Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why is Multiculturalism Good?

Like the USA, Germany is debating the issue of immigration and its impact on the nation. For years Germany embraced the notion of multiculturalism or "multikulti" as it is known in Germany. This last Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that multiculturalism in Germany was a failure and said it was an illusion to think that Germans and foreign workers could "live happily side by side." "We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, but that's not the reality. Of course the tendency had been to say, 'let's adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side, and be happy to be living with each other'. But this concept has failed, and failed utterly," she said.

Her comments were hardly surprising. She stated the obvious. Everybody in Germany has known for years, if not decades, that its immigrants have failed to assimilate and that two separate cultures exist. Nevertheless, her statements fanned Germany's already raging debate on immigration. A chorus of politicians has argued that many people from the immigrant community, which includes some four million Muslims and makes up some 18 percent of the population, have failed to integrate into German society. 
Thilo Sarrazin touched off the debate in August with the launch of his polemic book blaming immigration for what he saw as the demise of German society.

Having lived in Germany, I agree that there are two distinct societies: one German and the other Islamic. These two cultures do not mix. If you visit the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg or Neuk├Âlln in Berlin, it's like being in an Islamic country. The women are veiled and the language is Turkish. There are even state funded public schools that teach Islamic language, culture and religion.

A number of years ago, a German friend commented that my German was better than most third or fourth generation Turkish Berliners, after only a few months of studying German. I thought it was a kind thing to say, but certainly not true. Unfortunately, the longer I live in Germany, the more I learn how accurate the statement was.

In recent years, Germany has devised a number of programs to assimilate the Turkish population. It provides free language, cultural, and civic instruction to its Turkish residents, and has poured millions of euros into early education. The result: there is little interest in the Turkish community to learn German or German culture, few Turkish children obtain a high school degree and even fewer go on to higher education. The percentage of Turkish people on public assistance is far greater that its population would dictate while the crime rate higher. Germany has discovered, too late, that it has a distinct and separate subculture, a sub-class increasingly independent of German society.

For years these facts were known but never spoken publicly. No one wanted to be labeled a racist. That has all changed. The recent rash of honor killings, the daily accounts of Turkish women being treated as virtual slaves by their husbands, and the waive of gangland style murders in the Turkish community have made people willing to critically examine what was heretofore a taboo subject: the failure of Germany to integrate its Turkish residents.

The USA can learn a lot from the German experience. Our recent waive of illegal immigration from Mexico, Central and South America should cause us to examine how we integrate our new arrivals. Our we doing enough to make these people, and their children, successful Americans citizens, or are we marginalizing them. There is a lot of talk about sending "them" back, but in reality, they are here to stay. Do we want to create a permanent sub-class of people like in Germany.

If history is any indication, we needn't worry. For over two hundred years, the USA has successfully integrated millions of people from around the world. Moreover, most of our recent immigrants are grounded in our same western traditional values, making assimilation easier. Unlike Germany's Turkish community, which is grounded in Islam, most of our immigrants are Christian with similar values regarding gender equality and freedom of expression.

Yet today, the USA stresses multiculturalism. I often hear people say multiculturalism is wonderful. But why? Why is multiculturalism good. Why shouldn't people who come to the USA adopt or at least accept our values of gender equality, religious diversity, freedom of privacy, and freedom of speech.

Why is it alright to criticize Christian values but not okay to criticize Islam? Why is it okay for women to be covered from head to foot (a symbol of modesty or gender subservience), but not okay to draw a cartoon of an Islamic prophet?

Moreover, why should voting ballots be in multiple languages? California has gone so far as to have voter ballots that are printed in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc. Why? Shouldn't citizens know enough English to cast a ballot in English? There is even a Question on this November's ballot asking Portland voters to grant non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.  Isn't voting one of the benefits conferred to citizens? If a person can't make the effort to obtain citizenship, why should we give them the right to vote?

I've always believed that "when in Rome do as the Romans." Multiculturalism can be good but only to a point. When multiculturalism conflicts with basic human rights and human dignity, then it has no place in the USA.


My View From Maine said...

Since it takes 5 years or more to attain citizenship, why not let immigrants vote in local elections in which they have a stake? They aren't here illegally. I think people are terrified that the U.S. will be a spanish speaking country in 20 or 30 years.

Fernando De Leon said...

You have a point; however, citizenship confers certain rights and responsibilities. For example, citizenship confers the right to vote, but also the responsibility to serve on a jury, to name one. Why should non-citizens have the right to vote but not have any of the responsibilities associated with citizenship. Moreover, would you want a legal resident to be able to vote who hasn't lived in the USA for at least five years? As it is, five years doesn't seem enough time for a person to have a working knowledge of our governmental system. Under your scenario, a legal resident, fresh off the boat, would have the right to vote the day he or she sets foot on US soil. We already have plenty of voters with a limited knowledge of our government and Constitution. Do we want more?

My View From Maine said...

Most Americans have a limited knowledge of our government. If immigrants care enough to vote my bet is that they have taken the time to learn something about the issue or candidate. You no doubt have noticed that Europeans for example know more about our politics than we do.

Fernando De Leon said...

A person granted legal residency in the US may know more about our government than the average citizen, but should that knowledge confer upon them the right to vote?

It seems illogical that a legal resident should have a right to vote without the benefit of living in our country for any length of time. There is a certain unquantifiable knowledge and wisdom that comes from living in a country and observing its customs and habits.

I don't think it's unreasonable for people to wait 5 years and pass a citizenship test before they can vote. What other country makes it that easy?

In Europe it takes 10 years to obtain citizenship. Moreover, just to obtain legal residency in Europe requires that immigrants pass a culture test to ensure they understand gender equality and religious freedom.

Sure it costs money to go through the citizenship process but so does buying a big car or flat screen TV. Is voting any less important than those things?

There should be some incentive for people to obtain citizenship and getting the right to vote: Living in a country for a period of time and passing an easy citizenship test (i.e. how may states are there? Who was the first President? Who is your Senator? What do the stars and stripes represent on the US Flag?)

We already have one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world with a relatively easy path toward citizenship.

Most countries would laugh at us if they knew we were considering non-citizenship voting. They are already perplexed that a person is a citizen by merely being born on US soil.

Nevertheless, many people share your opinion, and I understand your rationale. Like I have always said, "reasonable minds can differ," and this issue proves the case.