The impetus for this post was my boyfriend, Henry, an Asian-American, worrying about racism in homogeneous countries such as Denmark, where he is studying abroad next semester. It is also in response to the attacks in Norway.
It seems that, in politics, the move is always towards chaos; disorder is more likely than order. Recent events such as the attack on Norway and backlashes against multiculturalism in Europe are examples of the radicalism that grows with increasing strains on political systems, brought about by immigration and religious differences. Large states, such as the Soviet Union, China, European or American empires, or the Muslim caliphate that extremists are trying to restore, will break into subdivisions based on race, religion, language, etc. Nation-states and immigration are both fairly new political phenomena. One attempts to create homogeneity and the other disrupts it. Immigration is inevitable, and the nation-state must either accept it or attempt to remain homogeneous (or toe the middle line with multiculturalism). The gunman’s motive was an attempt to create a Christian empire, but nation-states often try to force similarity within their borders. These misguided attempts to bring “order” are unsustainable and harmful to all its citizens, particularly minorities.
Much like the non-democratic examples listed above, even modern democratic European countries, and the United States, seem to be embracing more nationalistic views that exclude multiculturalism and acceptance from their political agendas. Unlike the examples above, they are not forcing many nations into a larger empire, but instead mold all new citizens into the model nationalist. Right-wing groups have grown in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden and countries have strict citizenship policies, mainly targeted at Muslims. In Germany, for instance, citizenship is guaranteed based on blood, not by being born within German borders, which hurts the many Turkish immigrants to the country who were once a welcome addition to the labor force. In France, the issue of laïcité, which attempts to secularize the state by forbidding outward signs of religion, has been present for years, with a majority of the population in France and other European countries supporting bans on burqas because of the single-minded view that they are signs of oppression.
A more liberal-leaning view is that of multiculturalism. The policies of multiculturalism, which were in place in Britain, have failed, according to Roger Cohen (nytimes). In multiculturalism, minorities, rather than being integrated into the nation, are given tolerance for their policies. In many ways, this alienates them from other citizens, and instead labels them as minorities, which can lead to extremists on both sides. Minority radicals gain disproportionate power and public voice while right-wing nationalists try to restore an idea of a nation-state more singular in race and religion. Thus the backlash for this has been that leaders such as David Cameron instate policies that force immigrants to become more like natural-born citizens. Cameron called for the education of immigrants in the ways of English culture and required them to speak English (Cameron’s Speech). This solution is disrespectful and dangerous and will not stop immigrants from being second-class citizens and being labeled as others; it will only breed resentment among immigrants.
The third view, which is further to the left than multiculturalism, is acceptance. I remember that on one of my first days at Georgetown University, when just the incoming freshmen were present, we learned about the difference between “tolerance” and “acceptance.” In kindergarten, you don’t learn about “tolerance” of your classmates, you learn to think that anyone could be your friend if you’re willing to share with them and they’re willing to share with you. I think immigration based on labor needs promotes an idea of tolerance without acceptance and is exemplified in European multiculturalism. Acceptance has its own problems, such as Europeans opposing certain practices by minorities, such as ideas of forced marriage or the wearing of religious garments, but, over time, extreme practices will die out more easily than trying to force them out.
One example of the struggle for acceptance in the United States is found in a fabulous book by Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, where differences between American and Hmong cultures complicate the lives of one Hmong family whose daughter has epilepsy. Forcing cultural change on the Hmong immigrants and failure to accept the Hmong’s practices doomed the daughter. (One review shows how the Hmong have adopted Western practices, presumably without force, but simply with the passage of time).
I believe that the United States’ open policy of immigration helps make it a more accepting nation. We grant citizenship to those born on United States soil and have affirmative action policies that help to balance the advanced status of Caucasians due to hundreds of years at the top of the heap. Unlike Britain, whose terrorism came from British citizens, ours came from abroad; that cannot be helped, because extremists will always exist. As we can see in the Middle East, countries will come to democracy without our help and forcing American hegemony could cause more harm than good. Regardless of our foreign policy, our domestic policy is less forceful than other first-world countries. As time passes, immigrants become naturalized… naturally. Second-generation immigrants are often fully assimilated and can retain ties to their race and religion through their parents if they choose. Second- or third-generation immigrants may try to reconnect with their roots, but hardly in a radical way.
The backlash against immigrants, especially in the United States, is more troubling than any problem from the immigrants. Economic stress, such as the recession and high unemployment rates we currently have, fuel right-wing and Tea Party populism in whites with anti-immigration and radical Christian views. It is important for our nation to not succumb to such radical ideas that result in hatred of minority groups. A great fear I have is that the Tea Party’s attempts to hurt minorities will lead to retaliation by minorities that would give legitimate reason to limit immigration in the eyes of more moderate American citizens. I believe this backlash already happens on a small scale, though could be worse, as evidenced by the attacks in Britain.
Rather than a forced identity upon all citizens of a nation, it is important to remember what we have in common as we share the same land. People of different races and religions are going through the current economic hardship together. In Fadiman’s book, those Americans who took the time to understand the Hmong saw how much the parents cared for their sick daughter, even though the parents didn’t understand Western medicine. What happened instead was the removal of the daughter from her family and into social services’ custody. This was not the job of any right-wing group, but shows how America is not always accepting as it appears and must go beyond simple “tolerance,” especially when the Hmong parents brought their daughter to the hospital for help, much like any immigrant coming to America seeks our help.
The Norwegian gunman may have been sparked to his massacre by right-wing writings against Muslims. But the people he chose to attack were his fellow Norwegians, children of Labor Party members. The attack seems to have been against multiculturalism rather than directly at Muslims. Retraction of a multicultural policy would truly be giving in to this terrorist’s demands. To fight extremism, a policy of acceptance, not exclusion, is requisite. If legal immigration were easier, problems of immigrant crime would be reduced, which would give less ammunition to right-wing arguments. Ideals of the nation-state will come over time, but not to those who are targets of discrimination, especially at the hands of the government. Blocking immigration or forcing immigrants to adopt national practices while disregarding their native beliefs will only cause fear of the “other” and hatred between groups.
Thus, an attempt to bring order through forced constraints will fail. The world will tend toward disorder. Here, that means people flowing freely between borders. Although some divisions are natural or necessary, such as in Sudan or the breaking of satellite states from the former Soviet Union, other states can survive without breaking apart, and should, by accepting the differences between citizens within the state.
- everydayscholar posted this