Plain diversity or selective diversity?
Plain diversity or selective diversity?
By Audrey Davis
The Federal Court of Canada has ruled it is “unlawful” for Ottawa to order new citizens to remove their face-covering veil when taking the oath of citizenship. This decision deserves applause.
More likely, outraged voices will thunder in disapproval of this latest ruling triggered by the case of Zunera Ishaq, who arrived from Pakistan in 2008 after being sponsored by her Canadian husband.
Ms Ishaq successfully passed the citizenship test in November 2013 and was scheduled to be sworn in at a citizenship ceremony in Scarborough two months later but decided to forego the event after learning she would need to remove her niqab under a ban introduced in 2011 by then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
I am shocked that our government is so blatantly opposed to multiculturalism and diversity while simultaneously promoting these principles as core Canadian values.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act declares:
“The Constitution of Canada provides that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination and that everyone has the freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association and guarantees those rights and freedoms equally to male and female persons.”
Ms Ishaq’s refusal to remove her niqab in public is her fundamental right, as the head garment is not a fashion-related item, but a symbol of her deep religious belief. Interfering with one’s rights to preserve and enjoy their own culture, in this case the removal of a niqab, is a violation of religious rights protected by the Act.
Why this two-faced attitude on multiculturalism and diversity promoted in our society?
Conventional politeness encourages being a proponent of an open and multicultural society. Being opposed to diversity automatically triggers daunting names in the form of ethically questionable libels: racist, anti-…., intolerant …-phobic, etc.
Nobody wants to be vilified, thus people are simply recycling the same reasons for loving multiculturalism and diversity: food, restaurants and… interesting spices. Using various food-related elements will not mask the truth: they are talking about food.
The one-step-more-advanced proponents are those who solemnly and proudly state that multiculturalism and diversity are tools of cultural enrichment, as they “learn so much about other cultures”.
How much of this claim is true? How much do you personally know about your spouse’s or co-worker’s culture?
I don’t doubt that some really learn, but knowledge is not related to being in direct contact with a representative of a certain culture.
There is a misconception related to how we perceive each member of a cultural community: it is mechanically seen that each individual is an ambassador of their own culture. Some don’t know their own history; others have no basic knowledge about their literature, art or philosophy.
Sharing a space with members of a cultural community does not automatically make one more informed.
Would you say that while riding a multicultural bus , one would routinely engage in culturally enriching conversations?
How many times have you asked someone who was chatting with a friend in an unknown language what language they spoke? And how many times have you asked more questions about their culture?
Probably never as this would be seen as unacceptable behaviour, rather than thirst for knowledge.
Let’s take this basic test:
1. What is the official language of Brazil?
2. Is Burkina Faso a monarchy?
3. What is the difference between a burka and a niqab?
4. Why do Chinese dislike #4?
5. Who was Dracula?
6. Is Somalia located on the east or west coast of Africa?
7. A Muslim place of worship is called: a church, synagogue, temple or mosque?
8. Before entering a Japanese home, one must: wash their feet, remove their shoes, wash their hands or remove their socks?
9. Offering your right hand is an insult in many countries, especially India. True or false?
10. What is the Philippine’s recognised language?
This is basic knowledge that every proponent should know as many Canadians have hired a nanny from the Philippines, while others are probably married to an immigrant or have adopted a baby from China or Africa.
Now, let’s return to Ms Ishaq.
She came to Canada to be reunited with her husband.
She grew up in Pakistan, perhaps in a little village where women wear niqabs.
How does one demand that she suddenly “become Canadian and embrace our culture and values”?
This request is not only unachievable, but also ridiculous and cruel in its blindness.
We all know what love means. We fell in love with a person and we know that every person has faults. But we have chosen one person to love, cherish and spend our lives with, not because that person is perfect, but because we love that person, in spite of their faults.
This is love.
If we think that the person we love is faultless and once we discover a fault, we decide to abandon him or her, would we call that love?
Multiculturalism and diversity are not different.
We have opened our doors to non-European immigration, knowing so well that Canada would become a space shared by many non-European cultures that bring very specific, new and powerful customs and family traditions, as well as values that may not be similar to ours.
We asked them to marry Canada. And they said “Yes”.
Consequently, they came to Canada with their languages, food, clothes, lifestyle and philosophy.
They came only because we had opened the doors telling them: “Come and live with us and your cultural identity will be preserved and protected.”
Please do not be angry with Ms Ishaq.
Please do not hate those immigrants who live according to the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.
If you don’t smoke and you invite a smoker for dinner, don’t be shocked if the guest will smoke.
You should have informed your guest in advance.
If you feel uncomfortable mentioning the fact, next time your guest will smoke again. Out of politeness, you allow your guest to smoke in the living room, while enjoying the cup of coffee. The smoke bothers you, yet, you dare not say anything.
The evening ends and you feel frustrated about the odour left behind; the curtains got impregnated with the unmistakable cigarette smell.
Do you feel angry? Will you blame your guest?
Perhaps you shouldn’t have invited him/her again. Next time, select your guests more carefully.
Find the guts to tell him/her or speak no word and stop complaining.
Your guest might choose to continue visiting you, while making a major compromise or might simply stop visiting you, if enjoying a glass of wine without smoking is not an option.
How about this scenario? You need a roommate and you accept a devote Muslim who needs to pray five times a day, who doesn’t smoke, drink or eat pork.
After a few days, you begin feeling irritated by his cultural practices. After a few weeks, you mention the prayer-related aspect: it disturbs you.
Your roommate doesn’t understand your reaction and he is right.
You have accepted him in the first place and you were supposed to be aware of his cultural practices. Now, you are asking him to stop praying or move out.
What is wrong in this picture?
Asking immigrants who have been accepted into Canada with their unmistakable cultural identity to suddenly abandon it denotes crass thoughtlessness and ignorance.
If Canada wants diversity and multiculturalism, so be it. Then be ready to accept kirpans in schools, gender-separation, religious accommodations, non-English or French signage, honour-killings, dowry feuds, and arranged marriages.
If you are ready for all this, you are a true proponent of diversity and multiculturalism.
If not, you support a selective diversity and multiculturalism and this is simply insolent.
True proponents of multiculturalism would proudly stand with Ms Ishaq in defending her right to wear the niqab while being sworn in as Canadian citizen.
In lieu of supporting “weekend diversity” by dining at ethnic restaurants and maintaining token social ties with visible minorities at work, a real multiculturalist embraces diversity without being selective. Offering unconditional support to all cultural practice is non-negotiable, particularly if some cultural aspects cause some level of social discomfort.
Multiculturalism is a table d’hote affair, not a buffet.