A SALUTE TO CANADA – MY ADOPTED
LAND OF UNPARALLELED MULTICULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY
Chander Khanna, November 2005
At a Mississauga interfaith
event: People of all faiths joining a Sufi chanting circle (zikher),
with a turning Dervish in the center. By permission of Stephen
To quote Thomas Merton, we have
reached a fork in the road in our individual and collective journeys
as peoples, societies and cultures, where it is imperative to
not just accept or tolerate each other’s faiths and belief
systems, but to actually celebrate and share in the traditions
of our neighbors.
According to the Upanishads,
the quintessential repository of Eastern philosophy, there are
three roads to choose from: The road taken by the intolerant
is to view their own belief systems as perfect circles with all
others as oddly shaped imperfections. The rational approach, taken
by most of us, is to see all beliefs as equally valid, each nestled
in concentric circles, and each with its own structure and internal
logic. Except that mine is the outer circle. The egalitarian
approach views everything in terms of triangles within the circle
– almost like a pizza pie, with each slice having its own
ingredients, flavour, and internal consistency. Each obeying the
properties of the triangle within the circle. Above all, each
triangle pointing to the same centre, the one Ultimate Reality
– no matter from which direction, from which faith system
one undertakes the journey.
Throughout history, people interacting
with people have stimulated thought. Successful civilizations
have flourished with the interaction of diverse cultures overcoming
the notion that the only way to see things is the way your own
people see things.
Yet, for every success story, there
have been twice as many where things have gone horribly wrong.
IN THE BRIEF
SPAN OF OUR EXISTENCE, WHAT HAVOC WE HAVE CREATED in the
name of our faiths, our belief systems: from Jihads, Crusades,
to Inquisitions. There have been the irrational claimants of the
Biblical land, the fanaticism of the Hindutwa crusader, the relentless
Fatwas against anyone questioning the interpretations of this
or that doctrine. The killing fields of Cambodia, the Gulags,
the ethnic cleansing of the Third Reich, Bosnia, Rwanda, Biafra.
As well, there is the suicide bomber blowing up innocents in the
air, land and the seas. It matters little whether the supremacy
of one’s own doctrine is dreamed up by the uncivilized Taliban
in the caves of Afghanistan or by the civilized SS Gestapo eating
with forks and knives while listening to Bach. The list goes on
and on. At least it’s democratic. It transcends all cultures
in all eras.
But why these recurring cataclysms?
Is peace, understanding and tolerance through cultural diffusion
just a mirage? An academic indulgence? IS THE CANADIAN
MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE ALSO DESTINED FOR INEVITABLE DISILLUSIONMENT?
I think not.
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One of the most pervasive forces
in nature is the notion of separate and unique existence. This
is the ultimate paradox, since in this age of Uncertainty Principles
nothing is more certain than the certainty of our being part of
the unbroken Whole. Yet, every entity in the Universe from the
smallest Quark to the largest Galaxy, wittingly or unwittingly,
seeks to preserve its separate identity. In humans it’s
seen as I-ness, my wife, my house, the church
I belong to versus the church of the same denomination you belong
to on a different street, my belief system, my
Christian bomb, your Jewish bomb, their atheist
communist bomb, his Muslim bomb, her Hindu bomb.
In Canada we are favoured with unique
circumstances which have been helping us to overcome this I-ness,
this false sense of national, cultural or racial intolerance.
1 DEPTH OF
CANADA’S MULTICULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS MOSAIC. There
are great cosmopolitan cities - old or new: Bokhara, Samarkand,
London, New York. But none match Canadian urban centers, inhabited
not just by transient visitors or migrants from a dozen or so
former colonies, but peopled by just about every race and ethnic
background on this planet. The seeds of this cross-cultural
influx were evident in the 1967 Montreal Expo where Man
and His World - La Terre Homme – drew visitors from
every corner of the globe, many of whom later adopted this land.
2 DEEP AND ABIDING
RESPECT BY EACH SUCCESSIVE WAVE OF IMMIGRANTS FOR THE ANGLO
SAXON FOUNDING FATHERS OF THIS GREAT NATION. The initial
disruptions to the First Peoples seem to be atoned with each
passing decade. There is widespread admiration for the vision,
jurisprudence, and above all the values of social justice of
the Anglo Saxon settlers who set the Canadian identity. So much
so that centuries later, The Economist put Canada on
its cover as the Beacon of Social Liberalism around the World.
3 ABSENCE OF
INTERNAL STRIFE. Our neighbors to the South fought the
War of Independence and the Civil War, with the root cause of
the latter reverberating throughout its history. The specter
of Quebec separatism looms large. But should separation occur,
it will more likely be two adults reaching a settlement of sorts
going their separate ways.
4 ABSENCE OF
A DOMINANT MAJORITY OR MINORITY, what historian Toynbee
calls the seeds of discontent leading to an inevitable collapse
of the social order.
5 ABSENCE OF
HATE MONGERS OR DEMAGOGUES. Would-be demagogues like
Holocaust-denier Zundel, or a handful of ethnic extremists,
have been just a handful of miscreants unable to sway any more
than a periphery or fringe element in their midst.
In fact the worst of our
racial or religious slurs have been no worse than the occasional
misguided Imam sending an E-mail to his flock not to say Merry
Christmas, or the Archbishop of Toronto stating on the eve of
the late Pontiff’s last visit to Toronto that not all
religions are of equal importance. To the many young people
attending Mass at Downsview Park, including this writer as a
privileged Hindu, the benign remark was just that, a harmless
expression in the midst of euphoria.
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It is only in Toronto where a Catholic
priest has been guiding one of the most enduring interfaith programs
and conducts Meditation in the Eastern traditions with as much
ease as he does in the Contemplative Way of the Desert Fathers.
It is only in Toronto where a Holocaust survivor leads us in a
passionate swirling of the Dervish dances in the Sufi tradition
(see picture above). It is only in Toronto where a Yoga teacher
speaks eloquently to her students about Virgin Mary and the Magnificat
or Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Also, only in Toronto,
where a devout Muslim speaks with passion about the Bhagavad
Gita. Only in Toronto, where a mosque and a synagogue accommodate
the overflow from each other’s parking lots, and together
with the Buddhists and the Zoroastrians down the street along
Bayview Avenue, jointly shelter and feed the homeless during sub-zero
temperatures. Yet each of them are strong and unwavering in their
own faiths. Only from within Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal,
immigrant refugees from distant lands become Premiers, Federal
Ministers or Governor Generals.
But lest these be taken as merely
anecdotal, a real transformation is taking place in our schools
and in the shopping malls across Canada.
A QUIET HISTORY
IN THE MAKING. With almost 150 ethnic origins represented
in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, and by extension in Canada,
it is not uncommon to see a Palestinian-Canadian girl being the
best friend of a schoolmate who has relatives refusing to leave
the illegal settlements in the Promised Land. Nor to see a Hutu
teenager befriending a Tutsi, a Sri Lankan Tamil dating a Sinhalese,
or Catholic and Protestant teammates wondering what the fuss is
all about in Belfast and Ulster.
It is these hyphenated Canadian
children who will play significant roles as captains of industry
and commerce, culture and arts, social activism, and as part of
peacekeeping forces around the globe.
The true meaning of Globalization
may yet be defined. Not in terms of supranational corporate empires.
But the whole Global Village being finally seen as the home of
the same genus of Homo Sapiens, with common ancestors competing
as well cooperating with each other. It is in this area that the
multicultural mosaic of Canada may end up playing the most significant
role, as its sons and daughters contribute to a lessening of tensions
amongst the warring factions in and amongst the lands of their
parents and grandparents.
Toronto, November 2005
Chander Khanna is the organizer
of the Ontario Branch of the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Society,
and one of the most active members of the Toronto interfaith community.
He can be reached at 416-590-9645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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