For a long time in the U.S., the discussion on immigration policy — how many, who? — has presumed that immigrants, or at least their children, assimilate into American society. I myself made that argument in my first public statement on immigration long ago, in a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal about East Asian immigrants, written in response to comments made by Peter Brimelow. And this of course has been the assumption about European immigrants as well.
With Donald Trump’s call for a moratorium on the admission of Muslim foreign nationals to the U.S. (“until we can figure out what the hell is going on”), the question of assimilation underlies the dialog. Yesterday the Journal ran a disturbing piece by a former jihadist, Maajid Nawaz, that pointed out that
Over the past few years, in survey after survey, attitudes in the U.K. have reflected a worrisome trend. A quarter of British Muslims sympathized with the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, according to a February poll by ComRes for the BBC. A 2008 YouGov poll found that a third of Muslim students believe that killing for religion can be justified, and 40% want the introduction of Shariah as law in the U.K. Another poll, conducted in 2007 by Populus, reported that 36% of young British Muslims thought apostates should be “punished by death.”
Note carefully that Awaz strongly disagrees with Trump, and calls instead for educational programs (he himself runs one) to nip extremism in the bud among young Muslims. Mark Krikorian also rejects Trump’s blanket approach, instead proposing that entrants to the U.S. be subjected to a “Do you share our political values?” test.
I believe, though, that many would object to such measures. Awaz’s idea borders on Big Brother-ism, and Mark’s is uncomfortably reminiscent of McCarthyism (and indeed he cites a policy of that era).
Putting aside the frightening events that have led to such discussion, how much should we expect immigrants — and crucially, their children — to assimilate? What do we even mean by that?
My parents, dad an immigrant and mom what I call a near-immigrant, spoke Yiddish between themselves. My brothers and I recognize only the odd phrase of the language here and there. But my daughter speaks Chinese to my wife and me. Are we assimilated? I think so, and that was the theme of my letter responding to Peter. Mark, by the way, sometimes discusses his retention of his Armenian roots, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest he is not assimilated.
And yet, it has become common among ethnic activists, many of them U.S. born, to resent calls for assimilation, preferring Canada’s “mosaic” or “salad bowl” philosophy to the U.S. tradition of the “melting pot.” Most Chinese immigrants still give their American children Western first names, but most Indians do not. There is a substantial outmarriage rate among the Chinese, and to some degree the Indians, but I would guess a much lower rate for the Muslims.
Should this matter? The Brimelow view is that lack of assimilation, and a truly multicultural society, can cause severe problems. Maybe so, but where do we draw the line? Being only quasi-assimilated myself 🙂 I don’t have answers. But I do wish to raise the question.