Merits of A Melting Pot
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently criticized “state multiculturalism,” describing it as a disruptive element in national identity during a security conference in Munich.
Finding common ground with German Chancellor Andrea Merkel, he spoke of the need for all immigrants to “learn the language of the new home,” and to be assimilated into the “elements of common culture.”
What does it take for the leaders of Britain and Germany to come out and state that multiculturalism has failed? There is no right-wing knuckle-dragging agenda here. They recognized a real problem and saw it as pertinent to address on the world stage, risking both reputation and career.
As Canadians open our arms to immigrants from all over the world, we must ask ourselves what it really means to be a Canadian. Some would argue our culture is derived from cultural poaching. Others might list trivial aesthetics such as hockey, maple syrup and Tim Hortons. Some might even define us as being Canadian by virtue of not being American. But it is the crucially important components such as freedom of expression, democratic rights and the rule of law for all.
Unfortunately we are starting to see issues with multiculturalism emerging here, as they have in Europe. On Feb. 4, a dozen recently immigrated Muslim families in Winnipeg demanded that their children be exempt from exposure to music as well as co-ed physical education.
“There is a minority view that music is forbidden. That view is not accepted by the majority,” said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of Islamic Social Services. “My first concern would be who are these new immigrants talking to?”
That is exactly the concern raised by David Cameron when he expressed want to withdraw tolerance of religious extremism forming in ethnic enclaves. His speech was controversial, but let’s put political correctness aside for a moment because these issues exist in Canada too.
The issue that must be addressed is not whether immigrants should concede their culture and values, or dissolve their national identity in order to fit in. The cultural mosaic that is Canada exists as a mutually beneficial philosophy.
Yet inexplicably, what we have in Canada are people who immigrated to this country decades ago yet still can’t speak either English or French. What ferments so often in many of these single-cultural, often state-dependent areas, as seen in the UK, are the religious prejudices and ethnic resentment of their new homeland.
We pride ourselves on our freedoms. Immigrants are welcome to benefit from the social services, and constitutional safety nets that prevent certain kinds of suffering seen elsewhere in the world. However, how many exceptions can be made for sects of religious extremism, especially extremism that the majority of Canadians would construe as unconstitutional?
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 23, published February 15, 2011.
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