Reflections on the New Immigration to the WEST
(Published in IABLIS: 2002)
Many creatures on the planet migrate from region to region, many birds and certain fish being dramatic examples. In this paper, however, I will use the term migration in the sense of the movement of large numbers of people from the area or country of their birth to a distant land, there to begin a new life.
From this perspective there have been migrations all through history, and also of different kinds. Each type of migration has had its own long range impacts. After a brief review of past migrations which I will designate with different acronyms, I will focus on the special case of migration of non-European peoples into the matrix of Western civilization, and reflect on some aspects of this recent phenomenon in human history which is wrought with major potential consequences.
Up until the Twentieth century
Since the most ancient times,
even prior to recorded history, large numbers of people have been moving from
the place of their birth to other regions far away, with little possibility or
intention of returning to their native spots on earth. Such migrations, dating
back perhaps to more than fifty thousand years ago, are responsible for the
widespread distribution of Homo sapiens all over the planet. The gradual spread
of humanity in the stretches between
In historical times, the armies
which accompanied conquerors often could not return home, and they settled down
in distant lands. Then there were conquests and colonies too. Thus we had
After the Colombian age of
exploration and the discovery of the
First, vast numbers of people
Between 1820 and 1905,
23,116,500 people emigrated from
This type of immigration may be
called ECM(I): European Colonial Migrations
(Immigrants). Two quite unexpected consequences of ECM were the following:
First, certain cultures (especially in the
A second aspect of ECM must be
noted. Armed with superior material power, European settlers forced migrations
of people from
During the 19th century, because
of laws in
As per an agreement between the governments of
Second half of the twentieth century
From the second half of the
twentieth century an entirely new type of immigration has been gaining ground
Today, many blue collar jobs in
these countries are manned by immigrants who do not come from the European
stock. This type of immigration from the so-called
Here we need to note a
significant transformation in JSIs in the
Experiences of NCIs
Unlike previous instances of migrations, NCIs have certain experiences which need to be clearly understood.
(a) NCIs have difficulty in assimilating into Western societies for three related, but different reasons:
First, because they look different in a society whose majority members have been a dominant force in the world in recent human history (and continue to be so in many contexts), NCIs immigrants feel insecure. We recall that in the contrary situation of the previous centuries, Caucasian immigrants in Non-Caucasian societies had no such psychological problems. In fact, they felt perfectly at ease because, though a minority, they held economic and political power.
Secondly, their religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, for the most part) are quite different from the Judeo-Christian strains of the majority. Though Islam belongs to the same Abrahamic tradition, it has had violent confrontations with Christianity and Judaism in the course of centuries. As a result, and also because of their racial difference, Arab immigrants do not as yet feel quite at home in Western countries.
Thirdly, because of their colonial past, many NCIs immigrants have been conditioned to look upon the Western societies into which they have moved as being somehow intrinsically stronger, and feel (rightly or wrongly) that Westerners continue to look down upon the culture and civilization of NC peoples.
All this results in what may be called the ethnic minority experience (EME). EME is the lurking conviction, valid or invalid, that the dominant majority in a society is overtly or covertly practicing discrimination of one kind or another towards members of a minority group. An associated feeling is that any positive action by the majority group is a token move to silence the noise-makers, rather than out of a genuine sense of fairness and justice. It is difficult for any group which has suffered some kind of persecution in the past from a majority group to rid itself completely of the EME. The EME makes many NCI immigrants intrinsically insecure and unhappy in a Western country.
(b) The need to belong to a community is an important aspect of the human condition. Often the community is defined in terms of a common language, race, or religion which are the three most powerful binding factors for human beings. Professional interests, like political views, and common-hobby-interests are other binding forces. Culture (which often embraces language, religion, and race) is a very potent factor in cementing people together. Cultural expressions such as music, art, literature, etc. enrich one's personal life, and the transmission of culture from generation to generation is healthy and meaningful.
In the context of immigration,
ethnic affirmation is often provoked by real or imaginary threats to one's
culture from a more powerful and domineering one. One way of overcoming the
feelings of psychological unease in a society in which there is a dominant
culture is to affirm one's own ethnic identity. Recall that in previous
centuries when European immigrants settled down in
In the modern world, in nations which have been touched by the Enlightenment, ethnic affirmation is not only accepted, it is even encouraged in the name of diversity and pluralism. This is a transformation that has begun in the West, and holds great promise. In countries which linger in the pre-Enlightenment era, where ethnic purity and religious monopoly are still the norm, diversity and pluralism are not allowed: they are snubbed and eradicated, sometimes with vehemence.
(c) Unlike in the past, present
day immigrants have ample and easy opportunities to be in touch with their
native countries, via telephones and e-mail. And they can also make periodic
trips back home. While this is good from many perspectives, it also makes
assimilation with the new society/country of adoption more difficult. This has
had a significant impact on the attitude of immigrants towards the new country.
In earlier centuries, immigrants tended to identify themselves with the new country
not too long after arrival. Going back to the original home was difficult and
rare. Today, however, it is possible for NCIs, as also for European immigrants
Impact on host countries
An important reason why NCIs are
allowed, even welcomed, into industrialized Western countries is the same as
with FLM: industrialized countries need not only raw muscle-power for jobs like
harvesting cabbage or grapes, driving cabs and cleaning homes, but also for more
specialized jobs in health care, computer technology and the like. (This is
also the reason why some rich Arab emirates accept non-Moslem Asian immigrants
for long period of time as residents, without giving them equal rights.) There
are universities in the
As long as these jobs are
aplenty, there will not be problem. However, if and when a shortage of openings
arises, the local people may become less tolerant of different-looking people
with clearly outlandish accents taking away their jobs. To make matters worse,
some of the
What is interesting here is whereas in many societies of the past, minority groups have existed, the notion of minorities began to take on a clear political connotation only in the context of twentieth century immigrants. The idea of minority rights and discrimination came to be forcefully articulated first with the descendants of FLM, and then with JSI. Though in centuries past (Jews in Christendom, untouchables in the Hindu world, slaves in Islamic countries, etc.) minorities have been unfairly, often shabbily, treated, the legitimate and angry complaints about the unfair treatment suffered by minority groups at the hands of the dominant group came to be expressed effectively only in the context of FLM and NCM in the modern West. From here it has spread to other societies as well where migration has had little to do with social injustice.
The visible racial/religious differences between native and immigrant groups are beginning to have noticeable impacts in the context of NCM. Some people within the Western matrix experience and articulate what they regard as two threatening factors. First, the explicit proselytizing mission of Islam leaves open the possibility that little by little Islam will become a major religious force in the West with what some believe to be potentially negative impacts on the life-style and value-system of the modern world. New mosques are being constructed in many Western countries in increasing numbers. In the United States Islam is currently the fastest growing religion. Muslims have already outnumbered certain Protestant denominations. Whether this will be for the good or otherwise, it does cause concern, not to say alarm, among some people.
Then, there are the influences
of the two major non-Western religious traditions: Buddhism and Hinduism. By
their philosophy of religious tolerance and meditative practices like yoga,
these call in question some of the foundations and proclaimed uniqueness of
Christianity. A non-threatening and enriching aspect of these alien cultures is
their cuisine: from vegetarianism to samosas and tandoori chicken. Perhaps the
most visible impact of NCI into the West will be that in the long run many
countries will cease to be predominantly white in their complexion. There will
be, to borrow a phrase from Time Magazine, a browning of the West. This is
somewhat like the linguistic Europeanization of non-European peoples: various
What is interesting, and in some ways ironic, in all this is the fact that the roots of universalism and globalization are to be found in Modern Science, Modern Technology, and Modern Enlightenment, and all of this arose in the West. There are efforts, both scholarly and otherwise, to re-write history in order to establish that this is not really so. In any event, science and the Enlightenment, which are being castigated for many ill-effects, are spreading all over the world. This phenomenon, combined with the current economic and military superiority of the West, is also responsible for the hegemony of the West in the international scene. This again causes much resentment in the non-Western world. At the same time, there are deep fears in the West about its own long-range survival as a dominant independent civilization.
At this point, much as some
extremists would want, Western nations cannot turn back the clock and
repatriate their non-White immigrants to where they came from, any more than
white settlers in Africa, Australia, and the Americas can all return to Europe.
The future of the Western world, and of any nation that adopts the basic tenets
of social, cultural and religious enlightenment, is bound to be racially and
religiously pluralistic. This will be especially so in the
The multiculturalization of a
society has both positive and negative aspects. The negative aspect is that its
indigenous and ancient roots will eventually be transformed significantly. This
intrinsic transformation should be distinguished from enrichment. Thus, for
Every culture has been enriched
by contact with other cultures. Thus, Hindu India has been culturally enriched
in many ways because of its contact with Islam and the West, as has also
happened in some nations of
In any event, the infusion of NCIs into the Western world has thus far been to tremendous advantage of the West in terms of the intellectual, cultural, and material creativity that has come into its body. Given the openness and dynamic nature of Western civilization, it will not and cannot impede the tides of transformation.
Some danger in this context could ensue if the new immigrants (NCIs) continue for long to see themselves as non-Western peoples, by holding on to the cultural, political, and emotional links with their former home-bases. Perhaps eventually their grandchildren and future generations may develop some sympathy for and sense of belonging to what is now the mainstream culture and history of the country where they live and settle down. Then they are likely to not to adopt only negative and suspicious postures towards the majority. Indeed unless they do this, they will never feel comfortable in their new world, and they will continue to be regarded as an alien minority by the local population, adding to the inherent insecurity that all immigrants experience.
Then again, persistence in self-imposed apartheid with increasing numbers could lead in the long run to calls for separate ethnic nationhood within what are currently Western nations. In a sense, this happened in certain Caribbean islands (like Haiti, Guyana, and Jamaica, for example) where FLMs have taken over, and sent back the descendants of the White settlers who brought their ancestors to these islands in the first place.
As long as EME exists, some kind
of tension is bound to persist in Western countries, as in any visibly
multicultural society. Two conditions are necessary for the disappearance of
EME: The first is the complete elimination of racism of any kind from the
hearts and minds of the majority group. The second is the industrial, economic,
and scientific advancement of
Until these conditions come into play, migrations to the West are likely to continue with great potential for detrimental long-rage effects.