Jun. 1, 2006
Misled by multiculturalism
Dogma of diversity has only created ghettos, says Tarek Fatah
One recent Friday, I attended an Iranian Canadian event in Toronto where I was, perhaps, the only non-white, non-Iranian among the 1,000 immaculately turned out guests. When I asked friends at the table why there were no black, Chinese or Arabs at the event, I drew blank stares of bewilderment. Unsaid, but easily understood in the silence was the answer: "Why would a Chinese Canadian or an Indian Canadian be interested in an Iranian event?"
So, I pushed the envelope further and asked: "If you feel a black or Chinese Canadian would not understand Iranian issues, why do you feel white Canadians would? Are they better disposed to grasp international issues than, say, an Arab Canadian?" I asked.
The interesting part of the evening was the reaction of a white Canadian MPP, who shared our table. She was quite taken aback by my candour and admitted: "I had not noticed the absence of these communities until you pointed it out."
Of course, this celebration of ghettoization is not the exclusive preserve of Iranian Canadians; other communities have mastered their own marginalization with equal enthusiasm, if not more.
Earlier that week, I had attended a Tamil Canadian event, where, too, the situation was the same. Only Tamil Canadians and white Canadians were invited. No Arabs, no Iranians, no Chinese were among the audience; my presence being the anomaly. When I raised the same issue with my Tamil hosts, they, to their credit, were far more willing to accept the fact that they had overlooked the issue out of neglect.
This strange relationship of Canada's ethnics with the dominant community raises the question: Is this segregation a legacy of our colonial past, the rise of identity politics or the direct result of institutional multiculturalism?
Why is it that whenever the Chinese or Pakistani or any other ethnic minority organizes events, the only other community invited to participate is the dominant white community?
Canada's ethno-cultural communities, who celebrated the advent of multiculturalism in the 1960s, are today increasingly cynical about it. One harsh view of multiculturalism comes from fiery Italian-born constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati, who scoffs at the institution, calling it "the bone thrown to us dogs by the English and French masters."
Galati suggests the institution has benefited only a very small number of organizations, which, he says, "extol the virtues of this nonsense for their own limited financial gain to the detriment of the equality and dignity of the rest of us."
Dismissing any benefits of multiculturalism, Galati says, "What we have in Canada is multisegregation de facto, and regrettably de jure."
Rocco Galati's cynicism may offend some, but there is no doubt that not only have the dominant communities of Canada successfully segregated us into our sometimes prosperous ghettoes, they have had near full co-operation by leaders of these communities. No wonder, whether it is Iranians or Tamils, they, like all other ethnic communities, feel they need to relate only to the mainstream community, not share their issues with fellow citizens from other racial minorities.
In this era of identity politics, where people are being pushed into religious and racial silos, multiculturalism can very easily provide fertile soil for nurturing our primitiveness, rather than celebrating reason and our common humanity.
Nobel Prize-winning author Amartya Sen, who as a child had to flee Pakistan for India to escape Hindu-Muslim carnage in 1947, has touched on this subject in his new book, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.
Sen suggests that we, as human beings, cannot be classified simply in racial or religious compartments, arguing that we are all what we make of ourselves, not just what we inherit from our parents. He writes: "Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when the manifold divisions in the world are unified into one allegedly dominant system of classification in terms of religion, or community, or culture, or nation, or civilization ..."
It is time for ethnic minorities to take the next step forward in building a civic society based on respect, dignity and social justice. It is time for Indo-Canadians to interact with Arab Canadians, not only at nomination and leadership bid meetings of prominent white politicians, but to get to know each other as fellow Canadians. It is time for Iranian Canadians to attend the Harry Jerome Awards for black Canadians. That would be a multiculturalism true to the concept's original spirit.
Otherwise, we risk creating a fragmented nation, divided into 21st century tribes, segregated into silos, easily manipulated. While I value diversity, I am tired of celebrating it. What I truly wish to celebrate is our common humanity, not our tribal loyalties and affinities.
Tarek Fatah is host of the weekly TV show, The Muslim Chronicle.