We are blind to the contradictions in welcoming an immigrant but not making him one of us.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Multiculturalism — as opposed to the notion of a multiracial society united by a single culture — has become an abject contradiction in the modern Western world. Romance for a culture in the abstract that one has rejected in the concrete makes little sense. Multiculturalists talk grandly of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, usually in contrast to the core values of the United States and Europe. Certainly, in terms of food, fashion, music, art, and architecture, the Western paradigm is enriched from other cultures. But the reason that millions cross the Mediterranean to Europe or the Rio Grande to the United States is for something more that transcends the periphery and involves fundamental values — consensual government, free-market capitalism, the freedom of the individual, religious tolerance, equality between the sexes, rights of dissent, and a society governed by rationalism divorced from religious stricture. Somehow that obvious message has now been abandoned, as Western hosts lost confidence in the very society that gives us the wealth and leisure to ignore or caricature its foundations. The result is that millions of immigrants flock to the West, enjoy its material security, and yet feel little need to bond with their adopted culture, given that their hosts themselves are ambiguous about what others desperately seek out.
Why did the family of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, even wish to come to Boston? If they really were in danger back home in the Islamic regions within Russia, why would members of the family return to the source of their supposed dangers? And if the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, and the federal government of the United States extended the Tsarnaevs years’ worth of public assistance, why would such largesse incur such hatred of the United States in the hearts of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar? Obviously, the Tsarnaevs had some sense that the United States was a freer, more humane, and more prosperous place than the Russia they left, but they also felt no love for it, felt no pressure from their hosts to cultivate such love — and believed that they could continue to live as Russian Muslims inside the United States. Did not the Tsarnaevs flee the Muslim hinterlands of Russia because they did not like the thought of things like pressure cookers full of ball bearings exploding and killing and maiming the innocent on the street?
Why for that matter did Major Nidal Hasan, a Palestinian-American citizen whose family was welcomed into the United States from the war-torn West Bank, so detest his adopted country that he would kill 13 fellow Americans and injure 32 others rather than just return in disillusionment to the land of his forefathers? Was it the idea that he could square the circle of being a radical anti-American Muslim, but with the advantages of subsidized education, material security, and freedom of expression unknown in Jericho? When General George Casey worried that the army’s diversity program might be imperiled after the slaughter, did the general ever express commensurate concern that Hasan apparently had never taken, as part of his military training, any course on the Constitution and American history, one that would have reminded him why he was sworn to defend his singular country’s values and history?
Why would Anwar al-Awlaki, another U.S. citizen, whose family was welcomed to the United States for sanctuary from the misery and violence of Yemen, grow to despise America and devote the latter part of his adult life to terrorizing the United States? He certainly need not have conducted his hatred from a Virginia mosque when all of the Middle East was ripe for his activism. Was Awlaki ever reminded in school or by any religious figure why exactly America was more tolerant of Muslims than Yemen was of Christians? Or did he hate his country because it treated Muslims humanely in a way that he would never treat Christians? Why did Mohamed Morsi wish to go to university in the U.S. or teach in the California State University system — given that California values were antithetical to his own Muslim Brotherhood strictures? Was it because Morsi understood that American education would not do to him what he will soon do to Egyptian education?
The United Kingdom is currently reeling from the beheading of a British soldier by two British subjects whose fathers had fled from violence-prone Nigeria. Why did they not return to Nigeria, carve out new lives there, and find their roots? Is it because there are too many in Nigeria like themselves who take machetes to the streets? For that matter, why do some Pakistani immigrants in cold, foggy Britain brag of establishing Sharia there? Is it because they wish to follow their version of Sharia in a liberal Western society that is more accommodating than are the radical Islamists whom they so often praise from afar?
Is Britain to be run in the shadows by some diehard Western traditionalists pulling the levers of free-market capitalism, democracy, and freedom of the individual, so that in its plazas and squares others have the freedom and wherewithal to damn just those values? In Britain, as in the West in general, deportation is a fossilized concept. Unity is passé. Patriotism is long suspect. The hip metrosexual cultures of the urban West strain to find fault in their inheritance, and seem to appreciate those who do that in the most cool fashion — but always with the expectation that there will be some poor blokes who, in terms of clean water, medical care, free speech, and dependable electricity, ensure that London is not Lagos, that Stockholm is not Damascus, and that Los Angeles is not Nuevo Laredo.
These cultural hypocrisies are not always violent, and they do not always involve fundamentalist Muslims waging jihad against their own adopted nations. In June 2011 the United States national soccer team played the Mexican national team in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before a supposedly “home” crowd. Instead, the Americans were continually booed by the pro-Mexican fans of Pasadena. The L.A. Times account of the event quoted U.S. resident Victor Sanchez explaining the booing of Americans by fellow U.S. residents in this way: “I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I’m proud to be part of it. But yet, I didn’t have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be.” But obviously Mr. Sanchez as an adult residing in a free country does have a choice — he could return to Mexico, where his heart could at last find rest. Was Mr. Sanchez’s problem that once he had screamed for the Mexican national team while in Oaxaca, he would still have been in Oaxaca?
We understand the notions of both ethnic pride and hyphenated Americanism, but many of us are still bewildered about contradictory impulses: the emotional need to display Mexican decals on cars and hang Mexican flags on houses and businesses — or boo an American team at a soccer match — coupled with equally heated expressions of outrage that anyone might suggest that those who broke American law in coming to the United States would ever have to return where their hearts would “always be.” That paradox is the most disturbing — and ignored — aspect of the immigration debate: the contradictory impulse to fault the United States for a litany of sins (exploitation, racism, xenophobia, nativism) without commensurate attention to why any newcomer would wish to reside in a place that is so clearly culpable. Has anyone ever heard an immigration activist, as part of his argument for amnesty, explain why so many Mexicans do not like living in Mexico and must leave their homeland, or, alternatively, why the United States is such an attractive alternative that it demands such existential risks to reach it? How strange that most of the elites who resent ideas like the melting pot and assimilation are often those who most successfully have abandoned the protocols of the way life is lived in Mexico.
America was born as an immigrant nation. It went through many periods of nearly unlimited immigration, coupled with xenophobic backlashes when particular groups — Germans, Jews, Irish, Mexicans, or Poles — came in such numbers and so abruptly that the traditional powers of assimilation were for a time overwhelmed. But the eras of ethnic ghettoes and tribal separatism were usually brief, given the inclusive popular culture and official government efforts to overwhelm identification with the home country. Yet now, when we talk grandly of the “Latino vote,” are we assuming something in perpetuity that will not go the way of the Civil War–era “German vote” or the turn-of-the-century “Irish vote” — because the United States will no longer insist on full assimilation, or because immigration from Latin America will continue to be massive and in contradiction of federal immigration law?
Sociologists and psychologists can adduce all sorts of reasons for an immigrant’s contradictory behavior, whether the lethal kind of the Tsarnaevs or the more benign expression of the tens of thousands in the Rose Bowl. It is tough being a newcomer in any country, and tribal or religious affinities serve to offer familiarity and by extension pride to one who is otherwise alienated from contemporary culture.
More practically, in the last half-century, having some identity other than white Christian made one a member of a growing “Other” that could level grievances against the surrounding culture that might result in advantages in hiring or college admission — or at least in a trendy ethnic cachet.
What happened to create such fissures among America’s diverse tribes? At no time in our history have so many Americans been foreign born. Never have so many foreign nationals resided in America, and never have so many done so illegally. Yet at just such a critical time, in our universities and bureaucracies, the pressures to assimilate in melting-pot fashion have been replaced by salad-bowl separatism — as if the individual can pick and choose which elements of his adopted culture he will embrace, which he will reject, as one might croutons or tomatoes. But ultimately he can do that because he senses that the American government, people, press, and culture reward such opportunism and have no desire, need, or ability to defend the very inherited culture that has given them the leeway to ignore it and so attracted others from otherwise antithetical paradigms.
That is a prescription for cultural suicide, if not by beheading or by a pressure cooker full of ball bearings, at least by making the West into something that no one would find very different from his homeland.
Is not that the ultimate paradox: The solution to the sort of violence we saw in Britain and Sweden the past week, or to the endless acrimony over “comprehensive immigration reform,” is that the Western hosts will so accede to multiculturalism that the West will be no longer unique — and therefore no longer a uniquely desirable refuge for its present legions of schizophrenic admiring critics. If the immigrant from Oaxaca can recreate Oaxaca in Tulare, or the Pakistani second-generation British subject can carve out Sharia in the London boroughs, or a suburb of Stockholm is to be like in one in Damascus, then would there be any reason to flee to Tulare, London, or Stockholm?
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals is just out from Bloomsbury Books.