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National unity: A genuine change – the marriage of law and culture

The only way to meet challenges to national unity is by introducing parallel changes to both the legal system and cultural approaches

Gamal Abdel-Gawad , Thursday 6 Jan 2011
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How does one strengthen national unity? Is it by changing the general mindset to make it more open, forgiving and accepting of the principles of equality and pluralism? Or is it by changing the laws so as to legally guarantee freedom of worship and equality? Both notions have valid merits and shortcomings which cannot be ignored.

Changing the laws may result in developing a legal system which is perhaps fair, but practiced in the same cultural setting would mean that it will be imposed on people who will resist and reject it. This would make it too costly to implement, and the authorities may be forced to ignore its application. In that way, we would end up with a legal system to boast about and refer to if we are accused of discrimination, but it would not benefit those for whom it was created. It would be stunted legislation, similar to the tens of other admirablelaws which were shelved, either because society did not welcome them or their implementation was beyond the capacity of the authorities.

On the other hand, changing the mindset of society would set forth a continuous process, leading towards the voluntary application of the principles of equality and freedom of religion without heavily relying on the tools of oppression and forcefully applying the law. Those who champion this notion do not reject amending the laws, but they assert that changing the mindset is a precursor for legislation.

Changing the culture and values of society is a slow process, but those with grievances have been complaining for quite a while and are running out of patience. They may even lose all hope before the culture and values change appropriately.

Today, doubt occupies a large space in people's hearts and minds. Postponing legislative reform until a more conducive culture matures is viewed by some as a pretext to delay and avoid taking any positive steps to resolve the accumulative problems in relations between the citizenry.

Indeed, a marriage between a cultural solution and a legislative one is the ideal formula. Nothing would prevent progress on parallel paths, as long as this is done gradually on both tracks. Some legislative amendments are possible and can be implemented without much resistance, and would put many at ease. This is necessary to boost confidence and facilitate progress towards more advanced and complicated levels of resolving the issue.

More importantly, when laws are applied sincerely and with determination they become a tool for changing the culture, values and behavior. This would guarantee that legislative and cultural transformations go hand-in-hand and instead of contradicting each other they would complement each other.

How does one strengthen national unity? Is it by changing the general mindset to make it more open, forgiving and accepting of the principles of equality and pluralism? Or is it by changing the laws so as to legally guarantee freedom of worship and equality? Both notions have valid merits and shortcomings which cannot be ignored.

Changing the laws may result in developing a legal system which is perhaps fair, but practiced in the same cultural setting would mean that it will be imposed on people who will resist and reject it. This would make it too costly to implement, and the authorities may be forced to ignore its application. In that way, we would end up with a legal system to boast about and refer to if we are accused of discrimination, but it would not benefit those for whom it was created. It would be stunted legislation, similar to the tens of other admirablelaws which were shelved, either because society did not welcome them or their implementation was beyond the capacity of the authorities.

On the other hand, changing the mindset of society would set forth a continuous process, leading towards the voluntary application of the principles of equality and freedom of religion without heavily relying on the tools of oppression and forcefully applying the law. Those who champion this notion do not reject amending the laws, but they assert that changing the mindset is a precursor for legislation.

Changing the culture and values of society is a slow process, but those with grievances have been complaining for quite a while and are running out of patience. They may even lose all hope before the culture and values change appropriately.

Today, doubt occupies a large space in people's hearts and minds. Postponing legislative reform until a more conducive culture matures is viewed by some as a pretext to delay and avoid taking any positive steps to resolve the accumulative problems in relations between the citizenry.

Indeed, a marriage between a cultural solution and a legislative one is the ideal formula. Nothing would prevent progress on parallel paths, as long as this is done gradually on both tracks. Some legislative amendments are possible and can be implemented without much resistance, and would put many at ease. This is necessary to boost confidence and facilitate progress towards more advanced and complicated levels of resolving the issue.

More importantly, when laws are applied sincerely and with determination they become a tool for changing the culture, values and behavior. This would guarantee that legislative and cultural transformations go hand-in-hand and instead of contradicting each other they would complement each other.

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