Canada integrates, Bosnia excludes, France assimilates

Compared to the French model of assimilation and the Bosnian model of exclusion and segregation, the Canadian model of inclusion is fairly stable and inter-cultural relations in this country are relatively peaceful. The major difference with France and the Balkans is that Canada consciously and officially defines itself as a multicultural state in the sense that it not only tolerates, but also welcomes, multiple ethnic origins, respects minority religions and cultures, and provides constitutional commitments to this end.

Vasta states; "One outstanding feature of Canadian multiculturalism is that it has been enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedom of 1982 introduced into the Canadian constitution." (2007) As a result, the government of Canada aims to promote the acceptance of and respect for immigrants and minorities. (Helly 2004) Furthermore, genuine inter-group cohesion and harmony in diverse societies do not occur spontaneously. In its own way, Canada devotes considerable attention to the management of all types of diversities through its immigration policies/practices, multiculturalism and integration. Consequently, multiculturalism is recognized as part of the Canadian national identity. (Vasta 2007)

Research on Muslim integration in France, Bosnia and Canada reveals some interesting peculiarities. When applied to Muslims, these three different models result in three approaches by which Muslims express their religious identity. Moreover, differences in the respective models are shaped by historical events in each country, the attitudinal approaches of specific minorities (in this case, Muslims), traditional policies in dealing with minorities, and how diversity and integration are defined in each country. Merely placing the responsibility for integration squarely on the shoulders of minority groups is an unfair approach, and one that does not provide a realistic or positive solution. In a healthy society, both majority and minority groups must seek mutual integration, preferably along the proven lines of the Canadian multiculturalism policy and practice. For their mutual benefit and success, minorities and majorities need to proactively adapt to one another; when this happens, their society grows.

Positive integration occurs when public institutions facilitate the right (or best available) conditions for smooth interaction among all parties. Members of different cultures and religions could then coexist, accept and respect each other, and interact through those integrated institutions. Benting, Courchene and Seidle (2007) aptly describe the dual multicultural agenda of recognition and community as "shared citizenship." For them, the predominant definition of Canada’s integration style focuses on "the need to build a sense of belonging and attachment to a country that incorporates distinct identities."

Crick, writing in a report for the Life in the United Kingdom Advisory Group (2003) states that, "When we use integration, we mean neither assimilation nor a society composed of … separate enclaves, whether voluntary or involuntary. Integration means not simply mutual respect and tolerance between different groups but continuous interaction, engagement and civic participation whether [in] social, cultural, educational, professional, political or legal spheres." Likewise, the first of the European Union’s common basic principles of minorities’ integration policy affirms that integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all minorities and residents of the (host) Member State. This means that not just minorities, but also host societies themselves have to change, the latter being mandated in order to create "opportunities for the immigrants’ full economic, social, cultural, and political participation." (Council of the European Union 2004)

It seems that the European Union’s common basic principles of minorities’ integration are similar to the Canadian approach of integration, since they are based on a structure of acceptance and respect for differences, as well as on inclusion. (Joppke 2007) In the Canadian context, the result is neither assimilation nor exclusion/segregation, but a middle way in which minorities can become part of society while maintaining something of their values, as well as their core religious and cultural norms. Thus Canadian multiculturalism provides accommodation to minorities of all backgrounds and has become central to this country’s history and character. As Kymlicka (2007) affirms, "no one would deny that issues of accommodating diversity have been central to Canada’s history." In fact, as McMurtry concludes, "Canada’s stability, prosperity and survival depend on it."

The history of Canada is founded upon an evolving acceptance of diversity. The Aboriginal Peoples of the 17th and 18th centuries lived under French and British colonial administrations and had to learn to live with them. By the 20th century, Canada had accommodated and accepted successive waves of immigration. (Kymlicka 2007) At each step along the way, Canada’s stability and prosperity have depended on this country’s ability to respond constructively to new forms of diversity and to develop new relationships of coexistence and cooperation without undermining the (often fragile) accommodations of older forms of diversity, which are themselves continually being contested and renegotiated.

In the last four decades, the focus of Canadian multiculturalism has evolved from celebrating differences during the 1970s to managing diversity in the 1980s, and then to constructive engagement in the 1990s. At the beginning of the 21st century – and a new millennium — the focus of multicultural policy shifted once again, in the direction of "inclusive citizenship." (Fleras and Kunz, 2001) This Canadian model of the early 2000s has emphasized the rights and responsibilities of all Canadians. Thus, over these successive timeframes, Fleras and Kunz (2001) suggest that the key metaphor of Canadian multiculturalism changed from "mosaic," to "a level playing field," to "belonging" and now in the 2000s, to "the two-way street." In short, Canada’s expression of multiculturalism has proven over some four decades to be accommodating, adaptive, and embracing in different times and under different conditions.

Dib (2006) asserts that [Canadian multiculturalism] "… recognizes the importance of pluralism and diversity in social cohesion by constantly building common spaces and wide avenues of voluntary integration. This approach is not about a multiculturalism of separateness and divisiveness. It is about respect for differences."

And this in turn translates to the inclusion of all Canadians, from their skin color and their dress, to their customs and their religion.

However, Dib continues, not all Canadians are comfortable with religious diversity. Some opt to be against such a model of multiculturalism and they advocate "for ending multiculturalism and diversity policies and ‘assimilating’ immigrants, who are already here." He cautions further; "Such attitudes may contribute to a narrowing of the acceptable boundaries for difference at a time when Canada is becoming more diverse, hence more in need of multiculturalism policy." (Dib, 2006)

Differing markedly from the experience of France and Bosnia, Canada’s approach to pluralism and diversity is one that allows Muslims and others to be proud of their backgrounds. Unlike France, Canada does not have serious issues of social segregation. The poor socio-economic conditions of religious and visible minorities in France have caused significant worry for the country’s political leadership, especially when some segments of these minority groups (especially unemployed youth) react violently to segregation. In Canada, many traditional indicators showing the successful social integration of Muslims into the Canadian context remain relatively stable, which is reassuring for our multicultural society. (Environics 2007)

Language is another contentious and central issue. While France worries about minorities not learning French, Canada does not face this challenge — at least not at the level of attaining basic language proficiency. (Keith et al, 2007) In a survey of immigrants who arrived in Canada between 2000 and 2001, 82% of respondents reported that they were able to converse well in at least one of Canada’s two official languages when they first arrived in this country. (Statistics Canada 2003, Keith 2007)

A telling difference in the experience of Canadian Muslims is that they came from nearly 100 different countries, whereas the vast majority of Muslims in France originated from only one part of the world, namely Arab North Africa; and in the case of Germany, from Turkey. In both these Western European societies (and to a certain extent in the remainder of Europe affect by immigration) this has created a definite and homogenous "other." By contrast, one cannot speak about a "Muslim group" in Canada but about dozens of Muslim groups, depending on their country of origin or on their version of the interpretation and expression of Islam.

Here in Canada, it seems that Muslims reflect – in concrete form – what is meant in Islam by diversity as a "divine providence" within the wide universe of the Islamic faith.