Xenophobia in an Era of Nationalism

Xenophobia  and its offspring white supremacy are universal. We humans are programmed towards fear and suspicion of those not familiar. It was a question of survival back in the day. The conservative brain is however stuck in this primitive evolutionary state. Liberal thinkers have, in the interest of civilization, progressed beyond this early fixation towards compassionate concepts like mercy and altruism- in other words, socialism is humanism.

Conservative thinkers put patriotism at the top their list of important values. Liberals have ranked equality as their first choice.

I raise these questions and issues as I am trying to formulate a response to a letter written by a Canadian currently making the rounds on Facebook, who has concerns about contemporary immigrants who apparently refuse to adhere to cultural norms and values which are admittedly hard to define but centre around…
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Equality: We respect everyone’s rights. Everyone has the right to speak out and express ideas that others might disagree with. Governments must treat everyone with equal dignity and respect.

Respect for cultural differences: We try to understand and appreciate the cultures, customs and traditions of all Canadians, whether they were born in Canada or came here from another country.

Freedom: As Canadians, we enjoy basic freedoms, such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Peace: We are proud of our non-violent society and our international role as peacekeepers.

Law and order: We respect democratic decision-making and the “rule of law.” We promote due process so that the courts and the police treat everyone fairly and reasonably. We ensure that our elected governments remain accountable to Canadians.

Here is  the letter with our responses emphasized…

“So many writers have explained how this land is made up of immigrants. Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people why today’s Canadian is not willing to accept the new kind of immigrant any longer”. By new kind I think the reference is to those of darker complexion primarily.

“Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to Canada, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in Halifax and be documented” Perhaps that’s  because there were no computers and everything had to be hand written.  “Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground”.  Six weeks in the hold of a smelly ship might do that.

“They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. They made learning English a primary rule in their new Canadian households” Well that’s not entirely true. I grew up in Montreal  in multicultural environments… Greeks, Italians, Jews, Portuguese and so on. Most stayed in their own ghettos that had everything they needed and many spoke neither English nor French. My paternal grandparents spoke only Russian and the maternal ones only Polish, German or French. English was rarely heard.

…..”some even changed their names to blend in with their new home”. My guess is that people mostly changed their names because border officials were unable  to spell them correctly or they changed them to avoid more racism in the new country. “They had waved good bye to their birth place to give their children a new and better life and did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture. If that is true why does my city have the Italian club, the Ukrainian center, the church around the corner where worship is conducted only in Finn, the Polish Hall and so on.

“Nothing was handed to them- no free lunches, no welfare, no labour laws to protect them. All they had were the skills, craftsmanship and desire they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity”. There was no social safety net then, everyone suffered equally. 

“Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. Canadians fought along side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France, Japan, China, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Sweden, Poland and so many other places. None of these first generation Canadians ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from”. Perhaps, but  those of Italian and Japanese and German descent probably thought of their parents especially if they were in one of the Canadian internment camps.

They were Canadians fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the Freedom as one people. When we liberated France, no one in those villages was looking for the Ukrainian-Canadian or the German-Canadian or the Irish-Canadian. The people of France saw only  Canadians”

“And we carried one flag that represented Our Country” Oops, Canada didn’t even have it’s own flag then. Oh well lets carry on…. ” Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country’s flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here. These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be a Canadian. They stirred the melting pot into one red and white bowl” Wrong. You are thinking of the USA. Canada is a multicultural mosaic in comparison to the USA melting pot, and so we have Italian, Chinese,Ukrainian and Jewish cultural milieus and assimilation into French or English culture is not exactly a defining characteristic of any of them.

“And here we are in 2015 with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges, only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules – one that includes a Canadian passport and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country. I’m sorry, that’s not what being a Canadian is all about. Canadians have been very open-hearted and open-minded regarding immigrants, whether they were fleeing poverty, dictatorship, persecution” Uh huh and what about all the  Jews who were turned away in 1940 and subsequently murdered. 

“….or what ever else makes us think of those early immigrants who truly did adopt our country, our flag, our morals and our customs, and left their wars, hatred, and divisions behind. I believe that the immigrants who landed in Canada in the early 1900s deserve better than that for the toil, hard work and sacrifice of those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags, fighting foreign battles on our soil, making Canadians change to suit their religions and cultures, and wanting to change our countries fabric by claiming discrimination when we do not give in to their demands.” Most of these complaints are about religion and just because we don’t like an immigrants’ religion we complain,   just like our grandparents complained about the Jews in the run up to the second world war.

“It’s about time we get real and stand up for our forefathers rights.We are CANADIAN. I am a Native”  Aboriginals would probably have a field day with this one….

“And while we’re on the subject – allow CHRISTMAS back in stores and our schools! I want back the country of my birth”. Ah ha! Dead give away here. What we see is a longing for a return to 1868 and a fear of change and globalization in other words xenophobia. This fear based lack of flexibility and protective nostalgia is what characterizes the conservative mind.

There are currently far right politicians in Canada wanting potential immigrants to be screened for Canadian values. Picture a refugee from Syria being asked to define the quality of freedom and peace…”فكرة جيدة ما هو هذا” ( “good idea, what is it ?”).

If the conservative brain is indeed stuck in a primal state of fear and suspicion it seems that we will continue to be trapped in a loop and history will repeat itself with temporary periods of relative peace and harmony in between major conflicts.

 

The writer thanks Paddy Brooks and Claude Francis for their contributions.

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