True multiculturalism can only flourish when cultural values — not religious restrictions — come together

True multiculturalism can only flourish when cultural values — not religious restrictions — come together

Multiculturalism flourishes when cultural values are accepted

Tahir Gora

What is multiculturalism? And what is the Canadian version of it?


These are among the hottest debates in our society these days. Does multiculturalism mean to blend all cultures in one pot or to keep all ethnic communities separated from each other?


According to the Department of Canadian Heritage definition, “Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging.” But belong to what? To one’s own ethnic community or to Canadian society?


This definition states further, “The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding, and discourages ghettoization, hatred, discrimination and violence.”


How does it discourage ghettoization? It is hard to explain this part while saying the multiculturalism also encourages the “sense of belonging” to one’s own ethnicity.

Critics often attack this contradiction, saying this is a particularly Canadian form of multiculturalism.


Visible minorities, such as Chinese, South Asian, Arab, Black and South American communities are all across Canada , congregated mainly in big cities such as Toronto , Montreal , Vancouver , Calgary , Edmonton , Ottawa and Hamilton.


But the Canadians from (or descended from) European Caucasian nations, who have long had a strong feeling of “owning” this country, raise the questions and concerns.


“Hey, we have made the rules of laws of this land. Hello newcomers, welcome. But make no mistake: stoning or burning women alive won’t be tolerated and faces are not to be covered except at Halloween.”


Such were the social “norms,” that the small town of Herouxville , Que., delivered to potential Muslim immigrants in 2007. They also cautioned them “We drink alcoholic beverages”. So don’t be offended. Frankly, this caution doesn’t affect anyone except Arab or South Asian Muslims.


In our multicultural mosaic, none of the ethnic communities except Muslims have fundamental clashes with “Canadian values” such as women’s liberties, openness, separation of religion from community or questioning religious scriptures, etc. Drinking alcohol or sexual freedom is equally shared by the majority and most other minority communities.


Muslims’ clash with multiculturalism is not due to cultural reasons: It is on the basis of mixing up of Islamic religious orders with cultural values.


In our definition of multiculturalism, though, we didn’t endorse religious scriptures. We needed to make it clear that our model of multiculturalism should be structured on the basis of multiple cultures not multiple religions. There is a separate debate to be had on how religion reflects in culture and to what extent. But religion had to be made separate from culture; otherwise it is hard to reach a harmonious and practical model of multiculturalism.


Our multicultural model shakes when we try to introduce religious ethnicity into it. That’s the point where we don’t understand why things don’t go smoothly. Instead of blending different religions, the mixing up of cultures could be the right path to multiculturalism.


When someone proposes Shariah (Islamic religious) law in Ontario for the sake of multiculturalism or one-sided organizations start talking about the obligations or rights of women to wear veils on their faces, our multiculturalism advocates become confused and try to figure out what’s gone wrong.


In fear of being accused of racism, they don’t speak out. Neither Shariah law nor veils are a requirement of multiculturalism. Concealing one’s identity is not a part of the Canadian mosaic.


True multiculturalism can only flourish when cultural values — not religious restrictions — come together.

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