IMMIGRATION AND CULTURE

Twenty years ago, Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order posited that the post-Soviet world consisted of nine distinct civilizations. Their cultures and values were different and often in opposition. Huntington was hailed and later assailed. Regarding today’s immigration issues, attention to Huntington must be paid.

Huntington’s new world order consisted of the West, Latin America, Africa, the Islamic world, China, Hindu India, Orthodox Christian Eurasia (Russia and environs), the Buddhist world and Japan. Three assertions—among many—bear study.

— “International organizations based on states with cultural commonality, such as the European Union, are far more successful than those that attempt to transcend cultures.”

— “The philosophical assumptions, underlying values, social relations, customs and overall outlooks on life differ significantly among civilizations.”

— “Global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational.”

Nations and peoples are not all just the same, and American values don’t dominate the world. This sheds some light on Donald Trump’s position on Muslims—which I do not share—and the European right, which seeks to limit or halt Muslim immigration. Let’s first look at Europe.

Ten days ago, Germany’s conservative political parties reached an agreement limiting the number of immigrants allowed to enter each year. This from a nation that in 2015 welcomed one million immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Last Sunday, Austria’s election produced Europe’s youngest prime minister, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz. His People’s Party wants to strongly curtail immigration of Muslims.

Europe has never exhibited the United States’ ability to integrate immigrants from different cultures. Decades ago, Europeans loved accusing America of racism when Europe’s non-white, non-Christian populations were small enough to seem colorful rather than threatening. What makes Europe and the U.S. so different? I asked my friend Manfred Wolf, author of a provocative book of essays, Muslims in Europe: Notes, Comments, Questions.

Europe puts up cultural obstacles to assimilation, says Manfred. The French, for example, created a highly secular society. (Europe is heavily secular.) Anyone can be French, but religious identity must be kept private. At the same time, he notes, a significant minority of Muslins in Europe are not sure they wish to assimilate. They live in Europe but may not be of it.

America has never had a major influx of immigrants who refused to submit to the nation’s reigning culture and values, according to Manfred. The Amish and ultra-Orthodox Jews have ways that are entirely different, but their numbers are comparatively small. “In America, if Ahmed and Yasmina live next door and don’t make trouble, they’re Americans. We don’t care.”

Manfred’s take on immigration and refugees is personal. As a child, he fled Holland with his family to escape the Nazis. Eventually, they settled in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He came to the U.S. at 17 to attend college.

He succeeded. “I’d learned English,” Manfred says. “I knew about America. I wanted to accept American culture, which made me a perfect immigrant.” If culture and personality match, he notes, assimilation becomes easy.

It may seem disheartening that immigrants often bring with them values that clash with those of their new country. And yes, much bigotry exists in nations taking in—or rejecting—migrants from other cultures. But solutions to this complex problem require understanding that the problem is, indeed, complex.

My novels, including The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht, currently are unavailable in Amazon’s Kindle store (a publisher matter soon to be rectified). You can still purchase the softcover versions from Amazon—or directly from me.

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5 Comments


  1. Vernon Miles Kerr
    Oct 22, 2017

    Dr. Wolf forwarded the link to this post to me. Good argument, well presented. Now I’m eager to read “The Clash of Civilizations…” with an eye toward comparing this post-Internet 20 years with his predictions of what might have happened. As distasteful as it is for some Americans and even embarrassing for others, our culture seems to be spreading worldwide, aided by the Web and the tens of thousands of daily intercontinental airline flights to and from America — and just the perception among international millennials and younger, that American culture is “cool.”


    • David
      Oct 22, 2017

      Vernon: Huntington has gotten a bad rap. As I wrote, we’d like to believe that everyone is just like us. Not so. Some people believe that different simply means different—they can get along with others. Regrettably, others believe that different means bad. When that happens—more often than not—civilizations find reason to clash, usually as an excuse for stealing other civilization’s land and wealth. As to the spread of American culture, it’s pervasive but not necessarily forced. We might mislead ourselves in believing that the trappings of American culture overshadow the basic culture of other nations, that others who like our movies and music want to be just like us. And thanks for your comments.


      • Vernon Miles Kerr
        Oct 22, 2017

        I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said, except to add that, in the most basic social state “hunter-gatherer,” we, like other primates, have a built-in xenophobia. Strange humans appearing on our territorial borders are viewed as “monsters” until proven otherwise. It’s interesting that in most Native American languages the word for one’s own tribe or nation translates most accurately to “human being,” as in the Navajo’s preferred appellate: “Dinė.” I believe this is also the case with some indigenous African tribes. There is a fascinating book about the last “wild” native Californian who came down out of the Sierra in 1912, “Ishi”
        https://www.amazon.com/Ishi-Two-Worlds-50th-Anniversary/dp/0520271475/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508680822&sr=1-3&keywords=Ishi
        The story of the native tribes between Redding and Sacramento read like a microcosm of today’s world. In that span of 162 miles, there were multiple tribes speaking 40 different languages. I will go get Huntington’s book. Thanks for the tip. Like Manfred Wolf, you seem to have that admirable ability to ponder, drill-down, analyze and pose provocative questions.


        • David
          Oct 22, 2017

          You are correct, Vernon. Fear of the stranger is built-in.


          • Vernon Miles Kerr
            Oct 22, 2017

            Kind of you. I guess the operative phrase in my comment was “until proven otherwise.” When the stranger has no compunction or heart to offer that proof, relationships are at a dead-end.

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