Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Recipes for the Melting Pot – further insights on immigration

“Assimilation Factor” is the new mantra in the Great Immigration Debate that is now raging in the USA and Western Europe. The extent – or lack – of this “Assimilation Factor” is causing great apprehension among European traditionalists. In a 2007 article entitled “England is Vanishing” by Cal Thomas in the blogsite this fear is expressed in the following words

“..a record influx of foreigners is threatening to erode the character of the land of William Shakespeare and overpowering monarchs, a land that served as the cradle for much of American thought, law and culture..”
In the article Thomas makes it clear that he is taking aim at legal immigration, i.e., a “record influx of foreigners” that has been sanctioned by the U.K. Government, presumably because it was deemed to be in the interest of Britain. He goes on to offer his own diagnosis of the situation

“..The difference between many of the current immigrants and those of the past is that the previous ones wanted to become fully American or fully British. The current ones, in too many cases, would destroy what makes our countries unique...”

Is this just Eurocentric xenophobia or is there a wider issue here ? After all, the force of home-grown immigrant terrorism has been felt in Britain when British-born Muslims from South Asia staged a deadly attack on the London Underground. And in Belgium, Malika el Aroud a woman of Moroccan origin who is now a Belgian citizen, is openly advocating Jihad and support for Al Qaeda on her website, according to a news item in the New York Times – while drawing the equivalent of US$ 1,100 per month in welfare benefits from the Belgian Government ! The Belgian courts have refused to convict her, accepting her defence that exercising her freedom of speech is by itself no crime. After all, Malika knows the rules. “I write in a legal way,” she said. “I know what I’m doing. I’m Belgian. I know the system.”

In the U.S.A., the Manhattan Institute of Policy Research has published a report dealing with the Assimilation Factor of immigrants. As may be expected from this prestigious institute, this is a serious attempt at an objective and scientific evaluation of the Assimilation Factor. The study deals, among other criteria, with cultural assimilation which it defines as
“... the extent to which immigrants, or groups of immigrants, adopt customs and practices indistinguishable in aggregate from those of the native-born. Factors considered in the measurement of cultural assimilation include intermarriage and the ability to speak English, which have been the focus of many previous efforts to track immigrant assimilation in the United States. Cultural assimilation also incorporates information on marital status and childbearing.”

An unexpected (to me) conclusion of the study was that Chinese and Indian immigrants are the least integrated culturally with the American populace at large ! Those interested in the methodology that gave rise to this conclusion can read the full article.

Far from being xenophobic, the Manhattan Institute is careful to point out that
“..It is important to note that cultural assimilation is not a measure of a group’s conformity with any preconceived ideal. Changes in the customs and practices of the native-born can promote cultural assimilation just as easily as changes among the foreign-born.”
Could it be that the ideal of a monotonously uniform cultural pattern is not the most desirable scenario ? New York's former mayor David Dinkins may have defined the correct objetive when he described his city as no longer being the “Melting Pot” but a “Glorious Mosaic”. The question is how to make the different elements of the mosaic blend into a harmonious pattern.


Rahul said...

Dear Kaisar,
I really want to congratulate you (and others on the blog) for writing on immigration without 'ghettoizing' immigrants. I think a major problem with immigrant politics is that we have not tried to challenge the rules of the game but tried to play within them, and then return to our 'ghettos' to find strength. This is not a feasible approach.

Devika said...

How can there be harmony if racism is so rampant?

Kaisar Ahmad said...

Thanks Rahul, for those kind words. I suppose “Ghettoization” is the easy way out for many immigrant groups, especially today for people like the Chinese and Indians who have strong cultural traditions which they wish to retain, who tend to marry within their own communities and are strong enough in numbers (and economic power) in certain countries to establish Chinatowns and their South Asian equivalents.

And Devika is right. Resentment in the host countries, giving rise to real or perceived racism exerts pressure on immigrants to coalesce into self-sufficient groups. This is not a new phenomenon in the immigrant story, nor is it restricted to people of color. Earlier on, Jewish immigrants found comfort and safety in ethnic grouping too – (in fact the word “ghetto” originates from Jewish localities in Italy ) and the Italians themselves, when immigrants in New York, concentrated in the area still known as Little Italy. Perhaps, a certain degree of cultural differentiation will always remain – and may in fact be desirable - but a process of mutual respect will hopefully lead to the establishment of a truly Glorious Mosaic.