In this part of Canada, the story of this unassimilated woman is not unique.
I mention this because for some time now there has been a hue and cry raised over the state policy of multiculturalism. We have had this in Canada as official policy since the 1970s. The anguish about multiculturalism is that there is no incentive for ethnic pockets to assimilate with the general population. Questions regarding inter-ethnic strife, human rights, and general loyalty to the country are raised within the umbrella of the multicultural policy.
However, my Ukrainian example goes back to the 1950s, long before the so-called multicultural mosaic was identified as a cultural phenomenon and then subsequently embraced by the polity as policy. I don’t believe for a second that my friend’s mother would have lived a different life whether there was a state policy regarding her culture or not, except for one that might have discriminated against her for not assimilating.
Ukrainians, for the most part, belong to the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the remnant of the old Byzantine Empire, which, in turn, was the remnant of the eastern half of the old Roman Empire. My executive assistant used to take days off work to celebrate “Ukrainian Christmas” and “Ukrainian New Year”, which arrived later in the calendar than the national statutory holidays of Christmas and New Year.
Except for this departure, I would never have identified her culture as being religiously determined. Ukrainians have distinctive native costumes, peasant wear, which they trot out during Ukrainian cultural festivals. Generally, however, in dress and conduct they are indistinguishable from the great mass of other Canadians.
This brings me to a rather misleading column by the otherwise excellent journalist, George Jonas, in today’s National Post.
Jonas is commenting on the published e-mails that passed amongst the female relatives and friends of the famous “Toronto 18”. These are the alleged wannabe Islamic terrorists who were supposedly plotting to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, CSIS (Canada’s anti-terrorist organization), and storm the Parliament buildings and behead the Prime Minister.
He is struck by the fact that the hatred of the women towards Canada and some members of the Canadian community, namely homosexuals, are expressed primarily in idiomatic English.
The remarkable thing was seeing their admiration and hatred posted, not in a foreign language, not in misspelled, broken English, but in the colloquial idiom of soccer moms in Toronto's bedroom community of Mississauga.
He then extrapolates from this the following conclusion.
By offering the views of Wahhabist Islam on homosexuals in words she borrowed directly from our culture, Ms. N was demonstrating that acculturation, a much-touted remedy for the risk of fragmentation in immigrant societies, isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
I don’t want to sound to picky, but I have always considered English to be nothing more than a language, a language of convenience, if you like, when you live in a county where 90% the population converses in it and where it is an official language by law.
I never thought of it as being “culturally distinctive” such that its use by an Arab would be considered remarkable. To be sure, within the confines of the language, there are cultural markers – expressions used to describe things that would be associated with someone from Canada rather than someone from England or Australia or the United States. But that is not what Jonas is talking about.
What he is on about is how a cultural norm, in this case Arabic, survives long after someone has been swimming in the deep end of the cultural pool of Canada.
Our great-grandfathers assessed matters more accurately. They had taken it for granted that integration is a process of considerable complexity that occurs over historic time. It isn't achieved by a quick immersion in another culture, even when the immersion is … superficially complete. Our generation not only overestimated the effects of such cultural silver-plating, but tried reducing it even further by the imposition of multiculturalism.
Cultural silver-plating may not achieve much beyond teaching al-Qaeda idiomatic English anyway, but multiculturalism makes it stick even less and wear off even quicker. Cultural silver-plating may produce amusing incongruities, like jihadists with pre-nuptial agreements and Wahhabi feminists who retain their maiden names after marriage. But computer-literate fundamentalists take us no closer to a harmonious society. They only illustrate how ultra-liberal policies, slogans and practices confuse and alienate vulnerable youngsters of foreign ancestry and increase the number of our solitudes.
I don’t believe multicultural policies and practices have anything to do with alienation of these young women.
This is because they do not have a culture distinct from their religion, unlike my Ukrainian examples. Islam determines their culture, on everything from defecating rituals, to eating habits, to attitudes towards non-Muslims, and so on. I am surprised that Jonas would overlook this cultural influence and chalk up assimilation failure to the straw man of multicultural policy.
It is the religion, dear boy, and that is what you should be targeting.