The Conditionality of Citizenship

As most of my friends and family know, I have a complicated relationship with being Canadian. This is the reality when you come from a people who have faced violent colonization at the hands of the a fledgling government. This does not mean that I do not “love” my country, there are times where I am swayed by the the nation building media campaigns and patriotic outpouring that exists at special times, but these patriotic feelings are always quelled within myself when I remember the St. Madeleine forced expulsion of Metis people from their homes; when Canadian RCMP came into the city and burnt homes in order to move the Metis from the land. My complicated feelings of being Canadian and Canada do no erase the fact that I have privilege of being born in a Western country, and do not generally face difficulties passing through airport security because of my passport (and my skin colour, a whole other privilege). My feelings about Canada also does not erase what Canada may mean to other individuals, perhaps to refugees, steadfast patriots, and maybe even the average Canadian. I am not “anti-Canada”, and do identify as Canadian, but it’s a hyphenated Canadian: Metis-Canadian, Canadian being more of a surname than my first. I know people who do not identify as Canadian, and identify primarily by their Indigenous Nation, which is legitimate, but I identify with Canada and being Canadian because I am a mixed person, and I feel the need to honour both sides of me. Yet, my feelings of my existence within Canada is the reason multiculturalism doesn’t work, well one of them anyway.

Sun News political pundit, Ezra Levant, wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun yesterday, likening the failure of multiculturalism to the acts of two extremist men murdering British Soldier, Lee Rigby, in broad daylight. The act within itself is a tragedy and horrific, that is unquestionable, but xenophobic outpourings such as this being an example of why multiculturalism is a failure is not only inaccurate but also ignoring larger societal structures of why multiculturalism fails. To Levant, multiculturalism has failed because there are two extremist men who killed a Soldier with their interpretation of holy scripture. At the basis of this, multiculturalism is a farce because what are considered “white, safe” countries have opened their borders to historical ‘Others’. Not only was Levant’s criticism of multiculturalism islamophobic, but also deeply, deeply racist; in reality, the two cannot be separated. With the ‘Boston Bombings’ and the quick ethnicization of the two Chechen brothers who committed the attack, the media was quick to assert that they were not “us”, they were radical Chechen Muslims. Even magazine covers depicting the brothers, saw them morph from white to more racialized caricatures.

Multiculturalism is not a failure due to the failure of racialized and ethnic minorities to assimilate, it’s a failure because dominate society wants societal others to assimilate. At the very core of a multicultural society, there is the decided dominate identity, with ‘othered’ identities surrounding the periphery. In Canada, the myth of the two founding nations (Britain and France) frame Canada’s core identity: bilingual, French Quebec, the Monarchy, all remnants from the colonial creation of Canada and current influences on contemporary Canadian culture. The pressure to assimilate is powerful and real, the pressure to submit to dominate culture is forceful, to hide who you are, your culture, and your history is order to ‘fit in’ with a dominate culture is damaging. If we were a true ‘multiculture’ of a Nation, then this heavy pressure of assimilation to fit in, in order to survive would not exist. High rates of Indigenous youth suicide and Indigenous incarceration would not exist, we wouldn’t have CBC specials created by Indigenous folks for the purpose of explaining Indigenous truths to settlers. Multiculturalism, for the most part, has been racialized minorities trying to “prove” and explain themselves to dominate culture; acceptance is always conditional. The conditionality of the acceptance is in of itself, an example of how the multicultural utopian ideal does not exist.

The crimes by extremists should not be excused, but they are not examples of the failure of multiculturalism. The failure of multiculturalism is calling these attacks terrorist attacks because of the intersection of extremism and Islam, while white men shoot school children and are decided to be ‘mentally ill’. It seems that terrorism only exists when Islam is involved, when the conditionality of multiculturalism citizenship is challenged. It’s not the innocence of murders I am talking about, it’s the criminalization of an entire faith and its practitioners because of the acts of extremists. It’s the fact that the acts of a few dictate the fluidity of the acceptance of citizenship for the many. After all, there isn’t public outrage over nuns covering their heads because of religious conviction, and it is not called terrorism when white supremacists burn a man of colour, sleeping on a couch.

Links:

Ezra Levant’s Toronto Sun article: http://www.torontosun.com/2013/05/24/this-is-war-multiculturalism-doesnt-work

Vancouver Man Set Fire: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/01/23/bc-minority-attacks-search-warrant.html

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