Sunday, October 11, 2009

Assimilation II.

A serious epistemological discussion is the furthest thing from my mind at the moment. Yet we need , as a prelude to the forthcoming discussion in this post, to be reminded that the conflict between reality and perception has preoccupied philosophers and political scientists for years. Can we ever know reality and if so how do we measure it? What is perception and does it need to be based on reality? Which is more important in shaping decisions and in policy making? Well, as you might have already guessed there are those who advocate one side and then there are some who advocate the other.

What does all of this have to do with immigration you ask? I would suggest that in this area, immigration, perception is crucially important in explaining some of the policies and tensions that we are witnessing world wide. If we are to limit ourselves only to the US vis a vis Europe then my hypothesis is that the US looks upon itself as a country of immigrants while France, Germany and the UK do not. Whether the actual numbers support that perception is not important. As a result of the above I would also suggest the US ends up in dealing with immigration problems in a completely different way than the Europeans. The US is more open to accepting others who do not conform to the majority and as a result does not fear diversity. The Germans, on the other hand; and the French and British; are not as comfortable with diverse culture and so view different practices as an assault or at least an affront on the values of the majority.

If I am right, it is this attitude that raises the headdress and burqa to a level of confrontation in France and the United Kingdom while it is a non issue in the US. I have no doubt that a society as that of France, that is built on the formidable triad of liberty, equality and fraternity is very much of a secular society. But yet a liberal state is capable at times of taking illeberal actions. Moslem immigrants are presenting a major obstacle to integration and assimilation in Europe because the French essentially take pride in being the most secular society in the world and so they feel that the headdress and the burqa are a serious challenge to the idea of keeping religious practice out of the public square. The problem in this case is that for many fundamental moslems there is no separation between the civil and the religious. Sharia is the rule of Allah and must be followed by all. There is no duality. The US on the other hand, regards itself as a nation of immigrants and is willing to accept all sorts of different practices as long as these do not encroach on the glue that is required to keep the various pieces of the mosaic hanging together. It would be interesting to find out how far would the US be willing to stretch the principle of personal liberty ? Would there be ultimately a US backlash that would demand allegiance to nativists principles just as the Europeans seem to be demanding? Who is right in this case and who is wrong? Is secularism a principle that is to be trifled with? Is the perceived US permissiveness the answer? You decide.

I hope most of you would feel that you have an opion to express on this matter.


  1. I personally do not believe that the United States would take on the "secular" state of mind that countries such as France have followed. The different cultures of the immigrants who enter into our country are overall embraced and so I believe that if the united States was going to take on the actions of those countries in Europe, they would have already done so. Our country has experienced to much immigration already to go down that road. However, with the current state of mind of Americans and their attitudes towards immigrants, especially with respect to healthcare, perhaps we might be moving toward a state of mind similar to Europe.

  2. The idea behind having a secular state, such as France, is to make sure that no other religion feels left out. If Christianity were prevelant in a society, it would follow that all other groups would feel inferior, even if there are not specific laws or attitudes that discriminate against the different religious groups. However, it seems that France has forgotten this purpose of secularism, to make all feel welcome, because in limiting religious expressions you are preventing individuals from living the type of lives they see as acceptable. As stated, the reason that the Muslim community of France has trouble with this the most is because their culture does not understand the notion of seperation of church and state because the Koran should be followed in all aspects of society. Muslim people do not follow this simply to discriminate against other religions in the state. They follow the Koran and Sharia law because it is the way that their people have lived for centuries. To ask them to forget that simply to fit in with a secular society is disrimination and can not be endorsed or follwed by any modern state.__VINNIE

  3. When we begin speaking about religion, I get a bit uncomfortable, because I truly have no idea where I stand with it- on a personal level or on a larger intellectual level. Forgetting immigration for a second, one can point out that American citizens haven't done such a wonderful job of separating church and state; what with christian ministers giving voracious prayers during the inaugural ceremonies for President Obama and what with evolution being completely disregarded in many schools in many states-being replaced by creationist theories. I have never known how I feel about the limits of religious expression; however, in visiting London I got a look at the "assimilated" British-Indian; they make up a large population. Yes they eat traditional foods and have made a ton of profit by bringing indian cuisine to England, but they are void of any of the characteristic Muslim traits and traditions; at least from the outside. I saw minimal head dresses, much fewer than in the states. Then again, let's talk about the anti-terrorist sentiments we, in the US, decide to bestow upon everyone in any type of Muslim dress, the woman picking up her children from the school yard (who clearly is scoping out the scene and planning an attack) or the man trying to get on a plane to see his family for the holidays (of course he has a bomb to blow up that plane) We can't really point fingers at other countries, until we've taken a good look at what is it we do here. Maybe we don't blurt right out that we are against the head dress or the burqa, because that would be "politically incorrect", but we do find other ways to make it seem less than. And in my opinion there is really no difference, except a bit of conniving and lying.