Sunday, April 08, 2012

Is the problem with multiculturalism or is it with immigration policy?

People who comment on newspaper articles, to focus on them once again, seem to be universally opposed to multiculturalism. I don't know how you define the word, to be honest, and neither are the people who oppose it, though I suspect that their opposition is informed less by what multiculturalism actually is and more by their opposition to decades of being told to support multiculturalism lest they be branded a racist.

Much was made of Europe's admission that multiculturalism has failed, with Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy all saying so over the past year and change. Before we pronounce it dead, let's talk about what exactly has failed. Has immigration failed or has having multiple cultures in one state failed? It's easy to say why multiculturalism has failed in Germany, especially if the experience of Turks is any guide.

Millions of Turks were brought over as guest workers but, by and large, denied citizenship. People who tenuously kept one foot in Turkey and one in Germany were never going to fully become German by learning the language, culture or taking any steps to build a permanent future in Germany. Living precariously, they turned Turkish enclaves in Germany into a retrograde version of Germany, becoming more conservative than Turks in Turkey.

So what exactly failed in Germany? The failure is one of immigration policy than the inability of people from different backgrounds to coexist. Many of the problems that result from bungled immigration or domestic policy become ascribed to multiculturalism. For example, why is it that so many people who immigrate to Canada from India are truck drivers or factory workers? Is it that they are uneducated morons? Canada, on one hand, excels at letting people enter the country in large numbers, but simultaneously consigns them to low-paying employment by rendering their home-country education and experience essentially worthless.

Multiculturalism is a failure to the extent that you define it. Is multiculturalism a failure when nobody respects the queen anymore? Is it a failure when we take the Lord's Prayer out of schools? Is it a failure when kids of immigrants end up doing drugs and unemployed? Deciding what counts as a failure or a success is not that simple.

You will often find that the Chinese-born doctors and Indian-born lawyers we embrace as the successes of Canadian multiculturalism are the sons and daughters of factory workers and maids, who in turn sponsored their own elderly parents, the parents in question having never worked a day in Canada or learned a word of English. If being who doesn't make a lot of money is a failure, then isn't much of the country itself a failure? If multiculturalism in America is a failure because Mexicans are poor, then is white America a failure because it makes less than Asian America?

I will concede that much of what is said about multiculturalism is nonsense. Toronto's motto, diversity our strength, has always struck me as bizarre. Toronto is remarkable for taking people from around the world and integrating them into the city, but somehow I suspect that if the city was 50% Punjabi-speaking Sikh and 50% Cantonese-speaking from Guangdong, many would find it just as diverse as ever. Diversity, so often, is just another word for not white.

At any rate, what is not a problem of neither immigration nor multiculturalism are the small emotional problems of the old guard, things like pressing 1 to speak in English in a country with no official language, or the resentment at seeing old people in turbans because it represents an erosion of tradition.

So much of what we consider tradition, whether it's in Pakistan, Canada or Korea, is arbitrarily determined. My mother always tells me to speak more Urdu so that I can teach it to my children, but I suspect that hers is the only generation in my family to ever speak Urdu at home. Korea, somewhere along the line, decided that dressing up like a person from 200 years ago, but no more and no less, was traditional. In the West, many of our traditions, from the way people talk in movies set 100 or 1,000 years in the past to our weddings to our holidays, date to the nineteenth century.

Somewhere along the line, we jettisoned the traditions we had to get the traditions we have now. Many of our traditions are great, but others are just things that we've done for a long time and parting with them makes people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. Personally, I have no problem with an area landmark being razed for a Sikh temple, when that landmark itself displaced a far duller landmark from a century ago, and so on.

Canada is about to change its immigration policy to one that centres on employers instead of the government. It's hard to predict both what the final system will look like and how well it will work, but it's likely to be superior to the old system of awarding points for degrees and experience that nobody cared about.

The government, which, let's face it, finds its core support in an older and whiter Canada, also took shots at its bogeymen: women wearing niqabs and people who don't believe in "Canadian – read broadly, western liberal democratic – values". That's all well and good, but like the gong show that is airport security, the immigration or citizenship process is not the time to educate people about values. Of course, immigration minister Jason Kenney knows that, he's trying to impress the people who are already here.


Seadog said...

You touch on a lot of topics here, and I totally agree with your viewpoint on all of them. (Who'd expect that?)

I think a big problem is that when people cling to whatever in-group they can to make them feel safe and secure, they become irrational. One of the most meaningless - but often the most powerful - examples of this is the nationalism that takes hold when people feel that they might have competition for scarce resources (most often jobs, it seems). This causes them to revert to the 5-year-old's argument of "I was here first" to claim that they have a greater right to these resources, simply because their parents or grandparents immigrated before their competitor did.

...and Jason Kenney's a doosh.

Adeel said...

That's a good point. I've never thought about in that way, that we don't necessarily have a right to our jobs by virtue of living where are, and that the job should go to the best candidate regardless of what passport they hold.

Of course, the idea of a job going to the best candidate regardless of their passport is how I happened to get the job I have right now, so it's something that I should have thought of.

Anonymous said...

Although your article is not altogether cohesive, it is very interesting nonetheless and I really enjoyed reading it (as well as your other posts.