Speaking Difference

The January/February 2011 e-flux journal is brilliantly sub-titled “Idiot Wind: On the Rise of Right-Wing Populism in the US and Europe, and What It Means for Contemporary Art.” Ha!

In their preface, the journal’s editors note that “we are witnessing a phenomenon spreading through the Northern Hemisphere in which some of the most brazen hardline racist rhetoric emerges not only from politicians, but from the general populace as well.” Canada is in the shameful position of having already begun to legislate this kind of populist fear by way of enacting new immigration policy.

In August 2010, a ship carrying nearly 500 Sri Lankan migrants seeking asylum docked in British Columbia. While Canada has an entrenched process for processing refugee claims, the ship’s arrival prompted some people to decry the migrants as line jumping terrorists, charges that not only evince a vague fear of the people on the ship, but fundamentally confuses refugees and immigrants. In an unfortunate response, Immigration Minister Jason Kenny, a member of the Conservative government, has since changed immigration policy in reaction to the “‘abnormal’ arrival of a ship carrying migrants creat[ing] ‘significant security concerns’ the government has a responsibility to handle.”

As Canadian citizens, we would do well to consider how our government behaves toward people from other countries, be they refugees or immigrants, because government policy should reflect the will of its citizens. It seems that our immigration policy is falling into line with intolerance when, instead, this intolerance should be challenged socially. There is a need for ethics here, born of what this dialogue should be.

How can xenophobia be curtailed? What paradigms should we use when approaching the world to keep at rest an unthinking fear of otherness?

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