A monument to Canadian multiculturalism in Toronto.
In our desire to insure an inclusive, humane, and tolerant society, we seem to have constructed a simplistic and inadequate picture of refugees and illegal immigrants.
Perhaps the majority of Americans and Canadians do not approach the question of refugees and immigrants with an open mind, but with a set of "progressive" assumptions:
The idea that all cultures are equally good and equally valuable, sometimes known as "cultural relativism." When faced with an uninvited influx of outsiders, we do not worry about what culture the incomers are bringing, because, whatever it is, it supposedly must be fine.
That multiculturalism, the coexistence of a variety of cultures, is desirable. The more cultures in a multicultural society, the more cultural diversity, the better.
That in our society, and in the world generally, each person falls into the category of either oppressor or oppressed. our simple classification of oppressor and oppressed can generally class refugee claimants and illegal migrants as oppressed, because they are leaving a place of conflict or poverty or despotism, are people of colour, are Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist or from a smaller, non-Christian group, or are homosexual. We therefore define refugee claimants and illegal refugees as oppressed, as victims, desperate, and in need. We view them through a humanitarian lens, with generosity and sympathy.
If we open our hearts to the oppressed, we must view the oppressors with disdain. Who are the oppressors? We are quite certain that women are oppressed by men, that homosexuals are oppressed by heterosexuals, that people of colour are oppressed by whites, that the poor are oppressed by the well off, and that Muslims are oppressed by Christians and Jews.
So while our inclusiveness, tolerance, and rejection of hate furthers multiculturalism, our society is rife with villains to be attacked and suppressed: whites, men, heterosexuals, the financially well off, Christians and Jews. We do not wish to hate, but we righteously hate oppressors. Gender, race, religion, and sexual preference have once again become reasons to reject whole categories of people, just different categories of people than before.
Willingness to assimilate varies from individual to individual, and from culture to culture.
Framed primarily by our humanitarian intentions, we reduce refugees and immigrants to no more than people in need for whom we should have sympathy. But perhaps we should hesitate to reduce people to such empty general categories, and dehumanize them by ignoring the culture that they carry with them. Refugees and immigrants bring their own cultures, their own assumptions, beliefs, values, fears and hopes from their homelands. One cannot just assume that they wish to integrate or assimilate into the Western culture. Willingness to assimilate might well vary from individual to individual, and from culture to culture.
Immigrants from South Asia have grown up in a hierarchical caste society, in which higher castes are pure and lower castes polluted. Sharing food or marrying is forbidden between low castes and high castes. Violators of these rules may suffer penalties of beating, gang rape, and even execution. There are cases of Canadians from South Asia who have been convicted of murdering a young family member who grew up in Canada, and who married into a low caste.
Immigrants from the Middle East have grown up in societies where men are in charge of women.
Immigrants from the Middle East have grown up in societies where men are in charge of women, and it is women's duty to obey and maintain modesty in demeanor and behaviour. There are cases of Americans or Canadians originating in the Middle East whose female family members become "too American" or "too Canadian," too immodest to protect family honour. Their family members, to defend family honour, commit murder, especially of their women. We call these as honor killings, because they are motivated by the desire to defend family and community honor, and are commonly approved of by many members of the ethnic community.
Muslim immigrants have grown up in a tradition defined by sharia law, which forbids, on pain of death, a Muslim leaving Islam; criticism of religion, and homosexual acts. Women who have suffered rape are considered to have engaged in adultery, in some Muslim countries subject to death by stoning. Non-Muslim Christian or Jewish "infidels" must pay protection money, called a jizya, annually to be considered inferior dhimma, tolerated fourth-class citizens, with whom Muslims should not become friends. Other infidels, such as Yazidis, who are not "protected" are subject to murder, capture, gang rape, and sexual slavery, all legitimate under sharia law.
Many of these rules and penalties are totally inconsistent with Western law and with human rights as defined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the US Bill of Rights, and the UN's Universal Charter of Human Rights.
Canadians and Americans presumably do not wish to see their rights replaced by sharia law or caste law. Some immigrants, however, hold their caste and religious law above Western law, and would like to see caste and religious law replace Western law. In the meantime, they act as a fifth column, attempting to undermine Western law and custom, whether by electoral pressure or violent attack. Some Western legislators, in the face of immigrant and minority pressure, back pedal, in the name of multiculturalism and diversity, and withdraw support for free speech, for the right of criticism of religion, for freedom of sexual choice, and other individual liberties.
Immigration policy should welcome those whose values and attitudes are consistent with Western culture and laws.
There is, unfortunately, no simple policy solution. Policies directed at categories of people based on origin or religion are prejudicial and illiberal. You cannot know someone's beliefs, values, and propensities from labels indicating their origin, ethnicity, or religion. Immigration policy needs to be directed toward individuals, welcoming those whose values and attitudes are consistent with Western culture. Close scrutiny of applicants is in our collective interest. We should accept those immigrants who are willing and able to respect American and Canadian law and Western culture, and who wish to join other Americans and Canadians in building a society based on human rights.
Are all cultures around the world equally good and equally valuable? The evidence indicates that cultures are often very different and have very different results for those living under them. While North American, Western Europe, and many English-speaking countries are all, for example, highly democratic, elsewhere in the world, such as the Middle East, all countries (but Israel) are despotic. While there is political freedom in the West, all Arab countries are regarded as "unfree," with the exception of Morocco, which is "partially free." In the non-Arab Middle East, all are "unfree," except Turkey, which, at least for now, is "partially free."
Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, have rejected the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it is inconsistent with their culture and religion, and instead wrote the Cairo Declaration Human Rights, ratified by the Organization of Islamic Conference (now the 57 member Organization of Islamic Cooperation) on August 5, 1990. In it, human rights are subordinated to Islamic law, Sharia If something is permitted in Sharia, such as stoning a woman to death for adultery or rape, it is a human right; if it is not permitted in Sharia, it is not a human right.
Development, measured by a wide variety of indices, varies greatly among the regions of the world. The UN Development Program Arab Human Development Reports places the Arab world at the bottom or second to the bottom in most indices of human development, while Europe and North America are at the top. If all countries are equally good and valuable, why should a vast number of people be trying to escape the Middle East and Africa to come to North America and Europe? Is that not testimony to which countries and cultures they judge as "better" and which they judge as "worse"?
Is "the more the merrier" in multiculturalism sensible? Can all cultures, all ways of life, coexist happily? A society can only function smoothly if there is a large degree of agreement and commonality regarding to what language people shall speak, what rules they should follow in dealing with one another, and how government is to be established. Where is it written that all cultures are necessarily compatible with one another? The success of immigrants in North America is a result of immigrants assimilating to Western culture and society, not due to immigrants clinging to the laws and practices of the lands they have left behind.
Immigrants built Canada and the U.S. not by flying the flags of their old country, but by joining with others to build a common culture.
Finally, the culturally empty category of "oppressed" is also not necessarily helpful in deciding which potential immigrants would make a positive contribution to the receiving society. Societies are built on common sentiment, not on sentimental sympathy for alleged "victims."
Immigrants built Canada and the United States, but not by flying the flags of their old country and lobbying for the ancient laws. Immigrants joined in with others to build a common culture, a unified government and legal system, and a vibrant economy. We are multicultural in the sense that we welcome people from all over the world, but we welcome them to share our rights and freedoms, our challenges and opportunities, and to benefit with us. We welcome them to become Americans and Canadians; we welcome to them to the West.
Philip Carl Salzman is a professor of anthropology at McGill University and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
 Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Madison, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2001.