The Human Commonwealth versus the Nation State: Immigration in the 21st Century

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Written by Tristan Dineen

We all know about illegal immigration and the often heavy-handed measures increasingly taken by authorities to stamp out this phenomenon which simply refuses to die. We all know about globalization and how increasingly open economies and porous borders allow for incredible flows of money and people to move across the world at a speed and magnitude unheard of at any other time in history. Humanity, it seems, is on the move and it is changing the dynamics of the world at an incredible rate and the resulting tensions are becoming more and more evident on a global scale. However, the news I recently received about what is now happening in France under the Sarkozy regime is perhaps the most alarming example I have seen in the West.
The article was grimly blunt: “A Russian boy suffers head injuries after falling from a window while trying to elude police. A North African man slips from a window ledge and fractures his leg while fleeing officers. A Chinese woman lies in a coma after plunging from a window during a police check…A France races to deport 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year – a quota set by President Nicolas Sarkozy – tensions are mounting and the crackdown is taking a toll.” Sarkozy, noted for this “tough-on-crime” image has said that France needs a new sort of immigrant who is “selected, not endured.” His government’s tightening of immigration restrictions (he wants limited immigration quotas based on occupation and the home region of the migrants) and crackdown on illegal immigration is provoking a heated debate in France with some saying that it is a betrayal of humanitarian values. Certain members of the police are worried that the push to reach the quota of 25,000 deported illegal immigrants by the end of the year will encourage arrests “on the basis of skin colour and other illegal criteria.” Immigrants are also rallying and forming neighbourhood groups to oppose the crackdown and “reactions are becoming more and more violent,” running the risk of an outbreak of violence similar to the riots of 2005. In a Europe where border patrols, security fences, guards, mass deportations and holding camps are becoming an increasing part of daily life this tension is hardly surprising and it is a tension that will not go away.
The concept of the nation-state or national community as it was laid out two centuries ago around the time of the French Revolution has generally meant one of two things: either only the members of a specific ethnic group are considered legitimate citizens or everyone living within particular borders and adhering to a common civic identity are considered to be legitimate citizens. Both cases entail a certain amount of cultural exclusivity, linguistic exclusivity, or even biological exclusivity when it comes to the former. Nation-states are meant to be distinct and as such they are bound to exclude everyone who fails to fit in with their national criteria, whether it is broad or narrow. At the root of every nation state is the following assumption: England for the English, France for the French, Germany for the Germans, America for Americans, and so on. Naturally some countries are more embracing of diversity than others but ultimately there remains a pressure to conform to the norms of the traditionally dominant people or culture of the country in question. This is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, in a globalized world that mocks the idea of frontiers and the increasing number of societal “misfits” and “outcasts” created by rampant immigration is provoking an intensifying backlash in many states in Europe and elsewhere.
While we are a country of immigrants, the kind of tension experienced in Europe is seldom felt by Canadians. First of all, we are a remote country and anyone wanting to come here must generally cross huge expanses of ocean; contrast this with Europe where millions of African and Middle Eastern migrants only have to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach their “promised land.” Waves of illegal migrants are virtually unknown in Canada precisely because of this remoteness and we certainly are not on the front-lines of the demographic struggle that is re-defining the world – perhaps this is the reason (combined with the fact that we are a relatively young country compared to most European nations) for our tolerance. Because of conditions both internal and external we possess an openness that others lack and this gives us the opportunity, if we choose to accept it, to move beyond the restrictions of the nation-state entirely.
Canada has the potential to become the first truly human nation of the world: the first nation to transcend nationalism and embrace the greater universal spirit of humanity. Its multi-cultural and multi-ethnic demographic makeup combined with inclusive policies and institutions provide a foundation of considerable strength for what I believe is the next logical step in the political and social organization of modern societies: the formation of a human commonwealth. A Canadian cannot be a Canadian without first being human, and this is true of people from every nationality on the planet – though perhaps more so for Canadians because of our great diversity. It is clear that humanity is at the root of who we are as people and forms the basis of what we are as a natural species. Because humanity is the foundation it is clear that it is the superior identity overall and must therefore be upheld above all others. While the nation-states of the world engage in an increasingly violent struggle to maintain their sense of exclusivity, we have the opportunity to set a truly noble example by embracing the full spectrum of humankind within a framework of unity in diversity – inviting all peoples from all lands to come here and to achieve their full potential as human beings in a culture that is not only tolerant but accepting as well. The government of the future must build a society that is not only inclusive but one that builds solidarity among its diverse citizens by bringing them together and tearing down barriers that segregate communities. I believe that Canadians have the greatest potential to be the first to remove the blinders of nationalism and embrace universality – so long as we have the will to do so I have faith that we can serve as the model for a new world order that will shape the future and make the cultural clashes and immigration struggles of today simply a bad memory. We have a duty to humanity and we must do what must be done.

Article: “France races to throw out 25,000 illegal immigrants by year-end,”>http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/070922/w092231A.html Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press, Saturday September 22nd 2007.

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