Multiculturalism is under fire again in Europe as well as North America. David Brooks of the New York Times proclaims ”œthe death of multicultur- alism.” Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality in the UK, blames multiculturalism for emphasizing cultural differences at the expense of cohe- sion. The Netherlands has gone from a country held as a model of multiculturalism to a nation that requires its non- Western applicants for citizenship to pass a test on Dutch values. Recently it has banned the face veil worn by a few Muslim women. Terrorism and 9/11 are the new justifica- tions for questioning the sustainability of diversity in the Western countries.
In Canada, the arrest last summer of 17 youth on suspi- cion of plotting terrorist acts gave new ammunition to the critics of the country’s multiculturalism policy. They con- tend that multiculturalism allows immigrants not to inte- grate into Canadian society. That multiculturalism lays the ground for terrorism is a contentious speculation. Yet undoubtedly many regard multiculturalism as an impedi- ment to social integration.
The dilemma of multiculturalism is that it is only partial- ly the outcome of public ideology and policy. It is largely a lived reality in contemporary societies of diverging lifestyles and globalizing economies. Societies dependent on immigra- tion for population growth cannot but be multicultural. Even if Canada could withdraw its multicultural policy, it would still be a multicultural society for all practical purposes.
How can a democratic society stop its citizens from speaking their mother tongues, establishing commu- nities and social networks, following their religious faiths, all essentially matters of the private sphere of social life? Not even totalitarian states have succeeded in obliterating cul- tural and ethnic identities; witness the failure of the Soviet-Russian experiment and ethno-nationalism in Yugoslavia.
Everyday life in the US, which notionally is an assimi- lating society, is as multicultural as in Canada. The expres- sions of ethnic diversity in the civic life of New York, Los Angeles, Miami or even Minneapolis are as striking as in Toronto or Vancouver. Whether multiculturalism is official- ly recognized or not, cultural diversity is the lived reality of both societies.
Multiculturalism is a defining condition of urban societies. Cities have always drawn people from nearby regions and distant lands. Even ancient cities were known for their babble of tongues and diverse customs and beliefs. The diversity of ways of life is all the more striking in contempo- rary cities in these times of multinational corporations, global production and mass tourism.
Furthermore, Western societies have come to depend on immigration for population growth and economic pros- perity. Their sharply declining birth rates and aging populations require demo- graphic replenishment by continual immigration. This demographic impera- tive adds another factor toward the cul- tural diversity in their cities. The continual flow of large number of immi- grants inevitably injects diversity of beliefs, behaviours, languages and races.
What further sustains the post- World War multiculturalism is the legal regimes of civil and human rights. These rights confer on individ- uals freedoms of conscience and expression as well as the right to equal- ity and civic participation within the bounds of national constitutions.
In Canada, it was the enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 which gave muscle to the mul- ticulturalism policy of 1971. Among the freedoms guaranteed by the Charter under article 2 are freedoms of conscience, religion, belief, expression, peaceful assembly and association. Article 15 promises equality before the law to enjoy these freedoms without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, etc. Article 27 directly links the Charter with ”œthe preservation and enhancement of the multicultural her- itage of Canadians.”
When one reviews landmark pub- lic decisions that have institu- tionalized cultural diversity in Canada, one finds that most of those have aris- en from the Charter’s guaranteed free- doms and rights. Be it legitimizing the turban as headgear for RCMP officers, allowing prayer rooms in schools, legalizing same-sex marriage, promot- ing employment equity, or enacting non-discrimination and cultural sensi- tivity in public affairs, all such major and minor assertions of cultural diver- sity have come about with the enforce- ment of the Charter provisions.
The current discourse about the alleged ”œills of multiculturalism” leads to a dead end. Multiculturalism cannot be banished or the accommodation of diversity resisted. Apart from the imperatives of lived reality, the Charter will not permit it.
Yet the question of the appropri- ate sphere of multiculturalism in civic life has to be addressed. It cannot be answered by merely focusing on the scope and limits of multiculturalism. It requires re-examining the societal framework in which multiculturalism fits. Both have to be examined in tan- dem. This is the thrust of the present article, beginning with a review of multiculturalism.
The term ”œmulticulturalism” refers to the existence of sub-cultures within a national society. It does not normal- ly extend to the multiplicity of nation- al cultures that characterize the world.
The culture in this context is not the web of institutions, symbols and meanings enveloping a nation. The ”œculture” in multiculturalism is com- posed of the norms, values and prac- tices particular to specific groups and communities within a society. It is of a lower order than a societal culture.
Furthermore, it is largely limited to the private sphere of the social life of individuals and groups, whereas the public sphere, particularly the political, legal and economic institutions, is mostly characterized by national laws, policies and values. The limited scope of the ”œspecialized” culture of a com- munity makes it a sub-culture. And the multiplicity of such cultures in a socie- ty makes it multicultural.
The diversity of beliefs and behav- iours arise, not only from immigration, but also from the increasing segmenta- tion of people born in a country of dis- tinct lifestyles. Social movements such as anti-racism, civil rights, feminism and evangelism, for example, lay out new contours in the cultural landscape of a society, differentiating soccer moms from feminist singles and black separatists from advocates of racial integration or liberals from neoconser- vatives, for example.
Of course in individualistic cul- tures, individuals are free to differ in beliefs and behaviours. What qualifies as multiculturalism is the congealing of individual differences into group char- acteristics. Multiculturalism refers to Jews, Irish or Chinese, for example, as communities of distinct ways of life in a society and by some accounts differ- entiating gays, disabled or even pro-life from pro-choice advocates. Thus multiculturalism is based on socio-cultural dif- ferentiation based on race, ethnicity, gender, language and sometimes religion or lifestyle. It is recognition of diverse identities in a socie- ty. The recognition of this diversity of identities is the basis of multiculturalism policy. Yet this diversity is ultimately embedded in an integrative common ground of nation- al institutions.
All groups and communities in a society are subject to the same political, legal and economic institu- tions, by and large. Often there are also one or more official languages. These are the common grounds of citizenship. Paralleling these institutions is a socio- logical common ground of shared social norms, cultural values, national sym- bols and practices. Among them could be values and beliefs of societal sweep such as tolerance, equality, patriotism, non-discrimination, trust, not resorting to violence and everyday behavioural norms such as mores of food, dress, commerce, gender roles, common cour- tesies and other public behaviours.
Conversely, common ground also includes norms prohibiting certain practices. For example, in Canada, even parents are prohibited from disci- plining their children by beatings, regardless of their (sub)culture.
The common ground exists but it is also being continually constructed and reconstructed. All societies have a dynamic common ground, but plural- istic societies have to cultivate it more deliberately. The structuring and culti- vation of a common ground comple- ment the process of multiculturalism.
Arguments about the scope of multi- culturalism are usually one-sided. They revolve around the ”œfitting in” of sub-cultural groups in a presumably ”œfixed” common ground. The discourse about the integration of culturally diverse groups is largely framed in terms of their adaptation to the presumed pre- existing mainstream structures. Yet inte- gration is a dynamic process in which sub-cultures fit in the mainstream insti- tutions, while the latter absorbs norms and values arising from the imperatives of diversity. By viewing the integration of different groups as a two-way process, the multiculturalism discourse can be rescued from the dead end of the zero-sum positions.
The respective spheres of personal and community versus public and national life define the relation between multiculturalism and the common ground. The cultural rights embedded in multiculturalism allow liberty of liv- ing one’s life at home and in communi- ty according to one’s heritage and beliefs. These rights are both sustained and circumscribed by national and universal laws, values and norms. The criti- cal question is how public values and norms come into being. This is the process of constructing and reconstruct- ing common ground.
As pointed out, there are two dis- tinct parts of common ground: one, the laws, policies and conventions defining rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a national society; two, norms, values and practices that define people’s behaviours in the public space. The former are relatively more enduring, though they do evolve with changing circumstances and ideolo- gies. They are primarily the product of legislation and public policies. The lat- ter arise from historic traditions, social interactions, media and public discus- sions and economic/technological developments. Both parts ultimately reflect the evolving social consensus about ways of living and goals of soci- ety at any point in time. Yet both change over time, some over a long period and others over a short cycle. This is how common ground is con- structed and reconstructed.
As immigration is the largest source of cultural diversity, it is at the centre of the multiculturalism debate. The cultural diversity brought by immigrants spawns new needs and expectations and transforms meanings of the existing values, building politi- cal pressure for new legislation and policies as well as reinterpretation of existing laws and ideologies.
The point is that the common ground of citizenship institutions evolves with the changing demograph- ic and cultural composition of the national population. Even the rights and responsibilities of citizenship change under the political pressures of diverse needs and goals, though not smoothly and in time. For example, the current debate in Canada about the viability of ”œdual citizenship” under- lines the changing national perspective precipitated by the evacuation of thou- sands of Lebanese-Canadians during the recent war in Lebanon.
The process of legislative change has increasingly included measures for citizens’ participation. These measures promote civic engagement of various constituent communities in the process of construction and reconstruction of national laws and institutions. Such a process, if inclusive, can forge a com- mon denominator of laws and policies suitable for most multicultural groups and communities.
It is the second component of the common ground, namely social values and norms of everyday public behaviour, which changes incrementally and obscurely. Its construction and reconstruction has to be more deliberate in a multicultural society. I will illustrate some recent trends with examples from both the US and Canada.
Probably the most obvious impact of multiculturalism is on the mores of food and dress in these two countries. What were ”œethnic” foods in the 1960s, such as yogourt, chow mein, stir fry, chicken curry, burritos and nachos, etc., had become parts of the mainstream menu by the 1990s. In both countries, people’s taste has evolved toward more spicy foods introduced by recent immigrants. Often the first choice for eating out now is an Italian, Chinese, Indian or other ethnic restaurant. These cuisines have been incorporated in cooking at home and a fusion of foods is under- way. The national cuisine has been redefined by multiculturalism.
When I came to the US from Pakistan in the mid-1960s, women were required to wear skirts at work and pants were not acceptable. Now the dress code for both men and women is far more informal and wide- ranging. Creaseless pants, collarless shirts, shorts, hijabs and saris are as acceptable as skirts and suits and ties in public places. It is not uncommon to see people clad in ethnic dress in streets and they are not going to costume par- ties. It is their daily wear and little notice is taken of them, unlike in the 1960s and 1970s.
Feminist, youth and ethnic cultures have opened up the range of national mores of food and dress, normalizing diversity. Similar fusion of forms and functions has also taken place in music, arts and architecture. Strains of the tabla or African drums rise out of popular songs. Even spiritual quests have been influenced by yoga and Zen meditation, which are being incorporated in reli- gious services. All of these changes show that the sensual and spiritual compo- nents of national societies incorporate cultural traits of foreign origins intro- duced by multicultural communities and globalization. These changes are largely the outcomes of market processes and cultural diffusion arising from mutual exposures of different groups.
One can say these are superficial matters and they do not represent the ”œcore” national traditions. Regardless of the place of food, dress and music in national identity, changes of these mores and practices indicate the transforma- tion of everyday life with the exposure to diversity of norms and tastes. Similar but subtle changes also occur in other behaviours and values. Diversity affects the socio-cultural component of the common ground in two ways.
One, the existing norms and values are invested with new meanings and symbols within existing national institutions. This has happened to some institutions. For example, the status of the Christian church as a religious insti- tution has changed radically. Religious services are being offered in Korean, Chinese, Spanish and other languages, as congregations increasingly are com- posed of immigrants. Apart from churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and gurdawaras have found a place in the national pantheon of religious insti- tutions. Municipal and provincial poli- cies have been revised to include all these places of worship as acceptable ele- ments of urban landscape.
Two, cultural diversity requires dis- carding some old mores and instituting new ones. To take an example from everyday life, it used to be that ethnic languages spoken in public places drew sneers. It was not uncommon to be shouted at for speaking an ethnic lan- guage in the earshot of others, with the remark, ”œThis is America (Canada), speak English.” Now ethnic languages are being loudly spoken in streets, offices and schools and on cellphones in public. No one objects openly. The norm for language spoken in public places has been revised. ESL, English as a second language, is a big business and heritage languages are finding a place in the educational curricula.
In the same vein of normative change, women now do jobs previous- ly thought to be masculine. Now the sight of a policewoman evokes no sur- prise. Even the military has been recruiting women soldiers. The ideolo- gy of gender equality and feminism has revised the norms of femininity. Similar revisions of functions and meanings have occurred in such basic values as equality, tolerance, order and conformity. These abiding values retain the form, but their scope, mean- ings and functions change with new needs and ideologies. The words remain the same but contents change. Thus while the mainstream values and practices change, their clarity is com- promised and expectations of con- formity from immigrants confounded.
The point is that cultural traditions do not have a permanent ”œnatural order” and they are affected by changing needs and diffusion of new beliefs and behav- iours. The transformation of common ground is not a smooth process(es). It has time lags and coilbacks resulting in con- troversies and uncertainties, but it tracks an evolutionary path in dynamic soci- eties. Ultimately its effectiveness is reflected in the inclusiveness and clarity of common ground. Collectively soci- eties of high levels of immigration need to focus as much on cultivating and con- structing common ground as on defining the scope and limits of multiculturalism.
How can both the inclusiveness and clarity of an evolving common ground be promoted? This is the policy challenge in societies of increasing diver- sity. The answer lies in promoting a deliberative process of forging, clarifying and instilling common values and expectations among all citizens, native and immigrant. In societies of increasing diversity and pluralism, changing values and norms cannot be entirely sorted out by incremental modes of muddling through. They have to be openly and consciously discussed to build broad consensus around national norms and values. Such a national conversation about common ground should involve not only the historic majority but also social and cultural minorities.
The following are the suggested organizing principles of this process:
The process of deliberative construction and reconstruction of common ground has to be multi- centred. It cannot be located in one set of institutions. Many norms and values are laid out by legisla- tion and public policy. Others arise from judicial decisions. Most of the everyday behavioural norms and practices come out of the media and social interactions.
The task of articulation and inter- pretation of national values and norms has largely fallen to legisla- tion such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, human rights codes and, in the US, civil rights laws. Such generic legislation, rather than multiculturalism policies, con- cretizes national ideals and goals into public norms for situations arising from diversity. These laws have to be periodically reviewed.
The process of deliberative recon- struction of everyday norms needs to be made both more inclu- sive and directive. Commu- nity forums organized at local levels can be useful instruments of promoting wide-ranging discussions of common values and norms around day-to-day practices and behaviours. Questions such as Muslim women’s niqab or Christian symbols in public space, for example, could be openly discussed, without hate talk. They should not be just left to the stereotyping polemics of the media. They should be widely discussed in a variety of fora. From such participatory public discussions, balanced and consensual norms could emerge.
Common values and norms could be transformed into codes of behaviour that schools, busi- nesses, community organizations and public institutions may actively promote. They should form a part of an organized and ongoing program of civic educa- tion for both immigrants and Canadian-born citizens.
The freedom of individuals and groups to live their private life according to their chosen cul- tures, within the bounds of com- mon ground, is assured in a democratic society. The discourse about these rights should also promote the awareness of public responsibilities.
The sum total of these suggestions is that a conscious and deliberate process of constructing and recon- structing common ground is essential for societies of diverse cultures, as is the dissemination of common values and norms among all citizens. The Charter can serve as the beacon for this process.