An article on the socio-cultural perspective of the immigration phenomenon.
|In the beginning, there was immigration. The first people, Adam and Eve, were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. The father of monotheism, Abraham, emigrated from Canaan and went to Mesopotamia, to his hometown Ur after hearing the commands: “Lehk Lehka”, meaning “Leave!” Later, his grandson, Joseph, immigrated to Egypt. This has continued for centuries. People have not only immigrated to nearby countries, but they have crossed deserts, oceans and all kinds of other obstacles that one can care to imagine.
Today, immigration is a very complex phenomenon which can be described as, according to the Collins Online Dictionary, “the movement of non-native persons into a country in order to settle there.” According to my analyses, the orientation that occurs followed by immigration can be studied in 3 stages: Initially the cultural shock stage, and then the adjustment stage, followed by the dialogue stage. The examination of these stages will be made in the subsequent sections of the essay.
As of 2006, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) has estimated the number of foreign migrants worldwide to be more than 200 million. This immigration often results in friction between host and immigrant communities. Such friction makes the phenomenon of migration a very difficult and substantial subject to study.
One of the obstacles faced in studying this phenomenon is answering the questions: “How are immigrants to adapt? By assimilation or by integration? Should the community act like a ‘Melting Pot’, or like a ‘Salad Bowl’?” To have a better understanding of this complex phenomenon, and to be able to answer these questions, it is necessary to examine the concepts of assimilation and integration.
To begin with, assimilation can be briefly described as the process by which a subaltern group's native language and culture are lost under pressure to assimilate with those of a dominant cultural group. The International Organization for Migration states that assimilation expects migrants to adjust entirely to the values and the rights system of the host society disregarding the values and practices of their countries of origin and so, it can be said that it is a one-sided process. This method is legitimate, but only to an extent. The newcomers should adapt to the host way of living, but not the extent where they cannot even practice their harmless traditions.
The method of assimilation can be consubstantiated with the metaphor ‘Melting Pot’. The melting pot is a commonly used metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous and so forming a harmonious whole with a common culture. Different elements melt and forge a new alloy. In this metaphor, the different elements are the groups or individuals with distinctive cultures.
Assimilationists tend to believe that their nation reached its present state of development because it was successful in forging a national identity. They argue that separating their citizens by ethnicity or religion and giving them special privileges may harm the very groups that they tend to protect, as this will cause a reaction in the majority of the community.
One of the dangers of this method is that the migrants may react against the demand of giving up their value systems, by retreating into their own cultures, and refusing to interact with the host community, forming marginal groups which may lead to chaos in the long-term. Also, it is a matter of discussion, how ethic assimilation actually is. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan projected such an opinion in his visit to Germany stating that “Assimilation is a crime against humanity” .
The French government has tried to use this methodology, but they have failed. The Muslim veil was prohibited in schools, and so many second or third generation immigrants refused the old style assimilation method. This trend is proven by the riots in French suburbs in 2005 and the protests against the 2011 law banning the Muslim veil.
As for integration, it can be pictured as a partnership, with the host and the migrant cultures or individuals meeting in the middle of a bridge, where they take time to understand the journey each one has taken.
The Global Commission on International Migration depicts integration as a long-term and multi-dimensional process. Both migrants and non-migrants need to be committed to the process and respect each other, and also be prepared for the naturally occurring changes in the perceptions and cultural structures of each society as a result of integration.
In other words, integration can be likened to the creation of a ‘Salad Bowl’ in a host country. The Salad Bowl concept suggests that the integration of the many cultures in the host country should mix like a salad. In this model, many cultures are juxtaposed - just like a salad -, but they do not merge into a homogenous culture. Each culture preserves its tradition and its distinguishing qualities.
The ‘Salad Bowl’ can also be used as a simile for a multiculturalist policy which refers to ideologies or policies that promote diversity or its institutionalization. In this sense, The Salad Bowl forms a society “at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit.” According to the International Organization for Migration, a multicultural society aims to allow diversity, equal rights and equal opportunities to migrants, at the same time allowing them to keep a cultural affiliation to their country of origin.
Multiculturalism is seen by its supporters as a fairer system that allows people to truly express who they are within a society, that is more tolerant and that adapts better to social issues. But still, as stated above, this is a debatable point.
Critics of multiculturalism often debate whether the multicultural ideal of kindly co-existing cultures that interrelate and influence one another, and yet remain distinct, is, paradoxical, sustainable or even desirable.
Harvard Professor of Political Science Robert D. Putnam, who has conducted a study on the matter which lasted for nearly a decade, suggests that multiculturalism has a negative influence on national trust. There are also concrete instances that show us that multiculturalism may have a negative influence on the society. For example, in Britain many Muslim groups don’t feel they are being represented by state law, and create isolated marginal minorities, practicing Islamic Sharia. Additionally, tensions may occur if the immigrant groups’ or persons’ value systems and traditional or religious practices are in direct opposition to those of the host community. In such incidents, the host community may demand that the immigrants should obey to the way of living in the host country, not to the one in the immigrants’ country of origin. This approach is also acceptable to an extent. The newcomers cannot expect to live by the same social norms they have had in their country of origin. They have to respect the domestic law, and as long as they are within the country, act accordingly. Otherwise chaos would be inevitable.
In light of the above-mentioned, assimilation is not what the world needs today, and it definitely is not a hospitable or even perhaps humanitarian approach. The melting pot kills the differences in the culture, impoverishing it. As for the integration method, practiced today; it is inadequate in keeping intra-community bonds tight enough to prevent disintegration and division. The Salad Bowl does preserve the different cultures, but over time, its components may be separated with ease. So there needs be an alternative approach.
The key concept of this approach should be tolerance, and I have developed such an approach and named it the “Ashura Bowl”. In this model, groups or individuals should accept each other the way they are. They should respect each other and tolerate their differences. Not because they belong to the same religion, or because of their ethnicity, but because they are human.
Ashura is the pudding that Noah made from varies ingredients. The components do not lose their identities in this pudding, but they share their taste. Those components merge, forging a delicious taste, but still, the ingredients do not lose their identities. Ashura can be composed of rice, beans, chick peas, dried fruits and nuts. All these components can be changed with something else though. For instance, instead of nuts, you can use walnuts. However, there is one thing you cannot withdraw from the mixture. That staple component is wheat, and it is what represents tolerance.
In addition to tolerance, for this method to achieve the desired result hospitality and intercultural dialogue are necessary as well. I believe they are what keep a multicultural community healthy. In order to address these concepts, first the stages of the immigrants’ experience upon entering a host country should be examined.
The problems immigrants are faced with can be divided into stages. The initial stage is the ‘Cultural Shock’ stage. In this stage, the newcomer immigrants face a cultural shock, as the new community they enter happens to have different traditions, customs and values. Due to this shock, some unpleasant incidents may occur between groups or individuals. To pass this stage as painless as possible, the community has to be tolerant. This way; the cultural shock and the possible tensions due to this shock can be alleviated. The more tolerant the community is, the easier the immigrants will be able to get past its immune system and so, the less painful this stage will be. Upon examining the method of assimilation; it is possible to say that it couldn’t manage this stage well, and so the process of orientation stopped here without proceeding to the second stage.
After, comes the stage of ‘Adjustment’. In this stage, the immigrants become familiar with the host culture and start learning how to live with it. Hospitality is the virtue the community has to have to pass this stage with ease. The host community should not only be tolerant, but also polite to the newcomers; welcoming them. If not, the immigrant groups may merge and forge marginal groups which harm the social health of the society. Integration or the model of Salad Bowl does actually show hospitality to newcomers. However the Salad Bowl fails in managing the stage that proceeds this, where immigrants are no longer guests, but citizens of the host country. Since the model does not cater for what happens after this, the orientation process come to a halt, and maybe the most important stage is unaddressed.
The last stage of orientation is the stage of ‘Dialogue’. This is the stage which the Melting Pot and the Salad Bowl both failed to address. At this stage, the groups or individuals should interact with each other, get to know each other’s differences, and accept each other the way they are. It is said that people are afraid of what they do not know. If these groups or individuals get to know each other better, there will be nothing to fear. Governments should advocate this kind of intercultural dialogue, as this is, in my opinion, the most efficient way to keep a multicultural community healthy.
The Ashura Bowl model happens to include all of the solutions to each and every one of the stages mentioned. In this model, the identities and the differences are preserved, as they are what make the mixture tasty. The community has to be tolerant, hospitable, and open to intercultural dialogue. If these three concepts are maintained, then the ingredients will give each other their tastes.
Throughout all these processes, the immigrant groups or individuals should demonstrate adherence to existing laws, and should not try to change the social system, respecting the traditions which are indeed the cultural inheritance of the host country. A one sided tolerance policy is never to pan out. On account of this, the immigrant groups or individuals should do their best at not disturbing the indigenous groups or individuals and also at not trying to go against the social norms of the host community.
In conclusion, the assimilation method (Melting Pot) failed, because it was not tolerant enough of the immigrant groups or individuals. It could not proceed after the first stage of orientation. The method of integration (Salad Bowl) cannot reach a perfect solution because it cannot predict what will happen after the immigrants adjust to the community, and when they become equal citizens, and so the process of orientation halts. However the idea of Intercultural Dialogue (Ashura Bowl) prevails as the most appropriate; as it lets the community manage the cultural shock with tolerance, makes the immigrants adjust to the community with hospitality, and destroys hatred and fear with dialogue.
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