Identity politics destroy a country’s unity

Photo: iStock

Rima Azar and David Hunt, The Epoch Times, June 29, 2024

Canada Day is an especially good time to ask two questions: What does it mean for a new immigrant to become Canadian? And how can immigrants succeed in their new country while contributing toward making Canada more prosperous for all?

We are proud Canadians, but I (Rima) am originally from Lebanon. And it was the worst of politics—in the form of a violent civil war, rooted in identity politics—that my family and I fled, to find a new home in Canada, along with hundreds of thousands of others.

And what have the 200,000 to 400,000 Canadians of Lebanese descent contributed to Canadian society?

The stereotype that Lebanese immigrants are hard-working with entrepreneurship in their blood is, well, true. In a land of endless opportunities like Canada, they have made massive contributions in the world of business, science, engineering, medicine, arts, music, law, policing, and politics. Let’s flesh out a far-from-comprehensive list of examples.

In the old days, a common profession of the first Lebanese migrants, especially in the Maritimes in the late 19th century, was a peddler—like a character in the Old West “Oklahoma” musical. But this evolved into big business. Dollarama, Rossy, Marché Adonis, and the Group Gabriel network of car dealerships are but four examples of major—even billion-dollar—companies founded by Canadians of Lebanese descent. Other examples of their entrepreneurship are Mansour Menswear in Amherst, NS, or cafés like Cedar Tree Café in Fredericton, NB. And, of course, consider the countless shawarma restaurants (a Canadian favourite, for sure!).

In addition to successful business owners, there are many inspiring names of Canadians of Lebanese heritage in all sectors: like Mona Nemer, PhD, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, the high-profile criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein, award-winning writers Rawi Hage and Ann-Marie MacDonald, internationally known playwright Wajdi Mouawad, Montreal chief of police Fadi Dagher, and famous singer-songwriter Paul Anca. And in politics, consider two PEI premiers (Joe Ghiz and his son Robert), former New Brunswick MP Paul Zed, and Newfoundland’s former longtime senator Michael Basha and former NDP leader Lorraine Michael.

Not to mention, almost all Canadians of Lebanese descent converse in either English or French, with up to 37% of them being bilingual.

The Lebanese diaspora has enriched—and is well equipped to keep enriching—their beloved Canada. But their contributions have exemplified more than human agency in a free country—and the creativity and entrepreneurship that flows. It is also a stark contrast of two societies: one free and flourishing, while the other is consumed with the horrors of tribalism and sectarianism.

And this may be their greatest contribution: A warning to Canada, to turn back from our rapid descent into identity politics—a perilous road that eventually tears countries apart.

To grasp the danger of identity politics, consider that it not only defines us by our visible identity, but also traps others into it. But dividing people into groups of colour, gender, ethnicity, religion, and so forth—and then judging them based on that group identity—is nothing new. It’s called tribalism. And history teaches us just how dangerous this is—even very recent history, not to mention the present-day Middle East.

To become Canadian is to reject tribalism and accept my neighbour as an individual, not a faceless member of a group. Under the law, we are equal, and we are judged in Canadian society by our character and merit—not ancestry or surface-level “identifiers” beyond our control. At least, this is the Canada that welcomed me (Rima)—and so many others—decades ago.

Those who describe us as a “post-national state,” without a “core identity” or “mainstream,” could not be more mistaken. Such a rootless vision of multiculturalism lends itself to radical identity-based movements like cancel culture and self-righteous obsession with diversity, to the point of cult-like closed-mindedness.

As I (Rima) wrote in The 1867 Project, despite noble intentions, the reality is that identity politics—especially the state-endorsed variety—are actually a modern form of sectarianism.

Identity politics is the opposite of the unity that is so needed in our beloved country. Contrary to the cancel-Canada-Day accusations of “systemic racism”, Canada is in fact “systematically” welcoming to newcomers—the very opposite of racism.

Let’s not lose the true north—strong and free. This July 1st, celebrate Canada!

Rima Azar, PhD, is a Senior Fellow at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy, an Associate Professor of Health Psychology at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, and the Founder and Director of the Psychobiology of Stress and Health Lab (PSHL) there.

David Hunt is the Research Director at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy.

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