Thursday, September 01, 2005

The difficult question of the rate of immigration

One key issue is the rate at which immigrants can be absorbed.

The question is: absorption into what?

Clearly, there is an economic dimension: "too many" immigrants could certainly lower salaries. However, this dimension is well understood and has historically been paid enough attention (moreover, we have at least some tools with which to examine this issue).

Then there is the emotional dimension. That has been thrust to the forefront recently in the UK when it emerged that the recent London bombers were "homegrown". So the issue is: at what rate can the receiving country ensure that new immigrants *lose* their old allegiances and develop sufficiently strong new ones? A politically incorrect question for some people! And the political incorrectness is intimately related to the following point, which is the most important of the three and the one for which there are the least number of tools.

That is the "values dimension". Immigrants bring their own values with them. If they can make the transition to accepting the values of the receiving country, then genuine integration can happen. Race, religion, educational level are contributing factors, but are neither absolute enablers nor absolute precluders.

The challenge is that receiving countries, at least in the West, often no longer have a clear sense of what their "own" set of values IS....and without such clarity, the task of enabling immigrant groups to immigrate in terms of values is of course much more difficult.

The reason receiving countries have no clear sense of their "own" set of values is that, in the West, it is part of a contested discourse: is Europe a "Christian" continent? Every Muslim and every Hindu understands instinctively that that is so. Not every European, agrees, however (and the ruling establishment in Europe certainly does not agree at present). But even that question cannot be answered without being clear about what exactly is meant by "Christian"? Nor is the job made easier if we simply abandon the word "Christian" and substitute "Humanist": what exactly is meant by that?!

The simplest way of resolving this "values dilemma" is not by trying to clarify definitions of such words as "Christian" or "Humanist" or "European", but developing a sophisticated and detailed contrast between "the way in which things are done" in the receiving country as against that in the sending country.

To the degree that the contrast is in fact sophisticated and detailed, it will be easier to set up ways of nurturing, examining, monitoring and "rewarding" integration at the level of values.

What exactly might be covered if one is to develop a "sophisticated and detailed analysis of the way in which things are done" in the receiving country as against that in the sending country?

Well, here is a starting list, for discussion:

- education (purpose of, pattern of, style of...)
- friendships (how deep? How wide? ...)
- love, sex (public displays?)
- marriage (Arranged?...)
- work (ethic of, remuneration for....)
- politics (how active is one expected to be? What routes are there for ambition? Dissent?....)
- morality (bribery and corruption...)
- private sphere versus public sphere.....
- role of individual versus role of family versus role of community...
- conversational style (polite? Confrontational? Explicit? Wordy? Gestures? ....)
- attitudes to hierarchy....
- attitudes to history....
- attitudes to time....
- attitudes to language...
- attitudes to dress.....

The difficulty is that, in the US, discussion of such issues has been banned to the private sphere since the 1930s (in Europe, since even earlier, probably the 1880s).

So the earlier ban needs to be reversed and we need to re-commence, now, a discussion of the values of receiving countries, with the intention of becoming clear at least about the actual culture of the receiving countries.

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