After reading this article
from the Montreal Gazette
about a Canadian who died on the Israeli-Lebanese border while serving in the Israeli army, I was reminded of this passage from Neil Bissoondath
's controversial 1994 Selling Illusions
, a text that questioned whether or not Canadian multiculturalism worked for or against non-essentialist individual and group identities.
When, some time ago, Yugoslavia was beginning its inexorable slide into horror, a CBC news report stated that an estimated 250 sons of Croatian immigrants, young men of able body and sound mind, had left the country to take up arms in defence of Croatia. The report prompted a question: how did these young men define themselves? As Croatians, or Croatian-Canadians? As Canadians of Croatian descent, or Croatians of Canadian birth? And I wondered which country they would choose if one day obliged to: the land of their parents, for which they had chosen to fight, or the land of their birth, from which they had chosen to depart?
It seems an unfair question. Not only does federal law accept the concept of dual citizenship--which implies an acceptance of dual loyalties--but Canadians themselves have a long and honourable history of inserting themselves into foreign wars. Dr. Norman Bethune is just one among hundreds of Canadians, for instance, who enlisted in battle on the republican side of the Spanish cviil war.
But Yugoslavia in the 1990s is not Spain in the 1930s; the situations differ in their essentials. While Spain saw foreign youths taking up arms in defence of an idea, in Yugoslavia foreign youth have taken up arms in defence of ethnicity. While Spain's was an ideological conflict--the pull of ideas--Yugoslavia's is tribal--the pull of blood. The distinction is vital.
To forsake one's country, to commit oneself to battle in the land of one's forebears for ideas not intellectual bu racial, is at best to reveal loyalties divided between country and ethnicity. The right to decide on the distribution of one's commitments is, of course, fundamental: freedom of belief, freedom of conviction, freedom of choice. It says much about the new country, however, that its command of its citizens' loyalties is so frequently tenuous (112-113).
Note, please, that people on both sides of the current conflict have certainly involved themselves
to the hilt. Bissoondath's critique applies just as fully to those Canadians of Lebanese descent who helped fund Hizbullah
, to say nothing of those Canadians of other backgrounds who help propel innumerable foreign conflicts apart from the unpleasant and likely irresolvable one in the Levant.
It's just a shame that these instances of diasporic involvement in foreign military interventions have already led to the deaths of other Canadians, these people unfortunate enough to be defenseless spectators. as shown by the aftermath
of the death
of Montréal pharmacist Ali El-Akhras days after the death
of El-Akhras' wife, four children, mother, and uncle in an Israeli bombing of the village of Aitaroun
. El-Akhras' immediate family were just six of the estimated fifty thousand Canadian nationals in Lebanon
, equivalent to more than 1%
of the total Lebanese population. The Canadian evacuation that appears to have been bungled, or at least fatally delayed. This is not good news.
So far, the death rate among Canadian civilians in Lebanon has been in approximate proportion to these Canadians' percentage of the total Lebanese population. So far, no Canadian civilians have died in Israel yet, shielded by the far superior Israeli military, though given the tens of thousands of Canadians in Israel and the possibilities of conflict escalation nothing can be excluded. There's no reason think that any of these ratios will change in the days, weeks, and months ahead.