The Collapse of American Identity – The New York Times

Good summary of the increased divide in America and the ongoing political implications:

But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to changing demographics and culture. The shock waves from these transformations — harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s campaign — are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal-versus-conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism and monism.

An Associated Press-NORC poll found nearly mirror-opposite partisan reactions to the question of what kind of culture is important for American identity. Sixty-six percent of Democrats, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans, said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity. Similarly, 64 percent of Republicans, compared with 32 percent of Democrats, saw a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important.

These divergent orientations can also be seen in a recent poll by P.R.R.I. that explored partisan perceptions of which groups are facing discrimination in the country. Like Americans overall, large majorities of Democrats believe minority groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people face a lot of discrimination in the country. Only about one in five Democrats say that majority groups such as Christians or whites face a lot of discrimination.

Republicans, on the other hand, are much less likely than Democrats to believe any minority group faces a lot of discrimination, and they believe Christians and whites face roughly as much discrimination as immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people. Moreover, only 27 percent of Republicans say blacks experience a lot of discrimination, while 43 percent say whites do and 48 percent say the same of Christians.

Taken as a whole, these partisan portraits highlight contrasting responses to the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation — from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats — only 29 percent of whom are white and Christian — are embracing these changes as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian — see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them.

These responses are shifting the political magnetic field that defines the parties. Republican leaders are finding strong support among their base for the Trump administration’s executive order barring travel to the United States from particular Muslim-majority countries. But their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was dramatically derailed by factions within their own party.

Democrats, on the other hand, are enjoying energetic backing from their base for pro-immigration and pro-L.G.B.T. stances, but they are experiencing increasing opposition to their support for free trade.

There have been other times in our history when the fabric of American identity was stretched in similar ways — the Civil War, heightened levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

But during these eras, white Christians were still secure as a demographic and cultural majority in the nation. The question at stake was whether they were going to make room for new groups at a table they still owned. Typically, a group would gain its seat in exchange for assimilation to the majority culture. But as white Christians have slipped from the majority over the past decade, this familiar strategy is no longer viable.

White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat. And it’s this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today.

The temptation for the Republican Party, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, is to double down on a form of white Christian nationalism, which treats racial and religious identity as tribal markers and defends a shrinking demographic with increasingly autocratic assertions of power.

For its part, the Democratic Party is contending with the difficulties of organizing its more diverse coalition while facing its own tribal temptations to embrace an identity politics that has room to celebrate every group except whites who strongly identify as Christian. If this realignment continues, left out of this opposition will be a significant number of whites who are both wary of white Christian nationalism and weary of feeling discounted in the context of identity politics.

This end is not inevitable, but if we are to continue to make one out of many, leaders of both parties will have to step back from the reactivity of the present and take up the more arduous task of weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can see themselves.

Supreme Court judge [Justice Wagner] says Canadians shouldn’t worry about arrival of refugees, migrants 

Thoughtful and pertinent comments, particularly interesting his comments on identity:

Wagner said the notions of identity, human dignity and democratic values permeate the Charter and “lay the foundations for looking beyond our own borders.

“We can welcome refugees and migrants with the confidence that our society is able not only to manage our differences, but to thrive on them,” said Wagner.

Speaking to reporters later, Wagner acknowledged that, while his speech was delivered to a legal and academic audience, there was a message for Canadians concerned about the influx of refugees and migrants.

“We should, I think, welcome all those people and we should be willing to accommodate them and not change them,” he said.

“People should not be afraid of having migrants and refugees in their own countries. I think we’re strong enough and . . . we have strong moral values, and one of those values is the respect for human dignity. And, if we take our role seriously, we’ll look, we’ll adopt the perspective of the other, and it could only, I think, as far as I’m concerned, grow society much better in the future.”

Asked if that means there should be room for face veils and other individual expressions of religious identity, Wagner declined to answer, saying: “I don’t know if those cases will come before the court, so I don’t want to comment.”

Wagner holds one of the three high court seats reserved for Quebec. Quebec’s legislature is now studying a bill to require “religious neutrality” of those who deliver or receive public services, amid calls to ditch the bill in the wake of the slaying of six Muslims at a Quebec City mosque.

Wagner said judges have an “obligation” to try to understand the perspective of a person who says their equality rights are breached, but he added “that doesn’t mean that the claimant is right . . . that doesn’t mean that I would adopt his way, or his reasoning, or his opinion, or his end result.”

In his speech, Wagner admitted early approaches to how judges analyzed discrimination did not stand up to the task. He said Charter interpretation is still “a work in progress,” but, he added, over the past 150 years “the constitution has enabled us to navigate difficult questions of identity.

“Personal and group characteristics are the starting point of Charter equality jurisprudence, but identity is not about labels; it is a shorthand for how people see themselves, how others see them, and how those two things interact in people’s lives.”

Wagner said the Supreme Court looks to the context and experiences of a person claiming discrimination, and seeks to understand the person’s perspective, which is an especially important consideration in cases of aboriginal law or where there are overlapping characteristics of a person’s identity that influence how they experience discrimination.

Wagner said the experience of a woman who is part of a visible minority can be totally different from that of a young man who has the same characteristics. “If one of the two is not a citizen, or has a different sexual orientation, their experience could be even more different.”

“When the court eventually faces a question touching on trans-gender identity, these two propositions will provide essential frames of reference: that identity is not fixed, but changing, and that identity is not innate, but contextual,” he said.

Wagner predicted that, although the principle of “dignity” fell out of favour in judicial analyses of equality claims, it would find new traction in future Charter litigation. It is a crucial consideration when judges weigh whether a rights violation is reasonable and justified. “Equality infringements ought to be increasingly difficult to justify to the extent that it strikes at the heart of someone’s individual or group identity and, with it, their recognition as full participants in Canada’s ongoing democratic dialogue,” he said.

University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes said Wagner’s speech would please equality-seeking groups on the one hand, but he said Wagner also emphasized “democratic values” and “substantive” equality over any superficial concept of equality.

To Mendes, it was a signal from a judge who some suggest could one day become the chief justice of Canada, that the balance won’t always tip in favour of those who feel their rights are breached.

The Canada experiment: is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country? | Charles Foran | The Guardian

Nice long-read by Foran, commenting on what ‘post-national’ means in practice:

Can any nation truly behave “postnationally” – ie without falling back on the established mechanisms of state governance and control? The simple answer is no.

Canada has borders, where guards check passports, and an army. It asserts the occasional modest territorial claim. Trudeau is more aware than most of these mechanisms: he oversees them.

It can also be argued that Canada enjoys the luxury of thinking outside the nation-state box courtesy of its behemoth neighbour to the south. The state needn’t defend its borders too forcefully or make that army too large, and Canada’s economic prosperity may be as straightforward as continuing to do 75% of its trade with the US. Being liberated, the thinking goes, from the economic and military stresses that most other countries face gives Canada the breathing room, and the confidence, to experiment with more radical approaches to society. Lucky us.

Nor is there uniform agreement within Canada about being post-anything. When the novelist Yann Martel casually described his homeland as “the greatest hotel on earth,” he meant it as a compliment – but some read it as an endorsement of newcomers deciding to view Canada as a convenient waystation: a security, business or real-estate opportunity, with no lasting responsibilities attached.

Likewise, plenty of Canadians believe we possess a set of normative values, and want newcomers to prove they abide by them. Kellie Leitch, who is running for the leadership of the Conservative party, suggested last autumn that we screen potential immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” A minister in the previous Conservative government, Chris Alexander, pledged in 2015 to set up a tip-line for citizens to report “barbaric cultural practises”. And in the last election, the outgoing prime minister, Stephen Harper, tried in vain to hamstring Trudeau’s popularity by confecting a debate about the hijab.

To add to the mix, the French-speaking province of Quebec already constitutes one distinctive nation, as do the 50-plus First Nations spread across the country. All have their own perspectives and priorities, and may or may not be interested in a postnational frame. (That said, Trudeau is a bilingual Montrealer, and Quebeca vibrantly diverse society.)

Though sovereign since 1867, Canada lingered in the shadow of the British empire for nearly a century. Not until the 1960s did we fly our own flag and sing our own anthem, and not until 1982 did Trudeau’s father, Pierre, patriate the constitution from the UK, adding a charter of rights. He also introduced multiculturalism as official national policy. The challenge, then, might have seemed to define a national identity to match.

This was never going to be easy, given our colonial hangover and American cultural influence. Marshall McLuhan, one of the last century’s most seismic thinkers, felt we shouldn’t bother. “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity,” he said in 1963.

According to poet and scholar BW Powe, McLuhan saw in Canada the raw materials for a dynamic new conception of nationhood, one unshackled from the state’s “demarcated borderlines and walls, its connection to blood and soul,” its obsession with “cohesion based on a melting pot, on nativist fervor, the idea of the promised land”. Instead, the weakness of the established Canadian identity encouraged a plurality of them – not to mention a healthy flexibility and receptivity to change. Once Canada moved away from privileging denizens of the former empire to practising multiculturalism, it could become a place where “many faiths and histories and visions” would co-exist.

That’s exactly what happened. If McLuhan didn’t see how Chinese, Japanese, Ukrainian and later Italian, Greek and Eastern European arrivals underpinned the growth of Canada in that sleepy first century, he surely registered before his death in 1980 the positive impact of successive waves of South Asians, Vietnamese and Caribbean immigrants. The last several decades have been marked by an increasingly deep diversity, particularly featuring mainland Chinese, Indians and Filipinos.

Others have expanded on McLuhan’s insight. The writer and essayist John Ralston Saul (co-founder of the charity for which I work) calls Canada a “revolutionary reversal of the standard nation-state myth”, and ascribes much of our radical capacity – not a term you often hear applied to Canadians – to our application of the Indigenous concept of welcome. “Space for multiple identities and multiple loyalties,” he says of these philosophies, the roots of which go deep in North American soil, “for an idea of belonging which is comfortable with contradictions.”

How unique is any of this? Ralston Saul argues that Canada’s experiment is “perpetually incomplete”. In other countries, a sovereignty movement like Quebec’s might have led to bloodshed. Instead, aside from a brief period of violent separatist agitation culminating in kidnappings and a murder in 1970, Canada and Quebec have been in constant compromise mode, arguing at the ballot box and finding ways to accommodate. Canada’s incomplete identity is, in this sense, a positive, a spur to move forward without spilling blood, to keep thinking and evolving – perhaps, in the end, simply to respond to newness without fear.

None of this raw populism is going away in 2017, especially as it gets further irritated by the admittedly formidable global challenge of how to deal with unprecedented numbers of people crossing national borders, with or without visas. But denial, standing your nativist ground, doing little or nothing to evolve your society in response to both a crisis and, less obviously, an opportunity: these are reactions, not actions, and certain to make matters worse.

If the pundits are right that the world needs more Canada, it is only because Canada has had the history, philosophy and possibly the physical space to do some of that necessary thinking about how to build societies differently. Call it postnationalism, or just a new model of belonging: Canada may yet be of help in what is guaranteed to be the difficult year to come.

Source: The Canada experiment: is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country? | Charles Foran | World news | The Guardian

Pico Iyer on the meaning of home, in a post-Trump world

Interviews with Pico Iyer always are interesting:

Q: Perhaps that’s why you’ve been such an admirer of Canada for so long, since before your paean in The Global Soul?

A: One thing that has long hit me about Canada, ever since I started making annual visits there in 1994, is that people in the cities there are constantly—some would say obsessively—talking and thinking, every day, about diversity and refugees and the future and how to turn a culture made of many disparate parts into something greater than their sum.

The other countries I know—from Britain to the U.S.—have all backed into multiculturalism; it’s taken them by surprise and they’ve tried to adapt or stretch their current society into something that will accommodate new visitors. Only in Canada has there been a strong sense of vision about creating an entirely new kind of society to match the age of movement. And Canada has been addressing that issue for half a century—ever since Pierre Trudeau hung a sign that said “World Citizen” outside his door at Harvard and began travelling the world.

Of course, those who live in Canada are keenly aware of everything that’s going wrong and moments when optimism has been unfounded. But my impression is that the more people travel—whether it’s Salman Rushdie or the spokesperson for the UN High Commission on Refugees—the more they admire Canada, and see something coming to light there that we don’t find so often in Australia or South Africa, in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Whenever my friends there say that their country is no utopia, I agree—but ask them if they really want to move to Dubai or L.A.

Q: You love the inclusive, cosmopolitan vibrancy of Toronto, and you wrote that in Toronto, “the average resident today is what used to be called a foreigner, somebody born in a very different country.” In late 2016, it’s top of mind for many: what does finding home mean in a less immigrant-friendly world?

A: From the beginning, I’ve stressed that home is something internal, invisible, portable, especially for those of us with roots in many physical places; we have to root ourselves in our passions, our values and our deepest friends. My home, I’ve always felt, lies in the songs and novels that I love, in the wife and mother that I’m never far away from, in the monastery to which I’ve been returning for 25 years. Precisely because I don’t belong entirely to Britain or the U.S. or India or Japan, I build my foundations in some way deeper than mere passports, and more in the light of where I’m going than of “where I come from.”

Of course, the Brexit vote, the victory of Mr. Trump, what’s happening around the world represents a backlash against precisely people such as myself, blessed with many homes. But I don’t think that changes the fact—the inarguable reality—that for many in Toronto, say, “home” means a question they’ll always be refining and adding to (and may never answer), while home also means a place like Toronto, where they’re surrounded by people entertaining just the same questions.

We may be joined these days more by the questions we have in common than by the answers we share.

Some people will always ground themselves very strongly in a piece of soil, a grandmother’s property, a tiny plot of land, and that’s great. But in the Age of Movement, there’s no question that the number of people who don’t—or can’t—is growing exponentially.

And on Leonard Cohen:

Q: How did Cohen embody Canada’s best qualities, the homely qualities that make it one of your favourite countries?

A: Somehow Leonard could only have come from Canada, I feel, and it’s no surprise that he held it so firmly in his heart till his dying day.

One of his sovereign graces was always to mix a sense of irony with a sense of passionate quest, to sound as if he never took himself too seriously, yet took many other things (and other people) very seriously indeed. That mix of an Old World sense of drollness and respect for tradition with a New World hunger for something better and fascination with the horizon is, to me, the illuminating beauty of Canada: it never pursues the future as if it can deny every kind of past.

Leonard was really Montreal incarnate, in so many ways, as one who mixed the worldliness and elegance of France with the hopefulness and sincerity of North America.

Source: Pico Iyer on the meaning of home, in a post-Trump world – Macleans.ca

Theresa May criticized the term ‘citizen of the world.’ But half the world identifies that way. – The Washington Post

global-citizenInteresting poll showing the relative identity balance between local and global citizenship:

In defense of the Brexit decision she now must implement, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday that no “divisive nationalists” would hold up the process of exiting the European Union, and she firmly asserted that all four of Britain’s constituent “nations” — England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — would Brexit together.

But the Brexit decision was fueled in many ways by nationalist sentiments, centering on perceived threats to Britain’s sovereignty and many of its citizens’ desires to prevent the supposed dilution of their national identity by immigrants crossing the European Union’s open borders.

Just three days after her comment about “divisive nationalists,” at her Conservative Party’s annual conference, May espoused her own brand of nationalism — one that seems to encompass all of Britain, but excludes those who may feel as though they have multiple nationalities, or identities.

“Today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the street,” she said. “But if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”

As it turns out, about half of the people “down the road” or whom one might “pass on the street” identify with the very phrase May disparaged — being a “citizen of the world” or global citizen.

In an 18-nation survey conducted by GlobeScan in conjunction with the BBC World Service that was released just over a month ago, 47 percent of Britons said they somewhat or strongly agreed that they considered themselves more as global citizens than citizens of the United Kingdom.

That number is just slightly below the 51 percent of all respondents who felt the same way. Below is a look at how respondents from each of the 18 surveyed countries responded. It is worth noting that “urban-only” samples were used in Brazil, China, Indonesia and Kenya.

Source: Theresa May criticized the term ‘citizen of the world.’ But half the world identifies that way. – The Washington Post

Ontario considering further changes to how gender is displayed on government documents

These consultations should not only be with Ontario stakeholders but the federal government also needs to be involved given the implications across a series of programs (see earlier New gender-neutral Ontario health cards make it harder to get a passport illustrating the need):

Ontario is considering more changes to the collection and display of gender information on government documents, not long after announcing gender-neutral driver’s licences and health cards.

Public consultations launched earlier this month look at how gender information is treated on government forms and identification documents, including birth and marriage certificates.

A preamble to an online survey says “people with transgender and non-binary gender identity may face barriers and other negative outcomes when trying to access services” so the government wants to ensure its policies are inclusive.

Ontario has already announced that starting in early 2017, drivers will be able to select an X instead of an M for male or F for female on their licences.

People can also now obtain health cards without sex information displayed on the front of the card.

“There’s more work to be done on this, so we’re reaching out to Ontarians to make sure we develop good policy that the government can use to make appropriate decisions about when and how to collect, retain, use and display information about persons sex and gender,” Christine Burke, a spokeswoman for the government and consumer services minister, said in a statement.

Trans advocate Susan Gapka would like to see sex and gender not displayed on birth certificates. The type of changes the government is contemplating are relatively easy and low-cost to achieve, but mean so much to the community, she said.

“I was born again, so to speak, 20 years ago,” Gapka said. “Now I have to renew my health card and having the correct or the accurate way that I feel best describes me, as female, is really, really important to me. In fact, I had to change laws. We had to change laws and change society’s opinions so I could have that.”

The consultation survey says the government is proposing to collect gender information as the default and sex information only if needed. For example, sex is necessary for the Ontario Health Insurance Program, it says.

Greater use of X as a gender identifier is also possible on other identification, such as photo ID cards for people who do not have driver’s licences. And, the consultation document says, the government wants to see a consistent process for people who identify as trans or non-binary — defined as people who don’t identify exclusively as male or female.

Source: Ontario considering further changes to how gender is displayed on government documents | National Post

Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary governance and blood quantum

Fascinating account of the different aspects of identity, ranging from bloodline requirements to culture, and the challenge this poses across a number of fronts:

The story of Josiah Wilson, the Haiti-born, Heiltsuk First Nation adopted basketball player, has raised questions of Indigenous identity much bigger than whether he should be allowed to play in an All-Native Basketball Tournament in B.C.

The tournament committee’s decision to ban Wilson, 20, a status Indian, because he doesn’t have at least 1/8th First Nations ancestry or “blood quantum” is a symptom of a greater conflict.

This conflict lurks in band offices, treaty offices, on the land and on reserves across the country.

What, or who, defines someone as Indigenous — is it the hereditary system, the Indian Act, a blood test?

According to the Canadian government, Wilson is an “Indian.” According to the Heiltsuk, he is Heiltsuk. And according to the All-Native Basketball Tournament, he is an adoptee, Canadian and Haitian, but not Heiltsuk.

Heiltsuk hereditary system

In the eyes of the Heiltsuk Hemas (hereditary chiefs), Wilson is Heiltsuk. The Hemas embody the Heiltsuk Nation’s traditional social structure and hereditary system of governance, which identifies members through cultural protocol and a connection to family crests and clans.

Heiltsuk Hemas standing with Haida Hereditary Chiefs

In the eyes of the Heiltsuk Hemas (hereditary chiefs), Josiah is Heiltsuk. Here, Heiltsuk Hemas are shown with Haida hereditary chiefs. (Don Wilson/Facebook)

Heiltsuk cultural adviser Frances Brown says the hereditary system is a complex set of laws that governs not only a responsibility to the land, but also social relationships to one another, including adoption.

“If there’s a customary adoption it means that you adopt a child and you do it in a potlatch where there’s many witnesses and the chiefs are there,” said Brown.

Gary Housty was one of the Heiltsuk Hemas to witness the ceremonial adoption of Wilson by a First Nations family. He says he wrote a letter to members of the all-native committee urging them to let Wilson play, but received no response.

“I really have a problem with the way they’re setting down rules that disallow people to participate in these very important cultural events, such as the All-Native Tournament. There’s so much culture there. And we are talking about culture here.

“In my eyes Josiah is a Heiltsuk boy, a Heiltsuk person. He belongs here with us,” said Housty.

Source: Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary governance and blood quantum – Aboriginal – CBC

Canada’s identity is an experiment in the process of being realized: Foran

Interesting reflections by Charlie Foran on Canadian identity and its complexities:

It has certainly been a slow awakening. In 1972, a young Margaret Atwood willed a unity onto the then-nascent notion of a Canadian literature with her influential thematic study, Survival. “When I discovered the shape of the national tradition I was depressed,” she admitted. The immigrant “is confronted only by a nebulosity, a blank: no ready-made ideology is provided for him.”

Ms. Atwood famously declared the act of cultural, political and, yes, meteorological “survival” in such an environment to be our determining narrative. Not long afterward, the journalist June Callwood wondered if the actual daily practice of civility – in part, our overpraised politeness – might be the Canadian unifier. Truth be told, neither concept goes far enough toward the territory of heroic statuary or stirring legend.

Here we are in 2016, when few dispute any longer the unseemly length of English Canada’s colonial hangover. For the first century of nationhood, we didn’t bother moving away from imported and inherited customs and thinking, a stark disavowal of lived history and geography.

Canada in the 21st century is certainly an energized place by comparison. Our cultural industries are big businesses and our artists are reasonably supported. Audiences for most of the arts are on a steady rise.

Even so, we continue to export much of our acting and musical talent, ignore our films, keep Canadian theatre largely in the commercial margins, and at the moment appear destined to outlast the era of brilliant long-form television without making a significant contribution to it – unlike, say, tiny Norway or Denmark.

The senior film producer Robert Lantos fumed in this newspaper at the CRTC’s rejection of an all-Canadian movie channel under the “mandatory carriage” category, calling the chairman “utterly blind to the cultural imperatives of what it takes to be a nation.” That was last weekend. Mr. Lantos also lamented the modest Canadian box office for Remember, the latest film by Atom Egoyan. Add Paul Gross’s impressive Hyena Road to the predictable list of the predictably neglected.

Given these ongoing challenges for Canadian arts and artists, why then would anyone think it lucky for English Canada to be too late to create an old-fashioned cultural nation? Consider the Prime Minister’s comments again, especially his calling us the “first postnational state.”

Like so much of the focus of the new government, the words seem calculated to change the direction of public thought. In the months since the election, the Liberals have proposed lots of new words for fresh thinking: reconciliation, diversity, inclusion, to name a few.

If this was Justin Trudeau’s intent, it is worthy. We do need new language to describe this vast, improbable country called 21st-century Canada. We do need to find a way to inhabit our entire cultural space.

To do so, we must get past one easy misconception – the outdated nation-state model – and one harder reality: the historic comfort level among Canadians with conceiving of themselves as parts of smaller, cozier self-definitions, as well an attendant incuriosity about who else lives reasonably nearby.

The launching point for this project is obvious. Indigenous Canada is where we all live, in terms of geography, spirit, and history. In order for that to be real and meaningful, we must start with the stark: that a cultural genocide occurred, and most of us were unaware or, perhaps, just not concerned enough. Artistic expressions of these truths are necessary, and can only help.

Overall, Canada as an experimental cultural space requires the right spirit in order to take shape. That spirit, simply, is an openness to having your history unsettled and your mind changed. As well, a certain comfort level with complexity and irresolution is probably good. In her forthcoming book, The Promise of Canada, Charlotte Gray calls us an “unfinished and perhaps unfinishable project.” That sounds about right.

At the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, the spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan gained national attention with his poem We Are More. Canadians thrilled to lines such as “We are an idea in the process of being realized” and “We are an experiment going right for a change.”

Source: Canada’s identity is an experiment in the process of being realized – The Globe and Mail

Clinging to Our ‘Roots’ – The New York Times

Interesting reflections on ‘roots’ by Christy Wampole:

A desire for roots and rootedness may be acquiring a new importance in the new global tangle, where certainties are hard to come by. But I wonder sometimes if this root-oriented thinking actually causes many of the problems whose solutions we can’t seem to find. Think of your own roots and how much of your identity relies on them. How many things that trouble or anger you relate in some way, if only peripherally, to this rootedness? If you were to suddenly discover that you were mistaken about your roots, would you trade in your Lederhosen for a kilt? How negotiable is your sense of self? How much do your roots determine your actions? What if you’d been born with someone else’s roots, say, those of your enemy?

Each person will have different answers to these questions. And yet there is something universal about rootedness as well. All people seek a context into which they may enfold themselves. If we truly are wired for connectedness, we’ve gotten our wish in a sense; our unprecedented system of networks has shrunk the globe and at least offered the possibility for new kinds of continuity and growth. But it remains to be seen how this connectivity will be reconciled with individual identities, with old brands of embeddedness, and with nostalgia for the first garden.

Source: Clinging to Our ‘Roots’ – The New York Times

What Is German? – The New York Times

Good piece by Anna Sauerbrey on German identity political debates:

IN Germany, a big question is back on the table: What is German — and how German do you have to be to belong to Germany? With the arrival in 2015 of 1.1 million refugees and migrants, it’s an important issue. But rather than having a reasoned debate, the extremists have already taken control. For a disturbing number of Germans, the answer is culture, including religion.

That’s the message coming out of the Alternative for Germany, an upstart right-wing party that has drawn double-digit support in recent state-level elections. At a convention earlier this month, the party adopted the sentence “Islam does not belong to Germany” into its official platform.

The sentence is a direct rebuke to a famous 2010 statement by a former German president, Christian Wulff, who proclaimed the opposite, earning praise from migrants, liberals and the left. At the time, it was an uncontroversial position, one supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel and most political polls. Today, about 60 percent agree with the Alternative for Germany’s position, pollsters found in May.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is just one element in the party’s fairly coherent, nativist concept of national culture. The preamble to its program promises to preserve “our occidental and Christian culture, our nation’s historical and cultural identity, and an independent German nation of the German people.” The party refers to German culture as the “einheimische Kultur” — native culture — and describes the German nation as “a cultural unit” under threat from immigrant cultures. Its program for the state election in Baden-Württemberg in March stated: “Germany’s cultural foundation is being smashed by immigration.”

Photo

President Joachim Gauck of Germany, center, with local politicians from around the country on Monday. CreditMarkus Schreiber/Pool, via Reuters 

For many liberals and centrist conservatives, culture is defined as the ways a person or group does things. For the Alternative for Germany, it is much more — a natural fact, the core of a person or group’s essence, a thing, not a set of practices. And that thing must be kept homogeneous and pure.

It follows, at least for the new German right, that cultures can be compared and ranked — some are worth preserving, while others are invasive and inferior. German culture is under constant risk of losing its purity, and its defense is a core role of the state. It is a thinly veiled update of the old racist ideologies: culturism as the new racism.

In March, the Alternative for Germany made it into three state parliaments. Pollsters currently see the party at 10 to 15 percent of the electorate. That could be enough to force Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party further to the right. Progressive and conservative Christian Democrats are still debating the correct way to deal with the new far right, but the party has already trotted out its own answer to the “What is German” question: the concept of “Leitkultur,” or a guiding national culture.

Leitkultur is not new per se; it was introduced to the German debate on immigration in 2000 by Friedrich Merz, then head of the federal Parliament’s Christian Democratic caucus. The German government was planning an immigration reform to attract more engineers. Mr. Merz demanded that immigrants adapt to the dominant German culture: secular, German-speaking, rule-of-law abiding. The ensuing criticism was fierce, and although the Christian Democrats did include the term in their official immigration position, they more or less dropped it as an issue.

But with the Alternative for Germany sucking voters from Ms. Merkel’s party, conservatives are pushing the party to attribute a more central role to Germany’s cultural identity. Leitkultur has reappeared in Christian Democratic speeches and working papers. Ms. Merkel used the term approvingly while campaigning in March.

There’s a difference between Leitkultur and the Alternative for Germany’s einheimische Kultur — in the Christian Democratic version, the nativist element is weak; Islam is not a target, at least explicitly. Still, the reintroduction of the concept at a time when the Alternative for Germany is promoting its cultural version of the Aryan nation is as strategically clever as it is dangerous: The Christian Democrats are whitewashing the far-right version of the Cultural German.

While the political cost is high, the concept of Leitkultur is useless. Attempts at legally defining and protecting “German culture” often verge on the absurd. In April, after reports that some public cafeterias no longer served pork out of respect for the dietary restrictions of their Muslim customers, the Christian Democrats in the state of Schleswig-Holstein introduced a proposal to preserve pork dishes in public canteens. “We must not allow for a minority to determine what the majority eats,” a local Christian Democrat said. Some of the reports proved false. The “schnitzel law” caused snickering — and was rejected.

Asked in 2000 what he thought went into German Leitkultur, Mr. Merz pointed to the Constitution and to women’s rights. But it’s no use making refugees swear an oath on women’s rights. Germans won’t control what they think. But Germany can help them understand the laws protecting women’s rights — and reinforce them.

A modern nation state cannot be built on an ontological notion of who belongs and who does not, whether it’s outright ethnic or pseudo-cultural. It needs to build on the notion of the nation as a community — a community including those who were born here, those who came to stay and those who will stay for a while and then return to their homes. The rights and duties of the members of this community should be defined by their achievements, and by the rule of law — not by whether they eat schnitzel or wear a head scarf.

Source: What Is German? – The New York Times