Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why is he back to Canada after being away for 34 years?

"Why is Michael Ignatieff back to Canada after being away for 34 years?"

The new conservative ad attacks the leader of the Liberals in Canada on the basis of his alleged unpatriotism: he has been away from Canada for 34 years! This means, he doesn't care about and he doesn't know 'Canada' anymore. He's a selfish traveler who has returned for opportunistic reasons, and not because he's a patriot.

In the context of Canada, a country where the official rhetoric is one of multiculturalism and welcoming of immigrants, being away from one's country shouldn't be much of a stigma, right?

Wrong, because the reliance on this trope equating 'being away from the nation-state' to 'not being a patriot' betrays more than the imagined worldviews of conservative constituencies. It betrays a pervasive nationalist trope that permeates, in spite of the official policy of multiculturalism, the particular understanding of what Canada is: a nation-state.

In a recent article about cosmopolitanism in Australia, Calcutt et al. argue:
The cosmopolitan willingness to accommodate otherness is perceived as a betrayal of Australian culture, yet continuing high levels of immigration from diverse sources demand cosmopolitan tolerance [...] It is argued that, from the cosmopolitan perspective, Australian cultural integrity remains the intact and dominant host of smaller, harmless or manageable cultural fragments.

Similarly, the various official discourses about multiculturalism, about respect for diversity and rejection of racism and xenophobia co-exist quite nicely with nationalism: the idea that there is a Canadian nation, characterized by noble values (hey, tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism, social welfare - beat this if you can!), to which the Canadian state belongs. Thus, being a Canadian and feeling proud of it becomes constructed as a positive thing, closing down the intellectual space in which the idea of 'Canadianness' and of a 'nation' can be critically engaged with and deconstructed in terms of both their homogenization (we're all defined by the same metaphysical Canadian essence) and in terms of their problematic ethics (we vs. them ethics).

It is in moments like the Tory ad that these problematic ethics of nationalism emerge: exactly what is wrong with living in several countries? Why is this even raised as an issue which will - allegedly - make people distrust, dislike and ultimately reject the person who has lived 'abroad'?

Calcutt, Woodward, Skrbis (2009) "Conceptualizing Otherness," Journal of Sociology 45(2), 169-186
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