A Calcutta-born Canadian explores the fundamental contradiction between multiculturalism and Western freedom.
A number of books have criticized multiculturalism, but even if you've already read a bunch of them, Salim Mansur's Delectable Lie: A Liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism is still very much worth your attention. Mansur, a syndicated columnist who teaches political science at the University of Western Ontario and whose previous books include Islam's Predicament: Perspectives of a Dissident Muslim, approaches multiculturalism from the distinctive viewpoint of a naturalized Canadian citizen who is also a secular Muslim born on the Indian subcontinent. At once very knowledgeable about the history of multiculturalism and richly steeped in the long tradition of Western ideas about individual liberty (of which he rightly recognizes multiculturalism as a profound philosophical violation), Mansur is also a highly effective polemicist. Although awash in learned references to thinkers ranging from Plato and Aristotle to Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek, Mansur's book is eminently accessible, and should be of interest to any reader who is concerned about the threat that multiculturalism poses to the Western heritage of freedom.
It's significant that Mansur is Canadian, because Canada, as he puts it, was “the first major democracy to experiment with designing a society on the basis of multiculturalism.” He recounts the origins of this policy, which took shape largely as a response to growing pressure for Quebec's independence (or, at the very least, for radical revision of its position in the Canadian confederation). This pressure led to Prime Minister Lester Pearson's 1963 establishment of a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which in turn eventuated in the formulation of an official multicultural policy in 1968 by the government of Pierre Trudeau. Thus began Canada's shift from a liberal democratic society that supported individual rights to a nation that placed the rights of the group above those of the individual – a process that reached its culmination under Brian Mulroney, during whose prime ministership, Mansur maintains, “Canada became the first western liberal democracy to adopt multiculturalism as the defining characteristic of the country.”
Multiculturalism, Mansur reminds us, was born in a time when the nature of immigration to North America had changed radically. A century ago, relocating from the Old World to the New was an expensive proposition; people left the lands of their birth “with some certainty of never returning”; they put the past behind them and began a new life, grateful to receive opportunities not offered to them back home. Yet all that changed, changed utterly – and a big reason for the change, as Mansur shrewdly points out, was “the arrival of wide-body aircraft,” which ended up “blurr[ing] the difference between immigrants and migrant workers.” All too many of today's so-called immigrants to the West, after all, are not truly immigrants in the traditional sense but are, rather, people “situated in two countries...only a few short hours removed from their native lands.” They don't break their ties to the old country, don't undergo a dramatic psychological adjustment of the sort that was once a natural part of the immigrant experience. Nor do the countries to which they “immigrate” expect of them what they used to expect of newcomers from abroad: today's “immigrants” can become citizens of a Western country even if they utterly despise its core values and spend much of their time back in the places they “immigrated” from.
If Mansur is so exasperated at “immigrants” who fail to embrace their new Western homelands, it is because he himself has a profound – and often eloquently articulated – appreciation for the West. Indeed this book is, among other things, a love letter to Western civilization, a civilization unique for its emancipation of the individual from the “collectivist hold of tribe, caste, church, nation, class and any ideology that made of him a mere cog in a wheel.” Mansur – who (admirably) despises collectivism, and has no wish to be a cog in any wheel – reminds us that the idea of individualism is alien to every other civilization on the planet, and that it was “only through prolonged and sustained contact with the West” that the idea took root in non-Western societies.
If Delectable Lie is a love letter to the West, it is especially a love letter to Canada from a refugee who witnessed “terror and savage killings” back in his native country and will forever be thankful to the Great White North for providing him with a refuge and “the opportunity to begin a new life.” His Canadian identity is so important to Mansur, indeed, that he eventually “came to feel uncomfortable with the notion of being a hyphenated Canadian.” For if his Indian identity was something he had “inherited at birth without any effort on my part,” his Canadian identity was the product of “choice and conscious effort.” Being Canadian meant “embrac[ing] the West and freely assimilat[ing] its distinctive culture”; it meant “recogniz[ing], as I did with a mixture of awe and gratitude, that the West represents the idea of a civilization nurtured by the values of the Enlightenment....its politics shaped by the democratic impulse of revolutions against hereditary rule, its philosophy influenced by the development of the scientific method of controlled experiments and tests, its culture open and embracing of new ideas.”
Moving sentiments; stirring words. In Mansur's view, it is a matter of deep moral urgency that a new immigrant to the West completely and sincerely embrace his new national identity. Mansur meditates sensitively and at length on the importance of being a citizen, noting that “while other cultures have borrowed this idea, it is only in the West that citizenship is vested in a free individual with rights and responsibilities,” and lamenting that Western passports are now so freely handed out to “immigrants” who have little or no emotional attachment to their new countries and no real concept of the deeper meanings – and obligations – attached to the idea of citizenship. In the Western world, as Mansur sees it, one's identity as citizen is, or should be, paramount; and one of the deleterious aspects of multiculturalism is that it “works to weaken or dissolve citizenship identity by suggesting that the cultural identities which immigrants bring with them deserve to be recognized and treated with equal respect.” This destructive tendency, he urges, must be countered as fervently as possible: “the principle of citizenship with its rights and responsibilities needs to be reaffirmed and protected. People need to be reminded repeatedly what it means to be a citizen in a modern secular state.”
For Americans, this is an illuminating book in many ways. Some of us tend to think of Canada (when we think of it at all) as a country pretty much like our own, where the only real difference is that the people pronounce “out” and “about” differently; but of course Canadians not only have their own history but also their own distinctive ways of thinking about politics, culture, and value – many of which, indeed, have taken shape in reaction to American ways of thinking. So it was with multiculturalism, which in the beginning was viewed as an effective way of distinguishing Canada from the United States, of whose “melting pot” philosophy many bien pensant Canadians heartily disapproved. Canada, they insisted, would not be a “melting pot” but a beautiful mosaic, a melange, a smorgasbord – yet instead of sharpening Canada's profile vis-à-vis its neighbor to the south, the new policy, Mansur complains, only served to make a “weak national identity....even weaker.”
Still, he suggests, it was not until 9/11 that it became fully clear just how much of a threat multiculturalism poses to free societies. For multiculturalism, he explains, turns out to be nothing less than “the slippery slope that leads to the acceptance or appeasement of the politics of jihad within a liberal democracy.” The kind of liberty we have enjoyed in countries like the U.S. and Canada, Mansur reminds us, is a glorious exception in human history: in most times and places – and certainly in Communist and Islamic societies – the human individual has been “a cog in a machine...a means to an end as defined by the collective. This is the politics of jihad, which has been the normal condition for humankind in history, and only for brief tantalizing moments in history has the promise of history, as what ought to be the condition for humankind, appeared on history's stage.”
While the phenomenon of creeping jihad has quite clearly exposed the danger of multiculturalism, however, Western politicians and multiculturalist ideologues have decided perversely – “like dope addicts” – that the answer “is more multiculturalism,” including gradually giving in to demands for parallel systems of sharia law, in the absurd hope that if Islamic demands are met, “Muslims will respond by respecting European values.” Yet as Mansur underscores, Islamists “are not ideologically motivated to seek coexistence on terms set by others; for them, coexistence means setting the terms for others on the basis of shari'ah values that are incompatible with liberal values.” Indeed.
“The world is naturally diverse,” Mansur observes. “But the moral strength of liberalism comes from its refusal to make a fetish of this diversity. The liberal vision sees above and beyond diversity in respecting individual rights, and by defending liberty on the basis of securing individual rights liberalism acknowledges that the naturally given diversity finds its best unfettered expression through the lives of individuals as free agents in history.” Delectable Lie is the testimony of a man who has seen the world from both sides – the free and the unfree – and who, after doing some very serious and responsible thinking about liberty and identity, has come to understand exactly why Western freedom and multiculturalism are mutually incompatible. It would behoove those of us who have been fortunate enough to live our entire lives in the free West to heed his wisdom, and defend our liberties as zealously as he does in the pages of this invaluable book.
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