[[ download Textbooks ]] Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in CanadaAuthor Neil Bissoondath – Multi-channel.co

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10 thoughts on “Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada

  1. says:

    “And few silences are as loaded in this country as the one encasing the cult that has grown up around our policy of multiculturalism.” - Neil Bissooondath, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada

    Well, this was a very controversial book, one I’m sure not everyone will like but it speaks a lot of truth, in my opinion. I came across the author while researching a paper on pluralism in Canada during my undergrad. Canada has a policy on multiculturalism, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1971, (see http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/multicul...) but according to the author, the policy, despite being one of Canada’s selling points , does next to nothing for real social cohesion in the country.

    Bissoondath is definitely an ideal person to write this book; a Trinidadian-born Canadian of Indian heritage living in Quebec. The autobiographical element of the book resonated with me. The introduction to Canada’s race relations is important because it’s something that’s not talked about (see Chinese head tax, the Komagata Maru Incident, Native Canadian history, etc.). Despite this, I actually do not see the modern-day racism that Bissoondath talks about so vehemently.

    I did like that Bissoondath challenged my thinking in several ways. His views on cultural appropriation and affirmative actions were enlightening. I also like that he felt he had to critique the multiculturalism policy. As he said, “No policy can be written in stone; no policy is immune to evolution.”

    It's too late to say I hope that nobody calls Bissoondath anti-Canadian, as it has already been done numerous times. I find that quite unfortunate as he is simply challenging people to think critically. Yes, we are proud of our mosaic society in Canada but it doesn’t mean we can’t criticize the government using that to further their own ends. (See BC Premier Christy Clark's ethnic votes scandal http://www.news1130.com/2013/02/28/ch...)

    Great book for anyone interested in diversity issues.

  2. says:

    Bissoondath perceptively notes some of the absurdities of extreme multiculturalism, the complexity of culture, identity and ethnicity, and the paradoxes for creativity, again when taken to the extreme. One of the better quotes on the complexity of ethnicity and its relation to individuals:

    "My point is simple, but it is one usually ignored by multiculturalism and its purveyors – for to recognize the complexity of ethnicity, to acknowledge the wild variance within ethnic groups, would be to render itself and its aims absurd. The individuals who form a group the “ethnics” who create a community, are frequently people of vastly varying composition. Shared ethnicity does not entail unanimity of vision. If the individual is not to be betrayed, a larger humanity must prevail over the narrowness of ethnicity.

    To preserve, enhance and promote the “multicultural heritage” of Canada, multiculturalism must work against forces more insistent than any government policy. If a larger humanity does not at first prevail, time and circumstance will inevitably ensure that it does."

    Bissoondath may overstate the effects of time and circumstance in today’s age of cheap travel, free communications, and increased targeted segmentation. But even within the frame of multiculturalism, he does not acknowledge that Canadian multiculturalism always had a strong integrative intent (dating from Book IV of the Bi and Bi Commission), in contrast to Europe, where immigration policies (guest workers), lack of immigration culture and identity, and greater traditional ethnic identification with nationality, had a vision more of communities living side-by-side, as well as overstating the difference between the US and Canada, where the ‘melting pot’ and ‘cultural mosaic’ labels are overstated.

    And if the price of any public policy is the risk of extremism, likely better to have the Canadian variant, leaning to over accommodation, than the European variant, leaning to intolerance at best, racism and discrimination at worst.

    For a more nuanced view, Review of Pax Ethnica by Will Kymlicka, which notes that success in multiculturalism is not tolerance and the absence of violence, but more positive integration, at the group as well as at the individual level:

    "At their best, these cases go beyond mere tolerance or bare co-existence to include positive elements of inter-group solidarity, and this is what makes them harbingers of a better society. The various groups are committed to living together in justice, and to sharing fairly economic opportunities, political representation and cultural recognition."

  3. says:

    As a minority as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant straight conservative male (or, WASPSCM) in Canada, I have been ruminating quite a bit about multiculturalism. Based on key parts of my identity, I often feel as if SJWs perceive me to be endowed with "privilege" and thus I must continually give up this (non-existent) privilege in order to become amenable to a "progressive" and tolerant society. I was looking forward to reading Neil Bissoondath's "Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada" but after finishing it I find I have a very mixed reaction to it. I would give it between a 2-2.5/5.

    On the one hand, Bissoondath, drawing on personal experience in some cases, bitingly cuts through the absurd excesses of political correctness, mollycoddling and affirmative action. He deplores those who seek to silence people because they are not the right skin colour (for instance, First Nations activists claim non-First Nations authors cannot write compelling stories about First Nations because that is not part of their heritage or, likewise, white women cannot write about black women). He notes that in a pluralistic, multicultural society where interracial relationships are quite common, it is oddly antiquated to insist that, as in the highly-publicized case of Elijah Van de Perre, a child is "black" because their father is, even when the other half of their genetic make-up come from a white mother. Is Elijah more "black" than "white?" Bissoondath eviscerates the paltry visage of multiculturalism that only skims the surface of an ethnicity that is largely based on stereotype. Writing of "ethnic cultural festivals" he remarks:

    "Such displays, dependent as they are on superficialities, reduce cultures hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years old to easily digested stereotypes. One's sense of Ukrainian culture is restricted to perogies and Cossack dancing; Greeks, we learn, are all jolly Zorbas, and Spaniards dance flamenco between bouts of 'Viva España!' Germans gulp beer, sauerkraut and sausages while belting out Bavarian drinking songs; Italians make good ice cream, great coffee and all have connections to shady godfathers. And the Chinese continue to be a people who form conga lines under dragon costumes and serve good, cheap food in slightly dingy restaurants." (p. 77-78).

    Thus, even while many Canadians claim they applaud multiculturalism, most are content to just consume ethnic cuisine (sushi, donairs, etc...), enjoy ethnic dances and music (bhangra, tango, etc...) and so on, without really learning anything considerable about language, history, custom, etc...Bissoondath also makes an excellent point regarding politics. Despite the fact that individuals must show proficiency in English or French in order to become citizens, political parties, desperate for votes, discourage ethnic minorities from having to exercise their ability with one of Canada's official languages by providing election flyers in minority languages such as Mandarin, Tagalog, or Spanish (p. 228-229). If our official languages are English and French, then conduct politics in those languages. This irks me because many larger ethnic communities often don't reciprocate by providing translation for English or French-speakers. It also bothers me when proficiency in one of the non-official languages is key in securing employment for a job (I am pleased by friend got a job as a branch manager at a bank, but one of the reasons was because he could speak Cantonese in an neighbourhood with a large Chinese clientele; if another, equally-qualified but non-Chinese language speaker had applied for the position, would they have stood a chance?). This concerns me because in the public square, communication is essential.

    Bissoondath champions the individual over the collective, stating, "The multicultural society has tended to diminish the role and autonomy of the individual by insisting on placing individuals within preconceived, highly stereotypical confines" (p. 224). Bissoondath wants people to be viewed and regarded not on the basis of what they are by virtue of birth (black, white, yellow, etc...) but WHO they are as human beings. On pages 195-196 he does an excellent job in pointing out the sheer hypocrisy of Canadians who self-righteously chide America while taking advantage of American protection, entertainment, etc...

    Bissoondath strongly rebukes the policy of multiculturalism because he believes it encourages immigrants to maintain ties to their homeland. He remarks that this often extends beyond generations, so that even Canadians of Croatian background but who were born in Canada still felt called to fight for their "homeland" (Croatia) during the Yugoslav Wars. He wants Canadians to be simply "Canadian," not "Indo-Canadian" or "African-Canadian."

    And yet. And yet I don't know if I agree with Bissoondath entirely on calling ethnic minorities to abandon their heritage in favour of the Canadian zeitgeist. I think one can only truly do this if one thinks Canadian culture is perfect, flawless. This is uncritical and naive. Immigrants may wish to come to Canada knowing it is better than the impoverished or war-torn regions they are fleeing from, but they may also not agree with "Canadian values." I hope that immigrants from countries that have rich traditions of respect for elders don't adopt the "Canadian values" that have paved the way for assisted suicide. At the same time, I understand the caution and reluctance some have of fully accepting ethnic customs that seem at odds with Canadian values; I don't think female genital mutilation should be an endorsed, protected practice. This is admittedly a complex issue.

    I think it is further complicated when it comes to tacking on "religion" as simply one aspect of an ethnicity's culture. Religion transcends ethnicity so that there are Catholic Cree, Quebecois, French, Polish, Argentinians, Gambians, Koreans, Filipinos, etc...(it is, as the Burlap to Cashmere song goes "the other country"). Religion, not "being Canadian" or "being American," is the really power that can bind diversity together. Bissoondath, perhaps betraying a blithe religious passivity warmly approves of former United Church of Canada Moderator Bruce McLeod's claim that there are multiple ways to true religion (p. 54). If you are truly convinced of a religion's EXCLUSIVE truth claims (be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, etc...), you cannot approve of a laissez-faire pantheism or universalism.

    Bissoondath is equal in his criticism of the left and the right but he is ultimately pragmatic and thus easily finds tradition a thing to uproot and mould and modify to the trends of the present. Having moved away from his homeland as soon as he reached adulthood, its understandable why he is so easily dismissive of preserving ethnic tradition but when he writes of his love for Canada, it's also not necessarily that of its past but of its present (a present only secured by certain historical conditions) and of its landscape. Here, I think Bissoondath is rather guilty of the superficiality he deplores when it comes to multiculturalism. He seems to want loyalty to Canada to be the greater unifier, merging all ethnicities, even as he recognizes the role ethnicity plays in shaping us, into just THE "Canadian" ethnicity, but I think he is more critical of multiculturalism than visionary regarding what Canada is. Bissoondath's glowing admiration of Canada is based only on the present, ethnically-diverse reality of the country, not its historic white, Christian heritage that was the strong majority demographic before the end of the Second World War. Does he laud Quebec only as it is today or the province pre-Quiet Revolution?

    Essentially, I appreciate Bissoondath's take-down of extreme political (ethnic!) correctness and the superficiality of much of our multiculturalism but I think he is too optimistic and uncritical of modern Canadian nationhood as infallible and it is not necessarily worthy of our total fealty if we think there are aspects of it that deserve contention and criticism. There are Western values held in Canada that are morally superior to Third World values and that should be affirmed but the opposite is true as well.

  4. says:

    I don't agree with everything he has to say, but he makes his case clearly and with tons of examples. This books definitely makes me think. The one thing that really rang hollow to me is the idea that all writers are completely capable of writing characters of every demographic. Some are, and many do the research to do it really well. But I've read lots of books by male authors where women are fucktoys, damsels in distress, and occasionally elevated to the status of plot device. I have yet to read a book by a female author where the most prominent male character could be replaced by a sexy lamp.

  5. says:

    This book, or rather extensive essay, is one of the key works I have used for my thesis on the portrayal of immigrants in Canadian short-story fiction. It is never too obvious or pretentious, it only serves as an observation of the way Canada stands towards immigration and how that differs from the melting pot attitude of the USA. I found it very interesting and enlightening, even though it did not include many anecdotes.