Monday, May 22, 2006

Immigration debate

“Recept vooor geslaagde immigratie: Verscheidenheid binnen eenheid” [Receipe for successful immigration: Diversity within unity]
Amitai Etzioni, Opinie en Debat pg 15, NRC Handelsblad, 20 May 2006

The professor accredited for starting the whole ‘values and virtues’ (normen en waarden) debate—a personal favourite of Prime Minister Balkenende— adds his opinion on the immigration and integration issue.

“To be granted entry to a country is a privilege that a person can earn—and that someone should be able to earn that [privilege] under reasonable prerequisites [that are] postulated by the new community to which he wants to be a part of—but not a right that all foreigners can claim to.”

And what of asylum seekers? Does international law grant asylum seekers, whether based on a moral or humanitarian right, the right to seek refuge in another country?

“ Asylum seekers can—on the basis of international law and fundamental justice—make a claim on a safe haven of refuge, and on protection whenever their lives are being hreatened or whenever they are really fleeing, because they are under the threat to be tortured or molested in someway.”

Etzioni argues that different countries place different values and emphasis on fulfilling the ‘privilege’ to be granted entry.

“A country should tune its humanitarian immigration based on its degree of compassion, but there will ultimately always be more people asking for entry than can be allowed to enter, and therefore a selection criteria for immigration must be established and complied with. These vary strongly: some countries look to professional expertise, other look to investment input; others put the emphasis on family reunion, and some on affinity: Spain in this sense give preference to immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.”

And once an immigrant is granted entry, the process of ‘citizenisation’ has only just begun. It is a two-way process, one that the immigrant must attempt to adapt as much as possible to the host country so that the host country becomes ‘home country’:

“Just as we take tests in school, the civic examination tests should be used to determine if a person has internalised the language, ethics and especially fundamental respect for the law and [principle of] mutual tolerance [of his host country] as his own.
If the immigrants do not adapt to the local culture in such limited ways, they, as well as the society which adopts them, will [suffer from] an economic, social and political disadvantage.”

“It should be clear in all cases that immigrants must accept the fundamental values of the society, adhere to the law, must learn the language or languages of the country, and not only share in the wealth that the country has inherited from its pas, but also the burdens, and in the demands that the future demands.”

So does this mean total assimilation, or is there room for ‘diversity’?

“At the same time each group in the society can maintain its own subculture.”

As an example, Etzioni talks about the culture of cooking, and how with increasing immigration and globalization, ‘national cuisines’ which were once stereotypical of the host countries have in recent times been replaced by the mix of culinary traditions brought over by the new comers. Such acceptance is the way forward. But acceptance should not stop in the kitchen, but should be broadened to general acceptance of immigrants, as well as their right to voice their opinions and discontentments about the society they have come to adapt as their own. So the Danish cartoon fiasco should not be seen as a fundamentalist reactionary drive, but should instead be seen as immigrants using their ‘freedom of expression’.

“The best way to react to insulting free opinions is then: objection. It is completely unacceptable if anyone uses violence or threatens the speakers, regardless of what they say. The fatwa for the execution of Salman Rushdie, the price on the head of culture editor Flemming Rose, who allowed the controversial cartoons to be printed, and not to forget the murder of Dutch director Theo van Gogh—that all transcends boundaries in a way that no civilized society can tolerate.”

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