We – the Jewish community in Canada, along with our fellow Canadians – live in a period of grace that was granted to us by the investments, suffering and fortitude of those who came before us. But that which is precious is not impervious to attack or destruction.
We have all watched children, sometimes with the help of willing adults, make beautiful castles in the sand, ultimately to be washed away by the inevitable tides or waiting rains. Having been granted this gift we call Canada, will we bequeath its benefits to the generations that follow?
This brings me to the focus of this article – the mass migration from the “have not” countries to the “have” countries, which is currently taking place in much of the world. There are many have nots around the globe. Whether due to the vagaries of nation building (or destroying), or the conflicts of war that arise from the misuse of power, tens of millions of people are looking for a better place to live their lives and raise their families. It is a movement from the unlucky places to the lucky; from destitution to apparent plenty; from fear and danger to apparent safety and comfort.
But it is not as simple as that. Canada, for example, appears to much of the world as a paradise that many are willing to risk their lives to get to. Yet, a significant percentage of Canadians live in poverty, are homeless, mentally ill, not cared for or otherwise at risk. Resources are finite, meaning that there’s only so many people we can help, even in a country as rich as Canada. And we borrow significantly even to achieve this limited outcome.
So what do we do in response to mass migration? Clearly, politicians have recognized that the political aspects of migration – whether legal or illegal, refugee or immigrant – can be a useful tool to obtain support, regardless of which position one takes. Some promote migration as a moral imperative and a necessary tool of economic growth. We Jews are particularly apt to adopt that position, since we have, due to incessant anti-Semitism, been subjected to the whims of migration many times throughout our long history. Many of us are therefore at the forefront of arguing that we have a responsibility to support the migrants, whether they be immigrants or refugees.
And yet, it is also we Jews who are imperilled by the “mass” aspect of migration. Societies are controlled by their cultures, and their cultures are determined by those who collectively comprise that society. Cultures are necessary because they offer consistent and predictable expectations about behaviour and set standards of morality. In the West, much of that originated from our Judeo-Christian heritage.
To the extent that mass migration leads to a massive wave of people with differing cultural beliefs entering into an existing polity, the existing culture comes under attack, the society becomes confused and chaotic, and disorder results. To the extent that the competing culture is based on ideology as opposed to pragmatism, the threat increases, because ideologies are core beliefs that cannot easily be changed to accommodate the pre-existing culture.
In that disorder, Jews have historically faced many challenges and are often attacked or expelled. And the previous success of one wave of migration does not predict the success of a future wave, as each wave has its own characteristics.
Societies that are suffering the challenges of mass migration, such as those in many European countries today, will change, and in doing so, some groups will lose their status, power, wealth and safety. That is why the politics of mass migration are having such an impact in many countries today. Canada does not currently have that level of threat, but could very well face such a challenge, if we – and our political leaders – are not careful. We Jews tend to have a sense of when the risk of cultural chaos is rising, and some of us are feeling that now, perhaps for good reason. We must be mindful of the many challenges that mass migration presents to a society like ours, as the moral pressure to allow more newcomers into the country continues to mount.