In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, and especially in relation to Muslim immigrants, fresh questions arose about people with dual citizenships and divided loyalties.

Immigrants in search of lands of opportunity accept social dislocation as a necessary price. The rites of passage can be rough and traumatic. The most attractive option for migrants is to be given a choice, instead of being forced to assimilate or stay on ethnic paths.

There is a distinction between being an immigrant and an expatriate. Immigration is the psychological opposite of expatriation. By being officially hostile to assimilation, a country compels newcomers to be expatriates rather than immigrants. Multiculturalism can be a subtle policy instrument in the hands of the elite for maintaining their distance from the new pretenders. Separateness is maintained and there is no cross-contamination.

The multicultural ethic can also be unconsciously patronising. Expatriates come gift-wrapped in a cloak of exotic mystery. The discrete charm of the newly arrived is not allowed to fade by assimilation, but preserved in the multicultural mosaic. Exotica becomes embedded in their permanent identity. Encouraged to hang on to their identity of origin rather than melt into their identity of destination, they become the ''nowhere people'' who can celebrate a claim on both lands without having a true home in either.

By contrast, people arriving in the great American melting pot quickly learn the trappings of the American way of life. Many different racial, cultural, linguistic and religious groups live in the United States and manage to retain their distinctive identity. Individuals are free to choose between identities of inheritance and adoption. Over generations, the distinctive cultural traits are eroded as they assimilate into the dominant culture. When US minorities demand rights, they demand their rights as Americans.

When groups in India agitate, they make claims on the state based on sectarian identity as castes and minorities. If India persists on the path of caste and religious-based quotas and politics, it need look no further than Lebanon to see what the future holds. These are policies of national disintegration, not social cohesion.

My passports are Australian, Canadian and New Zealand, yet I also remain Indian.

Let's deconstruct that. My wife's ancestry is Irish-Australian over six to seven generations on both sides of her family. The reality of Australian roots registered with our sons during a visit to the original cemetery in one of South Australia's pioneer settlement towns as they scrutinised the fading writing on the tombstones and recognised their mother's ancestors' names. We were living in New Zealand at the time. Subsequently, I moved to a professorship at the ANU and one son transferred to a school there. Australia is my nation-in-law. Should I can I think of it as a foreign country? Canada was my first overseas destination when I left India in 1971. I earned my graduate degrees in Australia, met and married my wife, and our elder son was born here. We have returned after three decades and may spend the rest of our lives here. With our elder son we returned to Canada recently for the first time since we left when he was just two. We made an intensely emotional trip to Kingston, the city of his birth. Is Canada foreign to us?

Emotionally, home is where we grow up in our family of birth and where we raise our own family after marriage. I was born, raised and schooled in India. My family by marriage was raised in New Zealand. These are where the overwhelming bulk of my two sets of family memories are concentrated. Foreign lands? Not even in death, I would wager.

During almost a decade with the United Nations, my national identities were subordinated to my UN status and I had a fourth, diplomatic, passport. In 1998, soon after joining the UN, I gave the keynote lecture to the New Zealand Studies Association of Japan. Afterwards, someone asked me about my views on Samuel Huntington's clash of civilisations thesis. I gave a personal answer. I was born and raised a Hindu in India, I said. My wife was born and raised a Catholic in Australia. We were both living in Tokyo then. We had one son born in Canada and living in New Zealand, another born in Fiji and living in Australia. What practical meaning does the clash of civilisations have for my family? The fact is my family represents the wave of the future; the vacuous clash of civilisations thesis is passe{aac}.

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