Thursday, August 14, 2008

Immigration in America and Europe: A Tale of Two Continents

Back in the days when communism competed with capitalism to dominate the world, it seemed that the communists lived on their side of the border and we stayed on our side. Most of the fighting was done over red telephones between world leaders. Even the Vietnam War, although it touched the lives of millions of Americans was fought over there. Those Vietnamese who came to America became Americans.
A friend who was in the U.S. Navy during the Cuban missile crisis told me a story from that tense time that epitomised the prevailing spirit. He described Soviet ships faced off against American ships. Sailors from the opposing forces found that they were allies in a struggle against boredom. Faced off against each other, vodka and cigarettes passed from hand to hand over a border marked by language. Everyone was waiting for the call that would separate them into opposing camps. Everyone wanted to sail away in peace with good memories, but they were prepared for the worst.
Today, the West is faced off against militant Islam. One need not join the military to meet its ground troops. They are our neighbours, our co workers, our taxi drivers and sometimes our doctors. There is tension and distrust behind the polite facade that makes coexistence possible.
In Europe and Australia, the contempt Muslim immigrants have for the Christian immigrants among whom they live is fierce. Violent crime, including rape has become a wave with a flagrant tone of contempt for non Muslims from France to Australia. See Article on violent crime in Europe. Europeans seek to blame themselves and to understand the feelings of immigrant Muslim youth. This attempt at misguided compassion is repaid with more crime rationalised by a sense of religious superiority. Faith instead of modifying individual behavior becomes a rationale and a licence for crime.
So far, America seems to be less prone to this self flagellation that has blighted the daily personal and political lives of Europeans. We have the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as national barriers to illegal immigration from Muslim countries. Although this protects us from the anti Christian violence that has blighted Europe, it does not protect us from other strains of illegal immigration. America and Mexico have the greatest income disparity of any two adjacent countries in the world. Thanks to the economic collapse in North Korea, North and South Korea might be contenders for this dubious distinction. As might be expected, such a disparity in incomes provides a powerful incentive for illegal immigration. Past wars in which the United States bested Mexico are revisited in popular history with a note of aggrievedness towards the U.S. The economic rewards of life in the U.S. undoubtedly fuel this contesting historical narrative, which has rapidly joined the Civil War as a fault line in the American historical landscape.
Both Democrats and Republicans seem to wink at the massive wave of illegal immigration from Mexico and beyond. The Democrats hope to tilt the political balance of power with the help of immigrants whose favour they have courted. Republicans seem to enjoy the dampening effect that waves of immigration have on wages. Our leaders talk with breathless excitement about creating common markets and have nothing but glib platitudes to offer in consolation for lost jobs and economic displacement.
America is a multiracial society. Language can and should be a social adhesive that along with a common historical narrative binds the nation together. The American flag is reduced it seems as a logo to put on commercial goods and ships. There should be a sense of mutual responsibility in the country for people of different stations in life to pull together for the common good. Instead, patriotism and putting America first is seen as an obstacle to business.
America needs to define itself and its national interests. Unlike Europe, we have had the same currency for two centuries. There is a lot more resistance in America to dissolving our borders and junking our currency. We seem to have some healthy instincts of self preservation that are sorely lacking in Europe. Despite this, the warning signs are there of impending crisis. Our leadership seems to be sound asleep. We, the people need to shake them from their slumber

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