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Chapter 9: Immigration (21 Lessons for the 21st Century)

Chapter 9: Immigration

Some cultures might be better than others

Globalization made it easier for people to explore other cultures, but also made it easier for people to be offended by their differences.

The EU helped European countries transcend cultural differences between each other, and this model of tolerance attracted migrants from the Middle East and Africa. But now this system is under threat, because of the Europeans’ inability to contain the cultural differences between themselves and the migrants.

The growing numbers of refugees and immigrants in Europe has sparked debates concerning European identity and future. The immigration deal is built on three terms.

Term 1: The host country allows the immigrants to enter.

Term 2: The immigrants must integrate the host country’s norms and values even at the expense of their own.

Term 3: Over time, immigrants will become fully integrated into their new society.

Four debates concerning these three terms will be discussed.

Debate 1: What does it mean to allow immigrants to enter? Is it a moral obligation or is it optional?

Pro-immigrationists think it is impossible to stop immigration, the best thing you can do is to legalize it and deal with it openly rather than allow the underworld of human trafficking to deal with it instead.

The anti-immigrationists believe that immigration can be stopped with sufficient force. Only neighboring countries should have an obligation to absorb refugees fleeing civil war or persecution. But immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to find jobs unless the host country allows it. Sweden doesn’t have to allow Syrian refugees in the same way Turkey does. The Swedes worked hard to built a functional system. It is not their fault if the Syrians didn’t.

Debate 2: The second clause of the immigration deal says that immigrants must assimilate into the local culture. But how far exactly?

Should they abandon their religious values for secular ones? What about their dress codes and dietary restrictions? Pro-immigrationists think that Europe itself is very diverse, and the idea of one culture is an imaginary one, and that tolerance is a core European value.

The anti-immigrationists agree about the importance of tolerance but if too many intolerant people are allowed in, then Europe cannot remain tolerant. If enough extremists are allowed in, then liberal societies will be unable to sustain their values.

Debate 3: The third clause says that if assimilation is successful, immigrants should be treated as first class citizens. But how much time should pass for that to happen?

It’s not clear whether it should be the first or the third generation that should have their status changed. The core issue in this debate concerns relative time scales. For a society, 40 years is nothing. But for a person, it’s significant. A teenager from Algeria who spent her whole life in France knows no other culture or way of life. Should she be treated as a French citizen or go back to Algiers, a place she has never lived in?

Debate 4: The fourth debate concerns whether the deal is working. Are both sides living up to their promises? Anti-immigrationists think that immigrants are not successfully assimilating and stick to their own intolerant world views. Pro-immigrationists reply that it is the host country that is to blame for making it difficult for migrants to assimilate, since they are treated as second-class citizens even in the second and third generations.

This fourth debate cannot be resolved unless we know whether absorption is a duty or a favor. And there is also the accounting problem. If a million immigrants were peaceful, but one hundred were terrorists that attacked the host country, are the immigrants complying? Finally, should we enter this debate over immigration while assuming all cultures are equal?

From Racism to Culturism

A hundred years ago, Europeans took the superiority of the white race for granted. These views became less acceptable after 1945. Racism was viewed as being morally and scientifically bankrupt. Geneticists have provided strong scientific evidence that shows that differences between the world’s races are negligible. But anthropologists, sociologist, historians, and behavioural economists, and brain scientists have accumulated a lot of data on the differences between human cultures.

If the differences were indeed negligible, why bother? Cultural relativists would say that differences in kind don’t imply differences in hierarchy. Just because cultures are not identical does not make one superior to the other. But these views don’t hold up against reality. Human diversity is great when it comes to art, but infanticide and slavery are not idiosyncrasies that should be protected or cherished.

It would be unfortunate to see the European experiment in freedom and tolerance be undermined by fear of terrorism. This would give the terrorists what they want and give them a say in determining the path of humankind. But how did terrorism, a weapon of the weak and the marginalized, come to dominate global politics?

Read 21 Lessons For The 21st Century

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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