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Friday, February 8, 2013

Other Ways of Looking at Integration

In all the countries I've lived in there is an on-going discussion about the migrants and their integration into the host country.  It's a hard discussion to have because "integration" is a very broad term and a moving target.  When a native argues that the migrants must conform (or at least give lip service to) to his values that begs the question of which ones?  All of them or just the ones that particular native at that point in time thinks are important?  People change their minds (and their values) all the time.   Societies are not static.

Saying that migrants should act like natives, talk like natives, and share their values is a nice general principle but often breaks down in practice.  When a society is at war with itself over certain issues, migrants are left not knowing which foot to dance on.  

Take something like the "Mariage pour tous" in France (know as Gay Marriage in the U.S.)  So what do the natives think about this?  Well, some are saying that this is going to literally change French civilization for the worse and that nothing less than the French Family, the composition of which is a strong part of traditional French culture, is at stake here.  Talk to others and they'll tell you that this about equality, fairness and the separation of Church and State and that it is against the values of the French Republic to not allow gays full marriage rights.

However a particular migrant comes down on this issue, when talking about it with the natives one must summon all one's powers of diplomacy so as not to offend.  Why?  Well, if the native in front of you disagrees with you he's very likely to tell you, "Well you're American/Algerian/Brit/German and we don't care what you think, you immigrant.  And if you don't like our values, you should go home."  Of course, there is a completely different reaction if you agree.   Then they congratulate you on how well you've integrated because you clearly understand "true" French values.  It makes for an interesting conversational dance.

So when natives talk about values, all I can say is that the day you all agree on what French values you truly share, send me the memo.

As for behavior, may I gently suggest that people need to be very careful what they ask for because they just might get it.  There are circumstances where clearly the natives do not want immigrants to act like them.  In fact the whole reason that many got in the first place is because they offer something the host society wants and needs.

A good example of this would be a highly qualified migrant from a very entrepreneurial culture with a strong work ethic and a high level of educational achievement for himself and high expectations for his children.

Do they really want this person to act like a native?  Let's say he decides to not start a business and be a taxi driver or a public intellectual instead.  Or he decides to go on unemployment or disability because he sees that an awful lot of the natives are on it.  If he qualifies, why shouldn't he?  He may have a STEM diploma (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) but since the natives don't get those degrees in high numbers, he might as well go with the flow and encourage his kids to do something else.

Hard to see how anyone could complain about this since the migrant is simply conforming to the behavior he sees on the part of the natives.  He's not doing anything different.  In fact he's made a decision to be just like them.  Can we say then in that case that he is "well integrated?"  Or would everyone be much happier if he held onto the values and behavior that he brought from his native land?

Migrants can't fix what ails a society.  If a society cannot produce a sufficient number of people who know how to do X and are willing to do it, then that's not a problem with immigration, it's an internal problem.  Where natives use social welfare networks, can't balance their national budgets, and then refuse to have enough children to keep it going, that's solely within the power of the native population to change.  It's a bit cheeky to say to the recent arrivals, "Integrate or else" but "Do as we say, not as we do."  And it's a really unfair to ask immigrants to take sides in the "culture wars" and then get angry with them when they give an answer the natives don't like.

What migrants can do is to add their human talent to the pool and offer a different perspective that might further the debate.  I'd even argue that everyone has an interest in considering some of the values migrants bring from their homelands like, for example,  a strong sense of family or deep respect for elderly people.  The French might be really surprised to know that these two things are deeply held values that some North Africans and Japanese find a bit lacking here in France compared to where they came from.  Might be worth having a conversation with them to know why they feel that way and why they don't want to integrate a French interpretation of those values into their worldview.

Just a few things to think about from where I sit.

Time for coffee.  Have a good day, everyone.


Berliniquais said...

That's an interesting post (another one). What are those fabled and elusive "values" to which the nation is supposed to adhere?

Well, maybe the answer on gay marriage is not part of French values, since the issue is quite divisive (albeit with a consistent majority in favour of same-sex marriage as regularly evidenced by polls). On the gay rights topic, I would say that French values simply dictate that gay and lesbian people are just citizens like everybody else and should therefore be treated fairly, without being subjected to discrimination, and have the right to go about their business just like everybody else. That would be about it. Everybody (or let's say at least 90% of the people, of course you can't ignore the 10% of knuckle-dragging loonies out there) would agree with that statement.

And then you can interpret this beautiful principle in different ways, which gives you the current debate. I would say that some opponents to gay marriage do not consider the current situation as discriminatory, for whatever reason.

Probably, in some 10 or 15 years, after gay marriage has been around for some time, it will of course be part of French values, and then immigrants will be expected to embrace it too.

Bonne nuit!

Christophe said...

Interesting timing. TF1 just published an article entitled "Immigration : un rapport au vitriol fustige les politiques d'intégration".

Have a great day.

John Pearce said...

Or, as some of those on one wing of the political spectrum might say: "American [or whatever]: love it or leave it."

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@JM Hate to say it but I think it's more than 10%. Where people balk is when the discussion turns to children. France may be ready for gay couples but maybe not gay families.

@Christophe, Great article. Thanks for the link.

@John Pearce, I always laugh at the "love it or leave it folks." Chesterton had something to say about this which I find much more intelligent. He said this about men and women and their relationship to the world but I think it applies to "patriots" and countries as well:

"Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it's worth changing?"