Sunday, October 11, 2009
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.