Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hosting a three-day conference in Washington this week entitled "The Secretary's Global Diaspora Forum." While the term diaspora has its roots in reference to the Jewish diaspora, today the use of the term has been widening. It is being used in reference to anyone from any country who lives in another country. In a world of significant global mobility, this involves a surprisingly significant percentage of the population.
Diaspora is a two-way street. In Canada, 19.8% of our population is foreign born, while over 2.7 million Canadian citizens—equivalent to about 8% of our population—live outside of Canada. The implications of this are far-reaching.
Our first instinct is to think of diaspora as forcing divided loyalties. A few years ago Canadian citizens in Lebanon were evacuated at taxpayer expense from the dangers in that part of the world, only to have some complain about the expensive service they received. When many of them returned very quickly to their Lebanon homes, some wondered what Canadian citizenship really meant. What does Canada owe to citizens who seem to use their passports as a form of insurance rather than loyalty?
The Washington conference, however, is focused on the more positive potential that comes from diaspora. How might we better utilize the local knowledge that immigrants bring to our land from afar? Whether in economic development, recruitment of needed skilled workers, or sorting through complex political issues, are there better ways of incorporating this "diasporan knowledge" to national advantage?
As I read about the Washington conference and begin to muse about divided loyalties, I'm reminded of my own divided loyalties as a Christian. I live in the here and now—and as a patriotic Canadian citizen, have responsibilities and privileges that shape my day-to-day life. But, I am too part of a diaspora, described by the apostle Peter as "strangers and pilgrims." My home and my most fundamental loyalties are not defined by earthly nationhood.
This loyalty need not make me less loyal to my country, but rather provides a framework in which my loyalty is to be understood and refined. Citizenship and diaspora can be not conflicting, but complementary ideas.