A Question Of Loyalty

March 10, 2006: A Question Of Loyalty

A question of loyalty

George Jonas, National Post
Published: Friday, March 10, 2006

As a footnote to Martin Collacott's outstanding report on Canada's refugee system, excerpted in these pages, I'll revisit a topic I've touched upon many times since the mid-1980s. It's a topic of increasing importance, I believe.

Until recent times, the West has been spoiled by the loyalty of immigrants, even from hostile regions or cultures. During the First World War, with negligible exceptions, immigrants from enemy countries as well as their children remained loyal to Canada and the U.S. throughout the hostilities.

During the Second World War, although we treated German, Italian or Japanese immigrants and their descendants shabbily, as a rule they responded with unfailing patriotism. For every Tokyo Rose (the American GI's nickname for Ikuko Toguri, a Japanese-American woman, born in Los Angeles, who broadcast Japanese propaganda during the war) there were thousands of Japanese-American soldiers who gave their lives to fight fascism.

The pattern continued during the Cold War, when former nationals of hostile communist countries often found refuge in North America. These newcomers of various ethnicity and religion, from Eastern Europe to Vietnam, were as supportive of the values and interests of their adopted countries as native-born citizens of Western descent.

Few Americans opposed the anti-American antics of Fidel Castro more resolutely than Florida's ex-Cuban community.

This started changing. In the last 30 years, a new type of immigrant
emerged: the immigrant of dubious loyalty. Then, even more alarmingly, came a third phenomenon: the disloyal native-born, sometimes of immigrant ancestry, sometimes of Islamic conversion.

The new immigrant seemed ready to share the West's wealth but not its
values. In many ways, he resembled an invader more than a settler or a refugee. Instead of making efforts to assimilate, the invader demanded changes in the host country's culture. He called on society to accommodate his linguistic or religious requirements. Some were innocuous: In 1985, a Sikh CNR railway worker refused to exchange his turban for a regulation hard hat. In 1991, less innocuously, a newly appointed Toronto police board commissioner of Asian extraction declined to take the traditional oath to the Queen.

The host societies' usual response was accommodation. Turbans were
substituted for hard hats; the language of the police oath was changed.

Recently, ceremonial daggers were allowed in schools. But accommodation only escalated demands. Requests for cultural exemption were soon followed by openly voiced sentiments of disloyalty. By the late 1990s, a Muslim group in Britain saw fit to express the view that no British Muslim has any obligation to British law when it conflicts with the law of Allah.

Disturbing as such talk was, it wasn't unlawful. Dissent was within our democratic tradition. Unfortunately, the new dissenters weren't democrats. Their “dissent” culminated in threats, fatwas, assassinations and finally massacres in American and European cities. How did this come about? Three reasons seem to stand out.

One, we retreated from the principle that immigration should serve the interests of the host country first. We forgot that when groups of distant cultural and political traditions arrive in significant numbers, they may establish their own communities not merely as colourful expressions of ethnic diversity — festivals or restaurants — but as separate cultural-political entities.

Next, we tried to turn this liability into an asset by promoting
multiculturalism. We stopped ascribing any value to integration, and began flirting with the notion that host countries aren't legitimate entities with their own cultures, only political frameworks for various co-existing cultures.

Finally, in fundamentalist Islam, we've come up against a culture for which the very concept of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's is alien. Puritanical Islam considers that everything belongs to God (or rather, some mullah's idea of God). This concept doesn't envisage one's citizenship commanding a higher loyalty than one's faith.

It's not a matter of where immigrants come from, but where they're going. Refugees from the East are no threat; colonizers are. That's where current immigration trends and multiculturalism become a volatile mix. Extending our values to others is one thing, but modifying our values to suit the values of others is a vastly different proposition.

By now, multiculturalism has made it difficult to safeguard our ideals against a new type of immigrant whose goal is not to fit in, but to carve out a niche for his own tribe, language, customs or religion in what we're no longer supposed to view as a country but something between Grand Central Station and an empty space.

When Canada is no longer regarded as a culture, with its own traditions and narratives, but a clean slate for anyone to write on what he will, immigrants of the new school will be ready with their
own texts, including some that aren't very pleasant. The sound you hear (as I wrote in 2002) is the sharpening of their chisels.