Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Untossing the Salad

Daniel Pipes, quoting Canada.com has the story (see Oct. 6, 2007 update) of a new all-Muslim subdivision near Toronto:

"There is nothing like this in North America," boasts Naseer Ahmad, a real estate agent from Pakistan who dreamed up this community of Islamic dream homes (including oak stairs and central air conditioning) on the edge of Toronto. "You have a mosque, and people are walking to enjoy their faith." The houses, with some modifications, such as increased ventilation (for spicy food) and separate living rooms for women and men, are so successful that, six years after Peace Village opened, Mr. Ahmad plans to double the mosque's size and is now selling 55 townhomes, 1,700 square feet each, for around $350,000 with a garage and a yard, as "Peace Village Phase II." … a special cable to each home feeds Muslim television from an audio-visual room at the base of the minaret.

The linked site tells stories of other Islamic-themed, quasi-segregationist neighborhoods in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. Of course any group of individuals, provided they can obtain the land, should be free to build any sort of community they like, provided it does not infringe on the rights of others (as this one appears not to). But why would a group, particularly a group that is relatively new (at least in such numbers) want to segregate rather than integrate itself?

The Nobel economist Thomas Schelling taught us long ago that there is a natural tendency for segregated neighborhoods to develop – even modest desires for own-group neighbors can, collectively, quickly translate into dramatic patterns of segregation. Is that a bad thing? It can be, if the state dispenses rewards and punishments on tribalistic grounds. This is because segregation naturally reinforces own-group loyalty, and a sense of isolation from and conflict the rest of society. If there are no opportunities to turn this into social conflict via the state, it is less of a problem. But if there are…

One of the quiet miracles of modern American (and Canadian, I assume) life is the tendency of most immigrant groups, even if they cluster in the first generation, to fully scatter throughout American neighborhoods and society. The immigrant Chinese businessman may buy a house in Monterey Park, but his children probably seek something more ethnically diverse. That an immigrant group would seek to segregate in this way is unsurprising, but that the communities outlined in the article above would seek to ostentatiously build their own quasi-separatist communities is unsettling. Monterey Park is an existing neighborhood that has gradually become more Chinese but is still substantially diverse. “Peace Village” is a newly constructed community to, in a sense, withdraw from the rest of Canada once the working day is done (and all day long, in the case of its children). That Mr. Ahmad feels his people need their own neighborhood to enable “walking to enjoy their faith” suggests that the rest of Canada is not suitable for Muslims to enjoy their faith in. That says more about Mr. Ahmad’s community, I think, than about Canada. The ideal behavior from the point of view of the entire country, I think, is for people to be more indifferent to who their neighbors are as time goes by, not less. And that does not seem to be the attitude on display here. But I hope I am wrong.



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