IT’S SLIPPERY on that field where we kick around notions of respect and tolerance. The teams in Quebec’s match of the turbans, which I’ll call Team Multiculturalism and Team Integration, each make valid points. They are also punting to the stands, not to the actual goal.
One side hardly notices that pluralism may obtain within a larger, integrationist framework, an arrangement that would make principled objections to the dastar, rumal and patka superfluous. By principled objections I mean to include only those arguments that address the real issue: multicultural societies must foster social and cultural unity and cohesion, or face the consequences if they do not.
What exactly though does this unity and cohesion involve? The current debate has stultified matters to the point at which some version of When in Rome appears to do, yet the Italians do not leave their pizza behind, and we’re the more glad for it. Yes, you say, but we’re not speaking here of the Italians. And indeed it’s the misplacement of this example which rights the trajectory.
I’ll put it this way. What you wear on your head is of less material consequence, from the integrationist point-of-view, than whether or not you identify with the national project and the body politic. I know this puts us far beyond the topic of soccer, but this week’s disagreement over ‘turbans’ would not have occurred before September 11, 2001, nor would there have been any compelling reason for it to occur, so let’s have out with the real issues.
On that day, the populations of the United States and Britain and Canada and elsewhere were served notice. In the intervening years, citizens have yet to absorb fully the lessons of current-day England and the Netherlands — to cite only two of the more poisonous examples — where failed policies have yielded state subsidized cantons of nominal citizens with no particular allegiance, and in some cases active hostility, to the host culture. What do these examples have to do with soccer and Sikhism? Well, I suspect that this ban is about more than concern for player safety, and if my suspicion is correct then someone has not only thought of the question but answered it too.
The reverse engineering which walks us back from uniformity to the uniform discloses the basis of an appeal as well as of an aspiration. Even once we’ve clarified the principles, however, the way ahead is unclear. Let’s all agree that cultural and social unity is the goal of the good society. Pizza does not contradict the underlying values of Canadian democracy, but the campaign of extirpation against infidel and takfir does. Anyone wishing to import the former is welcome, and bearers of the latter can bloody well bugger off. Somewhere on this Shawarma – Sharia spectrum we can put the turban, and for my part I place it far closer to the former than the latter.
Whatever one’s point of view, there are real-life outcomes at stake in this disagreement over multiculturalism. The argument like the human project it represents is not going to go away, and neither should it. The most discouraging prospect for this debate will be the people on both sides who bring to the match little more than their slurs and their hastily collected speaking points, and who can not say how Khalistan or Balbir Singh Sodhi relate to the complex and unavoidable issues I have only just begun to sketch.