By IMAM DR. ZIJAD DELIC, CIC Friday Magazine
CANADA has weathered a number of ups and downs through nearly a century-and-a-half of official nationhood, but perhaps its most successful and prosperous time came during the years following the government’s adoption of Multiculturalism in 1971.
With this visionary policy, Canada became the first country in the world to recognize and embrace cultural diversity as the essence of who we are – an enshrined affirmation of value and dignity for all citizens, regardless of their racial origins, ethnic ties, gender, language, or religious affiliation.
Through multiculturalism, Canada recognized the potential of all Canadians, encouraging them to constructively integrate with society and to take an active role in the social, cultural, economic and political affairs of their country.
The systemic application of this policy has made Canada one of the most desirable countries to live in and the envy of the world. In fact, official multiculturalism is the single most important reason why I, and so many others, chose to become Canadian citizens.
Canadians should be justly proud of being the nation that created and applied the concept of multiculturalism as a practical, positive and inclusive way of life.
Yet today, multiculturalism has become an often-heated focal point for both its supporters and detractors. Advocates point out Canada’s accomplishments and possibilities as a multicultural nation, while opponents blame Canada’s failures on multiculturalism without considering the real reasons for our current socio-political-economic conditions.
The past few years have shown that not all Canadians are comfortable with the ethnic and religious diversity promoted by official multiculturalism. Among the strongest opponents Canada’s model for diversity are those who believe it has run its course and who now want to see immigrants assimilate or “melt” into society, as is promoted in the United States, France, Britain, and other European countries. Those same critics even go so far as to call for an end to official multiculturalism.
Comparing Canadian multiculturalism with France and Britain and their fake models of multiculturalism is somehow irrational. France and Britain did not succeed with multiculturalism because they systematically undermine some of their citizens, labelling them “others” instead of helping them to successfully settle into society.
These critics of Canadian multiculturalism do not seem aware that their attitudes could contribute to a narrowing of acceptable boundaries for difference at a time when Canada is becoming even more diverse than before and more than ever in need of its government-supported official multiculturalism policy.
A favorite complaint is that Canadian multiculturalism creates a culture of segregation and victimhood resulting in expectations of special treatment. Such objections to do not take into account some newcomers’ real experiences of political and economic repression, racism, discrimination, societal phobias, and the like.
As recently as the late 1990s, however, there was a broad consensus among the majority of Canadians that official multiculturalism was a foundation for our success as a society and has been instrumental in establishing the cultural balance Canada has attained since 1971. But it seems those days of multicultural optimism are all but gone.
There is a fundamental problem with the judgment of multiculturalism’s critics. Look at some of the key texts on multiculturalism, as well as its practical application during the three decades following its 1971 government endorsement, and you will find quite the opposite of the current philosophy of separateness. Far from "putting people into ethnic safe zones," multiculturalism is "about intercultural fusion in which a culture borrows bits of others and creatively transforms both itself and them all." It doesn't call for "ghettos" but rather recognizes group identities and their heritage.
Take a look back at the definition of multiculturalism and you will find precisely the balance of objectives that many critics of multiculturalism are calling for! Ironically, the vision of many who seek to replace multiculturalism is very much the vision of its original proponents.
I am certainly not arguing that Canada’s multiculturalism is perfect. An idea based on intercultural fusion must have some limits and needs regular checkups and maintenance to remain relevant and meaningful. From the very beginnings of multiculturalism its proponents were arguing that majority and minority were changing each other and producing something called “hybridity.”
Sadly, Canada’s reality is different now. And one sees few signs that Canadian political leadership will offer a vision that once again takes hybridity as a given, as something vital to achieving the common good.
Those politicians and loud media types who seem bent on trashing multiculturalism are seriously endangering something that has shaped Canada to become a nation of success, prosperity and admiration. By changing what we have into something undefined and uncertain, we are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Giving birth to something new in place of multiculturalism will be a painful process. Then why call for an end to official multiculturalism when we could modify and revamp it as we did in the past to suit our current needs and conditions?
As a nation built upon diversity, we need to enhance Canada’s multicultural core values in a world that is being swallowed up by rampant globalization and homogeneity. Let us cherish Canada’s past and current accomplishments while not forgetting our future possibilities.
Canadian diversity is an amazing national and global human asset!
(Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)