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Transnational political activity and host state policy : Canada’s Sikh and Tamil diasporas Hoskins, Chad

Abstract

This study examines the political activity of two prominent diaspora groups in Canada - the Sikhs and the Tamils. The principal research questions that are explored are: a) why do some diaspora groups engage in sustained and prolonged political endeavors to influence homeland politics, and b) why has diasporic political activity so often emerged from Canada? Situated against diaspora formations based exclusively on religious, economic, or ideological goals, this study finds that "stateless" diasporas are more likely to become involved in protracted political struggles to shape homeland events. These findings result from an interconnected set of factors that influence core identity constructions in diaspora populations. Identity is linked closely with homeland territory and with homeland conditions, particularly conflict. Identity is also impacted by conditions in the host country, especially with regard to asylum/immigration policy, official multiculturalism, intelligence, and the ability to impact host country politics. This study concludes that identity (re)construction in the diaspora is based on a combination of primordial (territory, race, language, religion), instrumental (position in host country, diaspora elite interests), and socially constructed (homeland myths) factors. The type of political activity that emerges from diaspora populations with a base in Canada can best be explained by the Transnational Advocacy Network (TAN) model. Despite some essential differences between ethno-national diaspora networks and advocacy groups, the model helps to predict when political diasporas will engage in direct confrontational political action with homeland authorities and when they may turn to national governments, international agencies, and NGOs. A comparison of Sikh and Tamil groups helps elicit some of the major variables that dictate certain forms of transnational political behaviour. Some of these include funding opportunities, military capacity, position in the host society, and the relative strength of the homeland government. The conclusion reflects on the relevance of this study and provides a look forward to some of the important policy implications.

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