjordman (and, unlike Anders Breivik,another of Jensen's readers, I have no intention of shooting anyone, thank you; nor have I noted either blogger advocating violence). Further, I have come to read Daniel Pipes' site regularly.
Yet, in the cases of Spencer and Jensen, I note two men who have devoted much study to the Middle East and of the Arabic language. Jensen apparently studied at the American University in Cairo and worked for the Norwegian foreign ministry on the West Bank. Yet both men have become chroniclers of estrangement between the West and Islam, and open critics of both Islamic religion and culture. While I would like to suppose that Daniel Pipes' high hopes for moderate Islam are better-founded; I can't help the nagging feeling that the observations of Spencer and Jensen are more incisive. Clearly, in Jensen's case, a close acquaintance with Arabic-speaking Islam has not led to any fond hopes for a meeting of cultures.
Perhaps my encounter with Chinese nationalism ran up against a nostalgia for a period in which China was both open to the "other" and powerful; perhaps Jensen ran into the deep-seated humiliation of a culture whose core texts teach a naked supremacism (one of the things with which my own dipping into the English translations of the Qur'an and Hadith have left me) that cannot respect the unbelieving "other".
So, apparently, there are cultures and cultures.
This is a thought I plan to revisit more in the future.