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Canadians tell the story of immigration to our country in terms of two myths: that we are a welcoming people, and that we are welcoming because those we welcome are only too happy to leave their hatreds behind. When the two myths are put together, they allow us to imagine Canada as a haven, a place where people abandon their own hatreds and escape the hatreds that drove them from their homes. This double myth is both self-congratulatory and self-deprecating. A safe haven is not necessarily a very exciting place -- but better to be dull than dangerous. Most newcomers have lived our dullness as deliverance.

But now we must ask two other questions. Were we ever as welcoming as the myth made us out to be? And now, in a world transfigured by terror, are we sure that newcomers are leaving their hatreds behind?

A multicultural Canada is a great idea in principle, but in reality it is more like a tacit contract of mutual indifference. Communities share political and geographical space, but not necessarily religious, social or moral space. We have little Hong Kongs, little Kabuls, little Jaffnas, just as we once had little Berdichevs, little Pescaras, little Lisbons. But what must we know about each other in order to be citizens together?

In 1999, a moderate Tamil intellectual I greatly admired was blown to pieces by a car bomb in Colombo by an extremist Tamil group. His offence: seeking a peaceful solution to the Sri Lankan catastrophe through negotiations with the Sinhalese government. After I went to Colombo to denounce the act of terror that had claimed his life, I began receiving Tamil magazines arguing that anyone from the Tamil community who sought non-violent solutions to political problems was a stooge or a fool.

The French call this strategy la politique du pire:endorsing strategies to make things worse so that they cannot possibly get better. I came away from these Tamil magazines feeling that I could say nothing to the persons who had written them. The punch line of my story is that the postmarks were Canadian; they had been printed and published on my native soil.

The point of the story is not to turn on the Tamil community; most members despise the sort of rhetoric that I, too, despise. The point is that we need to rethink larger Canadian myths about the passage to Canada as a passage from hatred to civility. Is it true now? Was it ever true?

In the 1840s, the Irish brought their hatreds with them on the emigrant ships. Emigrants from the Balkans did not forget or forgive the oppression that caused them to flee. After the Second World War, emigrants from territories under Soviet tyranny came to this country with all their hatreds still alive.

It is an innocent, liberal assumption to suppose that hatred is always bad. It's a necessity to hate oppression. I think, for example, of the Baltic Canadians who, whenever the Soviet Bolshoi Ballet toured Canada, held up signs outside the theatre protesting Soviet tyranny. These people now seem more morally aware than those, and they included me, who thought it was time to acquiesce in the facts of life, i.e. the permanent Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.

It is not always right for exile and emigration to be accompanied by political forgetting. Remembering a conquered or oppressed home is one of the duties of emigrants. The problem is that exile can freeze conviction at the moment of departure. Once in exile, groups fail to evolve; they return, once their countries are free, speaking and behaving as if it were still 1945.

A case in point: Croatian exiles, who escaped to Canada in the 1940s to flee Josip Broz Tito's imposition of Communist rule over Yugoslavia, remained more nationalistic than they would have in Tito's post-war Croatia. In exile, few could bear to learn that the country they had lost was also guilty of atrocities against Jews, Serbs, Roma and other minorities. Facing up to the reality of Ante Pavelic's wartime regime was hard enough in Zagreb; it was harder in Toronto. Indeed, it was often said in Zagreb that the chief support for the most intransigent and aggressive Croatian nationalism after independence was to be found, not in Zagreb, but in Toronto.

Dual allegiances are complex: A newly-minted Canadian citizen who would not dream of assassinating a fellow citizen from some oppressor group does not hesitate to fund assassinations in the old country.

Sometimes emigration is accompanied by the guilt of departure. This guilt makes diaspora groups more violent and more extreme than those that live in the country where the oppression is taking place. Diaspora nationalism is a dangerous phenomenon because it is easier to hate from a distance: You don't have to live with the consequences -- or the reprisals.

Canadians, new and old, need to think about what role their diasporas play in fanning and financing the hatreds of the outside world. The disturbing possibility is that Canada is not an asylum from hatred but an incubator of hatred. Are we so sure that acts of terror in Kashmir do not originate in apparently innocent funding of charitable and philanthropic appeals in Canadian cities? Are we certain that the financing of a car bomb in Jerusalem did not begin in a Canadian community? Do we know that when people die in Colombo, or Jaffna, there's no Canadian connection?

I don't have answers to these questions and it would be inflammatory to make allegations without evidence. My point is only to ask us to rethink our myths of immigration, particularly that innocent one that portrays us as a refuge from hatred. It is clear that this was never entirely true: Many immigrant groups that make their lives here have not been extinguishing, but rather fanning, the hatreds they brought with them.

It would be a good idea to get the rules for a multicultural Canada clear to all. Canada means many things -- and in the debate about what it means, new voices are as valuable as older ones -- but one meaning is indisputable. We are a political community that has outlawed the practise and advocacy of violence as an instrument of political expression. We have outlawed it within, and we need to outlaw it without.

Just as we have laws against racial incitement or the promulgation of ethnic hatred in order to protect our new citizens from bigotry, abuse and violence, so we must have laws for the prosecution of anyone in Canada who aids, abets, encourages or incites acts of terror. There may be political causes that justify armed resistance, but there are none that justify terrorizing and murdering civilians.

The distinction between freedom fighters and terrorists is not the relativist quagmire. There are laws of war governing armed resistance to oppression, as there are laws of war governing the conduct of hostilities between states. Those who break these laws are barbarians, whatever cause they serve. Those who target civilians to cause death and create fear are terrorists, no matter how just their armed struggle may be. States that use terror against civilians are as culpable as armed insurgents.

Coming to Canada is not the passage from hatred to civility that we have supposed. And frankly, some hatred -- of oppression, cruelty, and racial discrimination -- is wanted on the voyage. But Canada must keep to one simple rule of the road: We are not a political community that aids, abets, harbours or cultivates terror.

So it is appropriate to say to newcomers: You do not have to embrace all our supposed civilities. You can and should keep the memory of the injustice you have left firmly in your heart. But the law is the law. You will have to leave your murderous fantasies of revenge behind. Michael Ignatieff is Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

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