Immigrants have to learn and internalize as much of the host country culture as possible, laws and rules, ability to communicate in everyday matters, like moving around, shopping, meeting people, and knowledge and respect, if not practice, of religion and life-style. The immigrant is heading toward a bicultural life, and those cultures have to coexist inside him.
But a contract has two sides, so what should the host do?
The host country has to show respect and curiosity for the culture of the immigrant, grant his/her right to practice it in private space, and to carry some of it over into public space.
We are talking about immigrants who have come to the host country as their major residence for the years to come, with no end in sight, except by death, and then with a continuation for their offspring. We are talking about a serious move to living in a new country, not about tourists and visitors – although that is how it may start. A vacation visit may become a stay for life, a change of country of residence, even of citizenship. A migration across gaps in laws, regulations, language, religion and lifestyle, not minor differences in rules, dialects, manners.
And we are talking about a unique chance to learn about the world out there, from our own immigrants. The more the world is globalizing the more migration there will be, whether legal within an EU concept of “four freedoms” – the free move of goods and services, capital and labor – or illegal within the global “three freedoms” for goods, services and capital only. Both concepts are built around migration for livelihood through a job. But there are other push and pull forces behind migration, like for livelihood through better health in other meteorological or social climates. Some move because they must – as economic and political refugees –, some because they can afford it.
Islam comes up so often in this context because it is a strong culture Muslims are not going to give up just because they change country of residence. Moreover, the five pillars of Islam all call for practice in public space, like open prayer five times a day, sharing with the poor, fasting, traveling to Mecca. These are not private whispers, directly to a personalized God.
A Western-Christian host country is used to immigrants leaning over backward to acquire right knowledge, speech and action while hiding inner thoughts in their own idioms, or in the private space, at home. Others submit; Muslims not. Muslims pick up other languages like everybody else, but not other religions. Moreover, Muslims are tolerant of the religions of Ahl al-Kitab, people of the Book – Jews and Christians – expecting reciprocity as mutual respect. But Christianity does not reciprocate.
Since we are in a period of exponential growth in migration problems will aggravate unless some traffic rules take deep roots, internalized inside us and institutionalized between us. But the rules have to be reciprocal as the basic formula for peaceful relations, also between civilizations is symmetry.
But how can we make symmetry out of a relation that easily becomes asymmetric because the host state system is so strong and the new citizenship so shallow, limited to job and climate. By using culture and participation as medium for mutual benefit.
Each party to the contract has to contribute something.
This means teaching and learning both ways, like language and culture courses organized by both parties. The need to make the immigrants culturally more competent in the host country is obvious. But the immigrants should be invited to present their language, religion and lifestyle, dresses, foods and drinks, music, dances, readings, and be invited to do so in host country schools, community associations. To know ten words in a foreign language is already a sign of respect, a gateway to mutuality.
Both parties are entitled to their own mono-cultural private space. But public space must increasingly become multi-cultural so that everybody feels at home regardless of country of origin:
– by giving information about places, events, goods also in all immigrant languages;
– by both immigrants, and shopkeepers-waiters, becoming more polyglot;
– by serving multicultural foodstuffs and drinks in polyglot eateries and by having multi-, not only mono-religious services in public space. The mezquita in Cordoba being an obvious place;
– by tolerating non-offensive differences in dress, like the hijab.
Globalization, the increasing removal of inter-state borders carries the removal of inter-nation borders in its wake. The former without the latter has landed us in unstable equilibria where small events have large consequences, like the cartoon issue. Of course we need the freedom of expression to critique cultures, including our own. But we also need the freedom from being wounded, hurt by people of little respect. Time has now come to explore and respect the thin line between these freedoms.
4 August 2008