Syncretism in law: the new controversy


On the path to globalization is a colorful and clamoring intersection. Everyday, people from hundreds of different countries reach this crossroad and meet a wave of ideas completely novel or foreign to them.

It is too early to tell whether globalization will be beneficial or not, but the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Cato Institute agree that globalization has already redefined many systems of thought and behavior.  These new, mixed systems are born from fusion: take the following. A type of sashimi wrapped in a burrito-sized blanket of rice and seaweed, the sushiritto is a fusion of Japanese and Mexican cuisine, and it is dominating food trucks across New York and California. It is delicious, and frankly, innocuous. But when it comes to laws and policies, globalization has posed much more intricate challenges.

What happens when “new and diverse” ideas are inappropriately incorporated into an old system? Can mixed systems, if mismanaged, become a liability?

A major clash in this intersection is a debate on how women “should” dress. At its epicenter is the French burkini ban that was passed after the Nice terrorist attacks in July and was overturned this August. According to the Washington Post, the burkini is a mix between Muslim and Western cultures. It is a two-piece mix of a burka and a bikini designed for “modest Muslim women.”

“In Western liberal democracies, values like freedom of speech and religion are foundations,” said Jonathan Ames, Government and Politics teacher. “However, they can shift and be altered depending on the political climate. Many European countries are now arguing that to guarantee protection, certain rights can be taken away. And yet other people argue that these foundations of Western thought should be inflexible. Look at the burkini ban. Personally, I think the ban is ridiculous. Political actions that aren’t fully thought through or made without thorough understanding can definitely have huge consequences, on ideals and on people. ”

But the rise of burkinis is not an isolated incident: take the Chinese “face-kini.” According to the Washington Post, Chinese beaches are full with women sporting “colorful, full-face masks” with eyes-and-mouth holes. Face-kinis are supposed to help women maintain fair and pale skin. In an interview with the New York Times, a Qingdao beachgoer posed a question to the French government: what would it do to her if she decided to wear a face-kini to a Nice beach?

A single act of face-covering can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, depending on the context. In it, some see conservatism or oppression. Some see empowerment. Some see a beauty routine or protection from UV-rays. By inviting cultures that have never crossed so directly with each other into one courtroom, globalization has made all of these nuances fair game.

“Laws stand on principles, and these principles need to be clear and concrete,” said Juhyung Park (12), vice-president of the Model United Nations club. “You can’t say that a founding principle or law applies to one case but not the other. Globalization is creating a lot more of these cases, and many of them are extremely unique. They’re going to be posing interesting challenges to legal systems around the world.”

East-Asian countries are also facing similar predicaments. According to the Chosun Ilbo, President Park Geun-Hye of South Korea implemented a “Free Semester Policy” in 2016 to “free middle school students from examination pressures and to allow them explore their dreams and talents through career studies and discussions.” The new law applies to one of six middle school semesters. The policy is designed to emulate New Zealand’s system.

“I have a little sister in middle school, and I’ve found the policy an interesting effort and an attempt in progress” said Junbeom Lee (12), student at Hanyoung Foreign Language High School, where students study Korean curricula during the day and American courses at night. “Even in middle school, young Asian students maintain their GPA meticulously to enter top high schools. It’s undeniable that this pressure needs to be lessened. But I was surprised that the law only applied to one semester. That’s too short. I appreciate the principle and the initiative for change, but the policy itself needs some fine-tuning.”

Asian education has long been famous (or infamous) for being methodical, practical, and rigorous. According to Aminuddin Hassan, professor of educational studies at Universiti Putra Malaysia, such values are characteristic of a Confucian education. Because the values planted in students in school often grow to define their worldview as adults, many scholars see South Korea’s shift in policy as a sign of a bigger long-term pivot.

So here we are, standing at this vibrant intersection of ideas, a generation chosen to experience this second stage of globalization. Look around: systems of thought, behavior, law, and government are colliding and bonding and clashing all around us. These products of fusion are still young, still imperfect, and still shifting—mixed systems will continue trying find the right balance point for quite some time. Nevertheless, they have already posed momentous questions to ideas taken for granted, entered novel variables to old equations, and tested old systems against brand-new liabilities.