Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Is multiculturalism on deathbed? - a critical response

Multiculturalism is one of my favorite topics, well bashing it at least as you might have noticed reading this blog.:-) Just a while ago, multiculturalism was off limits. To speak ill of one of ‘da Canadian values was tantamount to committing treason. Or at the very least it was something one wouldn’t do it in a polite society. However, after 9/11 and especially after the recent events in Britain the critical voices have begun to mount. Daniel Munro’s article in the Star presents a defense of multiculturalism under these conditions.
Munro starts off admitting the fact that
Supporters of multiculturalism are pressed to offer a stronger case for a besieged policy.

However, he dismisses the charges entirely:
This debate about whether multiculturalism should stay or go, however, is a false debate. Ethnocultural diversity is a fact of democratic political life that will not change anytime soon and ignoring it is not an option.

The first rule of sophistry: frame the debate in your own terms. Munro purposefully misrepresents what’s the issue here. Ethnocultural diversity is indeed a fact of life as much as whether there are blondes and brunettes hardcore fans or classical music lovers. The issue here is how the state should deal with it or, to put it more precisely, whether it’s the state’s business at all.

Then, Munro attempts to argue that multiculturalism, since its inception, has been always about ‘integration’.

As anyone who has taken a serious look at Canada's 1988 Multiculturalism Act knows, integration, rather than simplistic protection of ethnocultural minorities, was its central aim.

Examining the multicultural record in his 1998 book, Finding Our Way, Queen's University philosopher Will Kymlicka notes that the Multiculturalism Act aimed not merely to "support the cultural development of ethnocultural groups," but also "to help members of ethnocultural groups overcome barriers to full participation in Canadian society; to promote creative encounters and interchange among all ethnocultural groups; and to assist new Canadians in acquiring at least one of Canada's official languages."

Well, I’m not that familiar with the documents in question but from a purely logical point of view it seems that it would require more than just restating the official line to provide convincing evidence that the policy of multiculturalism facilitates full participation in Canadian society.
To understand what I mean let me offer you a simple example:
if I am a new immigrant with little English skills, it’d be certainly nice of the government to help me to ‘acquire at least one of Canada’s official languages’, preferably English I’d reckon. But I don’t see how imaginary membership in my ethno-linguistic community would help me. I just need a qualified instructor to get me through and I don’t care whether other students are members of my ‘community’ or they are Africans, Chinese, or Latino. In fact, it’s better for me not to have my people around in order to converse with someone else in English rather than be tempted to use my native tongue.

These are goals of integration, not ghettoization as critics have suggested. The aim is to integrate newcomers into the mainstream through their ethnocultural identities, not to offer unqualified preservation of those identities.

To argue that multiculturalism is dead or should be abandoned, then, is to argue against a policy of integration.

Again, my main question here is that ‘the mainstream’ is never properly defined. What is it? But even more questionable is the premise that somehow ‘integrating through ethnocultural identities’ is the way to go. I’d love to see any evidence that it’s worked. Actually, the British example teaches us rather otherwise and I think one needs something more than unsubstantiated accusations that being ‘against multiculturalism’ means being ‘against integration’.

When Munro proceeds to the ‘solutions part’ his arguments are not less shaky and controversial.

Democratic multiculturalism will require a shift in our ideas about representation. We must encourage ethnocultural groups to elect representatives from their communities who will negotiate the terms of participation and integration with the broader society.

The concept of ‘representation’ is one of the sacred cows of the modern Left that has replaced the old Marxist ‘people’s power’. First of all, members of ehtnocultural groups are also citizens and as such are ‘represented’ by ‘normal’ representatives (MPs, MLAs etc.) So how then these two forms of ‘representation’ would coincide and work with each other. Which one is more legitimate?
Secondly, how should one define membership in an ethnic community? If it’s based on ‘objective’ criteria: the country of origin, language, even skin color then would it be possible not to be designated as such or would it be mandatory? If it’s however a voluntary association then it should be conceivable that some individuals would like to join certain ethnic groups to elect those representatives and who would decide then whether to allow them or not?

Through a combination of regulation and incentives, we must encourage the media to devote more prime time and space to political discussions about ethnocultural concerns. Moreover, we must encourage the media to increase the participation of ethnocultural representatives in mainstream programming rather simply offering late night or early morning time slots to individual cultural groups.

Sugarcoated and obscured through the use of academic mambo-jumbo Munro’s idea would appear pretty clear when put to practice: an introduction of quotas enforced by the state; and perhaps for visible minorities.
Conclusion: Munro’s arguments are just a rehashing of the same old stuff that’s been used before. However, the mere fact that he felt compelled to offer such an apologia in the country of ‘pobedivshego multikul’turalizma’ may suggest that the times are indeed changing.


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