A few thoughts on immigration and Europe

Without lapsing into Steynian hysteria, I think there are real concerns about the growing population of alienated, socially immobile Muslim immigrants in Europe. In that vein, Michelle Goldberg’s review of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is worth a read, if only because it’s one of the few time I’ve seen a liberal acknowledge the problems associated with large-scale Muslim immigration.

I am, however, generally opposed to anti-immigrant hysterics, so I think it’s worth considering the possibility that Europe’s Islamic population will not remain poor, culturally alienated, and economically stagnant. In general, societies that experience an influx of immigrants get better at assimilating newcomers over time. When I lived in Helsinki, for example, the Finnish government adopted a generous asylum policy towards Somali refugees. This resulted in a lot of tension between native-born Finns and the Somalis, as neither group had a lot of experience with cultural assimilation. Finnish newspaper cartoons would lapse into what most Americans would describe as racist tropes, drawing Somalian immigrants with cartoonishly big lips, gleaming white teeth, and massive ears. A more mundane example of Finnish-Somali culture clash is the wrapper of a popular licorice candy:

800px-fazer_lakupekka_lakritsipatukka

Does this mean that all Finns are incorrigible racists? I suppose it’s possible, but this is the same country that adopted a Somali-friendly immigration policy in the first place. The cartoons could speak to a disparity between elite and popular opinion, but a more banal explanation is that societies with few immigrants are generally bad (at least at first) at immigrant assimilation. Americans are pretty attuned to racial stereotypes because we live and work in a racially diverse climate; most Finns, on the other hand, were blissfully unaware that something as silly as a candy wrapper could be construed as offensive. As Finland’s Somali population becomes more politically and economically visible, however, this will probably change, in much the same way the United States has gradually become more comfortable with a diverse cultural landscape. Assimilation is a difficult process, and the emergence of large, economically-depressed Muslim minorities poses a real challenge to Europe, but I think we should consider the possibility that inter-ethnic tensions will decline as Europeans acclimate themselves to a genuinely multicultural future.

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7 thoughts on “A few thoughts on immigration and Europe

  1. I suspect that, to some degree, one of the things that helped with the US was that everybody showed up. When the main immigrant group is from a particular region, it’s easy to create a Chinatown or Somaliatown (I wonder if Somaliatown in Finland is particularly libertarian…) or whathaveyou… but if *EVERYBODY* shows up, there’s going to be integration happening like it or not. There will be attempts to create a little Italy or little Greece or little Ireland but they can’t stand up forever. Eventually they’ll turn from ethnicity havens to places that cater to the second generation to tourist traps.

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  2. Changes – David Bowie

    Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
    (Turn and face the stranger)
    Ch-ch-Changes
    Don’t want to be a richer man
    Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
    (Turn and face the stranger)
    Ch-ch-Changes
    Just gonna have to be a different man
    Time may change me
    But I can’t trace time

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  3. Well I hope that it works out. Steyn is overwrought but I am sad to say that there are problems at the root of what he is raving about. Multiculturalism is great but I think there does need to be firmness about some things; women’s rights; sexual rights; freedom of speech; freedom of religion for example. Sometimes it feels like in trying to value other cultures we may bend a little too far backwards. Particularly with that subset of immigrants who desire the prosperity of their new country but would prefer that it’s social mores bow to the predilections of their old one. There has to be some way of saying that it’s not ok to murder a director for criticizing your religion; that it’s not okay to hunt people for converting to another faith; or assault women because you disapprove of their dress or go after two men for holding hands in their own home city without being called a racist. But when criticism is stifled that way that seems like where Steyn style rhetoric takes root. When people see their Opera houses meekly bow to threats of violence or their government agencies banish Piglette from their work places because of threats of lawsuits that starts feeding a breed of the right wing that has been in decline for a while (and thank goodness).

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  4. “a more banal explanation is that societies with few immigrants are generally bad (at least at first) at immigrant assimilation”

    This strikes me as very true, and one reason that Republican efforts to reach out to minority communities have largely fallen flat.

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    • ahhhh America is , except for Native American’s, an immigrant nation. All our ancestors are from someplace else. For a sizable percentage, our roots only go back to the large wave of early 20th century immigration from Europe.

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  5. “ahhhh America is , except for Native American’s, an immigrant nation.”

    And they moved around quite a bit too, although some of them have conveniently forgotten that part. The Lakota for instance always lived in Northern Minnesota, not in the Dakotas – no small distance – until they got guns and horses, and then they spared no effort in exterminating the Absaaloke and Pawnee to take possession. They Navajo and Apaches didn’t show up in the Southwest until just a couple of centuries before the Spanish got there. We tend not to hear that piece of the story.

    In the case of Finland something that may play a role is the Finns own sense of being an embattled minority within Europe, surrounded by what once were expansionist Swedes, and much more recently expansionist Russians. The Chinese managed to host a Jewish for cenuries population without even half this much angst. The Chinese were more confidnet of their own survival because it was never in question.

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