Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Aliens Abroad

Two foreign leaders have recently taken somewhat unconventional, by historical standards, journeys to other lands. One, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, came to the U.S. explicitly planning to speak primarily with Mexican migrants and local politicians, while avoiding national politicians and the nation’s capital, a more conventional itinerary for a foreign leader. His purposes were apparently to cultivate support among Mexican migrants in the U.S. (who can vote back home) and to make the case that the crackdown on illegal immigrants in the U.S. violates their human rights.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has completed a trip to Germany, where he made a rather extraordinary speech to a large crowd of ethnic Turks, both native- and foreign-born, in which he urged them to hold onto their culture even as they should learn German, saying that “assimilation is a crime against humanity.” More disturbingly, he offered to send Turks to Germany to teach Turkish language and culture in Turkish-language schools to ethnic Turks living their lives in Germany.

Such trips are a product of a previously unknown phenomenon – mass global migration (mostly from poverty-stricken, high-fertility countries to rich, lower-fertility ones) combined with global communications technology that allows immigrants to easily maintain contact with the land of their birth, or their ancestors’. This is presenting the host countries with a profound challenge, namely how to maintain the integrity of the cultures that drew the immigrants there to begin with while maintaining the basic liberal decency and tolerance that is a cornerstone of their societies.

Clearly it is unacceptable for Mr. Erdogan to volunteer to shoulder the burden of one of the most basic tasks of any society, the education of the young. There is absolutely zero reason for the German government to trust any foreign leader, let alone one with Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist past, with such a job. He should simply accept that the Turks have left Turkey, have to make their way in Germany on Germany’s terms, and let them go. To do otherwise is to stoke the fears of rekindling the centuries-old conflict between the Turks (and the Arabs before them) and once-Christian Europe, and to stoke resentment against a real or imaginary conquest. The Germans, listening to Mr. Erdogan propose to smotheringly embrace the aliens among them, including the aliens they thought had crosses the bridge by being born in Germany, look back to history and see a disconcerting future.

The Mexican case is more complex, in that America has a long history of Anglo/Latino cultural mixing (many Hispanic families in America predate the 1848 conquest) while the welfare state aggravates what might otherwise be a simple movement back and forth of unskilled labor, which America, a country otherwise used to ethnic differences, is relatively poorly endowed with. But the modern public state (including the public health and education systems), which poor Mexican immigrants draw disproportionately on, combined with the multicultural rot that infects the education system, makes a system of open borders and no obligations arising therefrom on American taxpayers a distant dream. And there seem to many Americans to be so many of them from the Rio Grande south. Hence, we are forced to think of the unskilled Mexican masses as guests whose presence we tolerate, and obliged to remind President Calderon that he simply cannot speak of their human rights (other than the right not to be physically abused by the authorities) to trespass on U.S. soil.

In both cases, we see the anxious anticipation by the natives of conflicts to come. Our ideology and our politics have brought us to this anxious point, and getting beyond it will take the sort of statesmanship in short supply these days.


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