Saturday, May 31, 2008

Immigration in Three Countries

Theodore Dalrymple writes on how three societies handle the immigrant problem – which we might define as, accepting the equal dignity of immigrants, and their rate to come and pursue happiness and improve our society, without their turning our society into all the intolerant, opportunity-destroying ones they fled to begin with. He argues that France and the UK each get only half the puzzle right. First, France:

That France, as a result of the Revolution, has for a long time been a secular state de jure, rather than merely de facto, as is Britain (where religious tolerance is an outgrowth of custom, not law), enabled it to abolish headscarves in the public schools without incurring the odium of anti-Muslim bigotry. The ban simply accorded with the state’s secular founding philosophy. Multiculturalism, that is, is not compatible with the founding Enlightenment mythology of France; assimilation, not integration, is the goal. Everyone learns the same history in France; and nos ancêtres les gaulois comes to express not a biological but a cultural truth—and an easy-to-understand one, at that.

France, in other words, has its creation myth in its Revolution, and anyone of any ethnicity or race can (and, more importantly, must) adhere to it. As to the UK:

There is another major difference between the Muslim areas of France and Britain, however: this time, to Britain’s advantage. The relative ease of starting a business in Britain by comparison with heavily regulated France means that small businesses dominate Britain’s Muslim neighborhoods, whereas there are none in the banlieues of France—unless you count open drug dealing as a business. (This is one of the reasons why London is now the seventh-largest French-speaking city in the world: many ambitious young French people, Muslims included, move there to found businesses.) And since many of the businesses in the Muslim areas in Britain are restaurants favored by non-Muslim customers, the isolation of Muslims from the general population is not as great as in France.

It does no good, in other words, to tell the despised minorities they are equal if the lack of economic growth means economic dynamism is not able to overcome the ordinary prejudices against them. Thus, the ideal society requires a powerful sense of national identity plus economic freedom – America, to a very second-best approximation. All those immigrants studying for their canned citizenship exams and being hokily sworn in amid all the American flags, combined with the freedom to go out and start your own business or enhance the productivity of someone else’s – this is the recipe for tolerance in a diverse age.

One could quarrel with some of his specifics – the French national principle of secularism through aggressive sterilization of the public square, for example, requires them to discriminate against devoutly religious students by preventing them from adhering to their dress and other religious requirements in the public schools. This is a fairly obvious breach of freedom of religion. But the whole article is an interesting read for a very pressing problem faced by the world’s most advanced countries.



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