Canada News

Larry Zolf on Multiculturalism

15 June 2006 at 19:57 | 710 views

Veteran journalist and Canadian political expert Larry Zolf(photo) is a regular contributor to CBC News Online. Larry has been a critic, reporter, producer and consultant for CBC news and current affairs since he joined the CBC in 1962. Born and raised in North End Winnipeg, the hotbed of general strikes and socialism, Larry has covered stories such as integration in Mississippi and the October Crisis in Quebec. He was one of the hosts of the CBCs flagship current affairs television show "This Hour Has 7 Days." He is now retired.

I remember when Pierre Trudeau introduced multiculturalism in the 1970s. I wrote two pieces in Maclean’s magazine and did a CBC program condemning multiculturalism.

I argued that multiculturalism made me, the son of an immigrant, inferior to Anglo Saxons and the French Canadians. Multiculturalism was putting me into a ghetto and was defining me as a Jew rather than as a proud and fully committed Canadian.

I said I preferred a Canadian melting pot to multiculturalism.

Never did I suggest that Canada wasn’t an immigrant’s paradise nor did I ever suggest that immigrants should not live in neighbourhoods with their fellow immigrants.

Nor did I deride ethnic schools. I attended one in Winnipeg.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. normal school teachers who were Jewish taught us mathematics, civic institutions, British and Canadian history and the true glories of Canadianism. The afternoons were reserved for Jewish studies.

My ethnic school made me a fully integrated Canadian. My fellow students and I didn’t need multiculturalism to teach us to be good Canadians.

My doubts about multiculturalism have been reinforced by the recent alleged terrorism and the response to it by the Canadian Muslim community. That Muslim community is as a whole overwhelmingly obedient to the law of the land and overwhelmingly shuns extremism. It is also very alert to the problems of its young people.

Still, these things must be said about multiculturalism. It is supposed to bring together all the various groups and cultures into the multicultural tent.

Multiculturalism preaches that it is possible to be a good Canadian even if you are African, Muslim or Serb. Multiculturalism says it’s okay to be loyal to your home country and Canada too.

The multiculturalism credo has it that Canada’s ethnic groups can keep their own cultures while they assimilate and adjust to mainstream Canadian values. The Canadian melting pot as taught to me in Winnipeg in my ethnic school does not seem to be taken up by Canadian ethnic groups these days.

Multiculturalism is supposed to pave the way for immigrants into the full Canadian society. That’s what my generation of immigrant Canadians did without the help of multiculturalism.

Canada is a vertical mosaic. The top rungs of the mosaic are filled by the Anglo Saxons and French Canadians. The bottom rungs of the mosaic are filled by Canada’s ethnic groups. Multiculturalism does little to provide a level playing field.

Given the recent allegations of terrorist plotting, one can safely say that multiculturalism isn’t working for the Muslim community. There is a backlash against the Muslim community and many critics have surfaced blaming multiculturalism for that backlash.

Multiculturalism is not the real culprit, but the Muslim community is indeed a player in the backlash the alleged terrorist plot has caused.

The Muslim community on the whole lives totally apart from mainstream Canadian values. Its members do very little to instruct its children in the culture and values of mainstream Canadian life.

The Muslim community also stresses the superiority of its own religion and faith and sees no particular separation between church and state. The faith and culture of a normal Canadian community is looked upon by Muslims as either infidel or crusader.

It is multiculturalism that creates such a narrow ghetto mentality in the Canadian Muslim community. It is not surprising that in such an isolated community young Muslims might be tempted by the violence of jihadism or the admiration of suicide bombers.

Multiculturalism, by running down traditional Canadian liberal values and encouraging ethnic groups to stay in their ghettoes, can cause young Muslims to go astray.

This isolation may tempt young Muslims to identify with young Islamic fighters in Afghanistan or suicide bombers in Israel. Multiculturalism may create diverse societies, but they can become closed shops.

All this is a clue to the failure of Canadian multiculturalism to instil in Muslim young people a respect for law and order and a respect for people of other faiths and religions.

Multiculturalism also does not instil Canadian pride in Muslims and other Canadian immigrants. They know that at best multiculturalism creates Muslim and immigrant ghettoes across Canada. Multiculturalism also makes Muslims and immigrants feel like second-class citizens in Canada.

This creates an identity crisis for young Muslims. They don’t feel accepted by Canadians and are attracted to extremism to be able to have an identity of their own.

It is not Islamophobic to criticize multiculturalism. Multiculturalism has done very little to give the Muslim community a place in the Canadian sun. It is a concept that encourages immigrants to stay in their ghettoes and it does little to integrate Muslims or other ethnic groups into the Canadian way of life.

Multiculturalism is a trap for Muslims and Canadian ethnic groups. It is a myth that pits newcomers against the rest of Canadian society. And it is a myth that prevents assimilation and integration.

Only through assimilation and integration in a Canadian melting pot will ethnic groups like the Muslims find peace for themselves and for their children.