Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Shadow of Terrorism: Competing Identities and Loyalties among Tamil Canadians

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Shadow of Terrorism: Competing Identities and Loyalties among Tamil Canadians

Article excerpt


Allegations of terrorism have caused immigrant populations to be questioned with respect to their political identities and their national loyalties. Even among populations that have been raised primarily in their country of settlement, there is a concern regarding their level of attachment to the homeland. The process by which these second generation populations determine their loyalties and identities is complex and dynamic. This paper examines how Tamil Canadians negotiate both their personal and political identities in a charged environment, particularly following the designation of the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. Based on in-depth interviews conducted with second-generation Sri Lankan Tamils in Toronto, the paper explores how the members of the diasporic community negotiate their Canadian and Tamil identities, and the process through which they determine their loyalties between Sri Lanka--their homeland--and Canada--their country of settlement.


Suite a des allegations de terrorisme, des populations immigrantes se sont vu questionner sur l'engagement de leur identite politique et de leur loyaute nationale. Meme chez les personnes ayant grandi principalement dans leur pays d'accueil, il demeure une inquietude quant a leur attachement au pays d'origine. Le processus par lequel ces populations de seconde generation determinent leur engagement est complexe et dynamique. Dans cet article, nous examinons comment les Canadiens tamouls negocient une identite composite, a la fois sur le plan personnel et politique et dans un environnent complexe, en particulier apres la designation des Tigres tamouls comme organisation terroriste. A partir d'entrevues realisees en profondeur aupres de Tamouls sri lankais de seconde generation vivant a Toronto, nous explorons dans cet article comment les membres de la diaspora negocient leur double identite canadienne et tamoule, ainsi que le processus par lequel ils determinent leur loyaute envers le Sri Lanka--leur pays d'origine--et le Canada--leur pays d'accueil.


Concern about where the allegiances of immigrants lie has been present for as long as there has been immigration. The apprehension regarding immigrant loyalty is not so much to do with the fact that immigrants have dual loyalties, but rather with the fear that immigrants may, in fact, be more loyal to their homeland or country of origin than they are to their country of settlement. If such a hierarchy of loyalty were to exist, then, at times of conflict between the homeland and country of settlement, immigrants may choose to side with their countries of origin, thereby posing a threat to their country of settlement. Such concerns of disloyalty led to fears of the presence of a "fifth column" during World War Il, whereby it was believed that there were enemies of the state posing as citizens in order to infiltrate the nation in order to do a hostile take-over (MacDonnell 1995).

When immigrants are perceived to have conflicting allegiances, they are placed in the position of having to defend their loyalties while facing allegations of terrorism. Following the events of 9/11, the loyalties of Muslim Americans were questioned at every turn (Howell and Shryock 2003). Schildkraut (2002) asserts that the judgment that Muslim Americans faced following 9/11, and their need to demonstrate their allegiances and to prove that they identified with America, is similar to how Japanese Americans were treated during World War II.

While historically, countries of settlement could act on their doubts and presume that diasporic communities were guilty of disloyalty (i.e., internment of Japanese Americans during World War II), this is no longer the case. Policies such as the Multiculturalism Act in Canada ensure that the rights of minorities are protected. These rights consist of the right to maintain a connection to the cultural, religious and ethnic beliefs of their countries of origin, including the right to be politically engaged with the homeland. …

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