Multiculturalism made in Canada is good for Israel
Assistant professor of religion, law and ethics at McGill University.
© The Montreal Gazette
Edited and reviewed here by Marc Eliany
For good or ill, multiculturalism is a groundbreaking development in the theory and practice of modern liberal democracies.
It is hailed as a remarkable global advance by some, and blamed as the cause of troublesome cultural and political conflicts by others.
However, in the heat of debate, the foundational role of Canadian political thought and statecraft in the multicultural project has been largely overlooked.
This month Canadians are marking the 40th anniversary of their officially multicultural country:
on Oct. 8, 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to declare multiculturalism as its state policy.
As the intellectual and political architect of multiculturalism, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau put forward a deep theory of the multicultural liberal state
and, as a statesman, pressed for a robust enactment of this theory in public policy and constitutional reform.
The multicultural vision was born in Montreal in the early 1960s when Trudeau penned ‘The New Treason of the Intellectuals’ for Cite Libre, the influential journal he co-founded.
This remarkable essay has fallen into oblivion, but may deserve a place as one of the most important and influential contributions to liberal political thought in the 20th century.
Trudeau’s essay offered a focused and foundational critique of a deeply entrenched feature of modern political thought and practice – namely,
the unquestioned commitment to a “mono-national” concept of the state.
‘The New Treason’ argues for a clear separation of the nation and the state.
Trudeau points out that one of the first critical chapters in the development of liberal democracy was the separation of religion from the state.
Liberals like English philosopher John Locke recognized that attempts to anchor the state in religion could only lead to conflict and oppression.
However, the liberal state ended up replacing religion with nationality, a far more irrational basis for political community.
After a century of bloodshed due to nationalism, Trudeau argued, the time had come for another historic disestablishment,
namely the disestablishment of nationality as the basis for the liberal state. In Trudeau’s words:
‘Religion had to be displaced as the basis of the state before the frightful religious wars came to an end.
And there will be no end to wars between nations until in some similar fashion the nation ceases to be the basis of the state.’
The fusion of nationality and the state had profoundly corrupted liberal political life and led to some of the most extreme examples of political conflict, violence and repression.
Trudeau concluded that the mono-national state was no more compatible with the goals of liberal democracy than the theocratic state.
The liberal state, he argued, must offer an open space for a variety of cultures and ethnicities, just as it offers an open space for the free exercise of diverse religions.
Trudeau’s multicultural vision attempts to de-politicize ethno-cultural aspirations and relocate them in the sphere of civil society, where they would be allowed to flourish.
The term “multiculturalism” was coined to capture this policy of poly-ethnic pluralism.
As prime minister, Trudeau set out to both re-conceive and reconstruct the Canadian liberal democratic state so that its public policy
and constitutional principles would embody this vision of multicultural pluralism.
In 1971, Canada became the first modern state to establish multiculturalism as its national policy.
In 1982 multiculturalism was written into the constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
By the 1980s, Trudeau’s project was embraced by all the major federal parties, and in 1988 the historic Multiculturalism Act was passed with near-unanimous consent.
The fact that Canadian multiculturalism is now viewed as a reality shaping Canadian identity, political ethos and policy is, in part, a testimony to the impact of Trudeau’s contribution.
The Canadian origins of multiculturalism were quickly lost sight of as it became a global feature of liberal democratic discourse.
But in recent years, the claim that ‘multiculturalism has failed’ appears to be gathering force in elite European circles.
Just in the last few months, major European leaders (Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy) have added their voices to this chorus of discontent.
In their view, multiculturalism is at the root of a number of deep malaises in contemporary liberal democracies, undermining national and civic integration,
fostering immigrant communities gathering into ghetto like concentrations, thus providing fertile ground for religious extremism, and offering safe haven for illiberal beliefs and practices.
Various forms of European multiculturalism do appear to be performing very poorly. But in the land of its birth, multiculturalism seems to be flourishing.
Canada’s moral and practical investment in multiculturalism is far deeper than that of most European states, and the outcome is far better.
A recent study by Will Kymlicka, one of Canada’s leading researchers on multiculturalism, indicates
that Canadians, both immigrants and non-immigrants, take a high level of pride in their multiculturalism.
Immigrants to Canada integrate more quickly and effectively than do immigrants to other major Western countries.
They become more active politically, in terms of voting, participation, and election to office.
And their children have far better educational outcomes.
Canada is marked by vibrant “ethnic neighborhoods,” but there is little evidence of the kind of ghetto concentrations that one sees in Europe.
Finally, the mutual alienation between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Europe is largely absent in Canada.
The vast majority of Canadians believe that Muslim Canadians are a positive force in Canada.
And according to a research paper for Citizenship and Immigration Canada by Kymlicka:
Muslim Canadians are more likely than the general population (91 per cent vs. 71 per cent) to affirm that Canada is headed in the right direction.