The following is a quote from the National Post article “Multiculturalism in its controversial glory: Is Canada a ‘country without a core culture’?” by Joe O’Connor:
Salim Mansur is a political scientist at the University of Western Ontario. He has been described, including in the pages of this newspaper, as Canada’s “angriest moderate.” And what makes him so angry is that nobody, he says, not the media elite, politicians or even the academics, is willing to have a frank and open dialogue about multiculturalism in this country.
“Numerous languages spoken inside a country is only a problem, and a lethal problem, when the core identity of that country comes to be increasingly disputed — as is happening in Canada,” Professor Mansur, an Indo-Canadian Muslim originally from Calcutta wrote in an email. “A multicultural country, and officially so designated, has basically indicated it is a country without a core culture, or the core culture that once gave it cohesion, identity, framework, anchor, has been jettisoned to embrace a multiplicity of identities — and thereby the unintended consequence is that there is a void in the centre.”
He argues that Canada, before it became beholden to a Kumbayah notion that everybody should get along and be free to do so in whatever language they choose to speak was, at its core, a liberal democracy. Previous generations of immigrants — Irish, Italians and Greeks, Germans, Russians and Poles, to list a few — who arrived before multiculturalism became enshrined as federal policy in October, 1971, were forced, not by fiat, but out of necessity, to embrace English and/or French because speaking the official languages was key to being a part of the greater Canadian tribe.
I strongly disagree with Mansur’s argument. It’s based on an assumption that a culture has to remain the same to exist. But the wonderful thing about humanity is that it’s constantly evolving and changing.
Give me an example of an unaltered, pure culture. The bushmen?
Almost every culture in the world has been influenced by others. Last summer, I was surprised to learn the extent that Spain was influenced by Muslims. But it made sense once I thought about it. I think many North Americans have an overly romantic view of European cultures. While there are definitely distinctions between Spain, France, Germany, etc., there are also more overlaps than we sometimes realize.
Mansur’s definition of culture reminds me of the definition of wilderness that William Cronon argues against in his essay “The Trouble With Wilderness, or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” (1995). He contends there is no such thing as a pristine environment (such as “virgin” forests) because humans have affected most environments on Earth. Furthermore, creating a dualism between “pristine” and “artificial” nature actually hinders environmental movements by creating artificial hierarchies of importance. It’s a great article and I recommend it to everyone:
Back to Mansur:
Does welcoming immigrants mean we are no longer a liberal democracy? I don’t see how those two values are necessarily conflicting.
Sometimes I get frustrated with people and politics back home too. But now that I’m away, I miss the (apparently non-existent) “core culture” of Canada. Celebration of tolerance and diversity counts as culture too!