Sunday, February 12, 2012

On the Clash of Cultures (Part I)

Far too often debates on immigration and cultural diversity are framed in terms of the relative worth of different cultures and different groups. Are the values and norms of group A better than group B? Should group A assimilate or should group B accommodate? Rather than get distracted on contentious and largely subjective debates, we should focus on the indisputable fact of cultural clash. More specifically, wise policy must take into account the reality that when a sufficient number of sufficiently distinct cultural groups reside in the same space, tension arises. Imagine if 10,000 deeply traditional and conservative baptists from rural Mississippi and Alabama moved to the culturally and politically liberal San Francisco Bay area each year. We can be certain that in a short time tension between the native San Franciscans and southern migrants would emerge as the latter failed to assimilate to the norms of the former. As their presence grew, so would their political assertiveness and they would work to shape the laws (on gay marriage, abortion, religious expression, business regulation, taxation, etc.) of their new city to resemble those of the south. At that point even the most tolerant San Franciscan would grow resentful of the growing number of "red neck interlopers."

Why should it be any different with the millions of deeply conservative Muslim migrants in France? Rather than debate if the North Africans migrants should adopt the values and norms of their new homes or if Western Europeans should be more tolerant of burqas, polygamy and other alien practices, we should view this as an example of mutually alienation. We should question the wisdom of the politicians and bureaucrats who promoted the immigration and cultural policies that planted the seeds for this clash of cultures. A more sound policy would have been to welcome in the more educated, secular, western segments of Muslim societies, those who held the greatest potential to quickly assimilate to social and economic life in France. For this very reason, the assimilation of Muslims into American Society has by and large been successful. But, in the parlance of multiculturalism, assimilation is a dirty word. A growing number of critical thinkers are placing unconditional multiculturalism in the same category as communism, a belief system that's good in theory but disastrous in practice.

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