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76th Annual Summer Conference, August 9–12, 2007

Opening Keynote: The Challenge of Diversity

TARIQ RAMADAN (bio), Senior Research Fellow, St. Antony’s College, Oxford
Moderator: HELEN WALSH, President, CIPA

Summary by Everett Findlay

Four Main Points

1. Our societies have changed and we need to change with them through discussion and political action. The differences between cultures are very complex where even definitions and concepts change depending on a person’s reference. To deal with this issue we must “change the words to keep the meaning.”

2. Globalization is challenging the self-identities of individuals and cultures, which in turn leads to questions such as, “who are we?” and, “are we part of Canada, or Canada and the world?” The influx of new cultures leads to challenges from both sides. The new Canadians have to deal with morals imposed on them, while the older Canadians have an increasing number of people of foreign backgrounds and cultures. Both can react defensively and with a certain amount of fear, but what must be realized is that these reactions are natural and that they are felt by both sides.

3. What should be done to address this and what should be done by the new citizens? We need to set objectives such as peaceful societies but also equality and equality of rights. It is however, also a question of power and equality of power. Why is this so important? Because economic opportunity and access to power is equality.

4. How do we redefine the new we? The new we is all the people striving together to an equal peaceful society.

The Problem We are Faced With

We need clear discourse. The societies and states that we live in are structured communities, and all members being equal, all must obey the rule of law. This is not disputable. However, societies have much more than the rule of law, including things such as culture and history. This extension of the society beyond the rule of law must be part of the education of new citizens to ensure sociological integration, and this starts with the national language. A new citizen cannot be truly free without knowing the national language. This is the Duty of Integration.

If this can be expected of new citizens, then existing citizens must have the Duty of Consistency. Equal rights is ideal at the academic level, but there is still racism, discrimination and prejudice at the grassroots level. So the Duty of Consistency is that we all must admit that racism of any kind is unacceptable and not just to acknowledge that laws, but to overcome it. For success, Duty of Integration must be met with Duty of Consistency.

We must also reassess our history in our education system. This country was not just build up by white Canadians. New immigrants have nothing of their past in Canada’s history. We must introduce a more official point of view where we acknowledge what immigrants have given to the country.

Responsibility of dealing with these issues must also fall on the media. There is a disproportionate amount of coverage on events that focus on the problems and not the successes of multiculturalism.

A minority is fine to speak of in religion and culture, but if talking about citizenship there is no minority citizenship.

There are many problems that plague these issues including fear and inferiority, but the greatest problem is a lack of creativity. Creative solutions are needed, and they can come in the form of poetry, movies, books and music. It is not a situation of, “you have to integrate” but, “integrate yourself into the culture and language.” By doing this, it will increase how well we know each other and with this knowledge will come critical loyalty. If critical loyalty is lost we are loosing democracy.

The next two generations will face challenging times, but our job and theirs is to make the situation better for all of us. Optimism should not be confused with naivety, with committed citizens we can work towards building the ultimate goal of “better living together.”

Discussion Period

Q: You spoke of diversity in western countries, but is there hope for other countries?

Yes, they are exactly the same as western countries. Duty of consistency is the duty of consistency. Equal rights means equal rights everywhere. We must have no discriminations of any kind.

Q: What can we do in terms of immigration policy to protect our country from terrorism?

We need security policy to secure citizens but it is beyond getting rid of terrorism by having more security. Terrorism cannot be dealt with by immigration based on prejudices. Immigration and terrorism are not the same. Also, the solution to terrorism is not to force integration. We must not confuse immigration and terrorism, and integration and terrorism.

Q: Canada is in a time of pre-trust with the Muslim world. What can we do to jump-start this?

1st: Acknowledge that there is the lack of trust.

2nd: At the national level make clear that racism of any kind is unacceptable.

3rd: The citizens must demand this from the government.

4th: We need equal opportunity for all people at the grassroots.

We must remain positive and patient and build on the progress we have already made.

Q: Is this useful in Canada?

Canada can export examples of policies to other countries but must also be aware and open to the achievements of others.