Posts Tagged ‘Refugees’

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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SWEDEN CLARIFIED

Two weeks ago, President Trump cited a terrorist attack in Sweden. No such attack took place. Mr. Trump backtracked, saying he’d referred to a report on Fox News. Trump opponents leaped on the issue. But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Sweden has undergone major changes since admitting large numbers of refugees. That includes growing anti-Semitism, partly from right-wing ethnic Swedes but mostly from Muslim immigrants. In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue, “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I asked my Swedish-Jewish friend for an update. He emailed this (slightly edited for length):

“It’s not that Sweden is a more dangerous country to live in than any other country (Sweden is probably more safe). However, I do think Sweden is becoming more similar to other countries (like the US) with segregation, “bad neighborhoods,” gang violence, etc. When I grew up in the 80s there were very few neighborhoods like that, now there’s a lot. I think our country is moving in the wrong direction in many respects.

“The welfare state (which we are all very proud of) is only sustainable if there is a low unemployment rate and if the majority of the people feel like they are a part of society. That’s not the case right now in several neighborhoods and cities throughout the country. One reason is that we have had a large influx of immigrants over a short period of time (largest number of immigrants per capita in the EU), many of whom have very low education, don’t speak the language, etc. We have relatively few “easy jobs” to offer, partly due to the fact that we have very strong unions and high thresholds to the labor market. This creates parallel societies which is not good for a country. I think the anti-Semitism is the same as before, although there haven’t been any new attacks lately (thank God).”

What about immigration to the United States? We should continue taking in immigrants, including refugees. Much larger than Sweden and far more heterogeneous, we do a good job of turning immigrants into Americans. But it’s time for a rational discussion of immigration policy. The m idle ground: We can fulfill our moral obligation to take in some refugees while retaining the right to choose what kind of immigrants we want and how many.

Middle-ground positions remain unpopular in this political era of far-left battling far-right. Last Sunday, speakers at an “Empty Chair” town hall meeting in East Oakland condemned California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, as too centrist and thus unable to oppose President Trump. Nonsense. Swinging to the far left rather than seeking common ground only further polarizes the nation. Harmful Trump initiatives should be opposed without question. But common sense should prevail over ideology.

Exodus 23:3 offers the commandment to not favor the rich in legal matters, “…nor shall you show deference to the poor man in his dispute.” Every deliberation should look at the facts and lead to an objective solution. Analyzing Sweden’s challenges and our own regarding immigration obligates us to step back, take a breath and view the situation as it is, for good and ill. Only then can we arrive at policies that are both practical and humane—and that people of good will can support.

One highly partisan opinion: You’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht coming soon.

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EUROPE AND THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

American politics often seizes up atop the slippery slope. When common sense dictates compromise, Democrats and Republicans refuse to take a first small step. They reason that a tiny compromise will lead to larger compromises eroding their core principles. Europe, too, faces a slippery slope in regard to refugees fleeing the Middle East and South Asia.

We’re all familiar with rickety boats crossing—or sinking in—the Mediterranean. Refugees come ashore in Greece and Italy then go on. Hungary, a way station to prosperous Germany, closed its border. Croatia, another way station, will no longer offer refuge. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said of refugees, “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on… We have hearts, but we also have heads.”

Many Europeans are welcoming. Others fear the slippery slope. Let some refugees in and the inflow will become uncontrollable. Resources will dwindle. Moreover, as more Muslims gain a foothold in “Christian” Europe the Continent as we know it will cease to be.

How do you look into a child’s eyes and tell a family to return to a land of violence? For now, Europe doesn’t want to do that although it lacks a coordinated refugee strategy. Germany announced plans to host 800,000 refugees over the next year. The flow increased. Germany raised its target to one million. Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledges German wealth and organizational skills. She also recognizes the moral issue confronting Germany, which slaughtered six million Jews and millions of others.

So we can all feel good, right? I think not. I’d love to believe that generosity of spirit always leads to universal peace and love. I can’t. Europe has done a poor job of assimilating millions of Muslims already settled within its borders. The Germans hold their large population of Turks, many native-born, pretty much apart. In turn, Turkish Germans remain aloof. They welcome German jobs. They’re uncomfortable with liberal Western culture, including equal rights for women and people with a range of sexual orientations. Across Europe and in the U.K., Muslim communities often find themselves at odds with mainstream society because of differing religious and cultural norms.

Maybe I’m prejudiced—influenced by the plight of Europe’s Jews. Young friends in Sweden (see “Should Jews Leave Europe?”) believe they cannot bring up Jewish children in their homeland because of Muslim anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes. Parisian Jews visited my synagogue this summer. They want to come to America because Jewish life in France is perilous. French Muslims make it so. Several years ago, a film producer in London told me that the Jewish community is terribly frightened of Muslim hostility and influence. Yet it’s difficult for these Jews—educated and successful—to get into the U.S.

If Europe were as capable as the United States in assimilating people from different cultures, I’d encourage it to take in large numbers of refugees. Europe is not, and I can’t. Of course, the decision is Europe’s. But even now, European nations are taking a closer look at the challenges they face.

Still, even if Europe eventually closes off immigration, it will have ingested a significant number of Muslims. The conundrum—and it’s particularly upsetting at this time of year—is whether Europe can digest them.

I wish all who observe a peaceful, healthy and happy New Year. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

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