In some ways, in Canada, this is the perfect time to think about one of the very core ideas that defines the country.
It is soccer â€“ or football â€“ World Cup season, which means hyphenated-Canadians are showing their true colours, quite literally, on the streets, in the subways and at pubs. Also, 17 men were recently arrested, and have been charged with allegedly plotting a conspiracy to bomb parts of Toronto. There have been claims to bombing the CN tower, seizing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and beheading the Canadian PM Stephen Harper.
The World Cup and the arrests provide flip sides of the multiculturalism argument. And Canadians obsess over multiculturalism. Itâ€™s almost as big a national pastime â€“ even if limited largely to major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver â€“ as cricket is in South Asia.
Multiculturalism is one of those sacrosanct Canadian ideals bequeathed to the country by its most inimitable (yes, in his case hyperboles are merited) heads of state â€“ Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
As the Americans welcome the weary, hungry and sick immigrants, the Canadians welcome the same immigrants along with their cultural baggage. We positively revel in the notion. Not a day goes by when you do not hear the word diversity used at least once. Campaigns of inclusivity are positively rampant â€“ even if they donâ€™t result in as much as they hope to.
So, when the World Cup comes along, major Canadian cities such as Toronto go berserk with the notion of the global village. It is, for the most parts, a joyous celebration. As teams from across the world progress along in the divisions, relevant pockets of Toronto â€“ the various â€˜littleâ€™ neighbourhoods â€“ burst with the pride of representing their origins.
Then, when 17 men, whose origins are multiple, but their faith â€“ Islam â€“ is singular, are brought into court, a question began to hover uncomfortably in the chilly Canadian air â€“ does multiculturalism really work? Is Canada facing a similar crisis, as is Denmark or France?
(Interestingly enough, this is also a time that Canadians are battling with the question as to whether the Canadian army is to take on a combative approach, as opposed to its history as a peacekeeping force.)
Of course, many Canadians scoff at the idea that the country will erupt in race riots. We are not like them. The other, in this case, has been America, but has recently included some European countries in the same vein. In those countries, the nationalistic fervour precludes integration, Canadians argue. Most Canadians donâ€™t use the word assimilate.
The charges against the young men have nothing to do with multiculturalism, these people assert. But some Canadians have begun to suspect whether Canada hasnâ€™t become too comfortable in its belief that multiculturalism works, here.
Some opinions voiced at a recent event in New York are relevant. The event was called The Limits of Tolerance and the three speakers were asked to weigh in on whether “the Enlightenment ideal of tolerance [can] survive the pressures of profound cultural differences aggravated by religious extremism.”
Is culture a way to open yourself to the world, or is it prison in which you lock yourself into? If we consider our roots an absolute, we cannot communicate with another [an-other, emphasis mine] man, said Pascal Bruckner. Multiculturalism was a Canadian idea â€“ with honourable intentions, as most Canadians ideas are, said Richard Rodriguez. He proposed that merging of cultures, rather than multiculturalism is appropriate.
What are Canadians to do? Canada is a country of immigrants, with perhaps an even greater claim at this title than its southern neighbour. One of the many reasons Canada is so appealing to immigrants is that it allows an immigrant to feel at home. This is despite Canadaâ€™s history of racism and some similar incidents today.
For the moment, we wait and watch. Most believe World Cup fever will win over the religious fervour. But there are some who think the core Canadian doctrine to be in danger, and with it the identity of many immigrants who call Canada home.
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Filed in: Culture,Race politics