Europe says it will take in its new immigrants—is Europe ready to become a melting pot?
Meanwhile, huge numbers overran Europe's borders in the last month, looking for the good life—are the immigrants ready to practice the virtues that the good life (i.e., modern life) requires?
Europe: fondue or tapas?
The European Union has declared that its members will share the current wave of immigrants around amongst its member states. It is a fine thing that the Europeans, led by Germany in this case, are extending a welcome to people who have fled their homes in fear of tyrrany and war. Of course, they should be welcoming all who are willing to be productive and live by trade, regardless of his origin. But realizing that the refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan are people who deserve a decent chance in life, for whatever reasons they did so, is a positive step.
Europe is a collection of nation-states, defined by history, language, race, and culture. To be Dutch isn't to believe in freedom, though the Dutch have a storied history of religious toleration and commerce: to be Dutch is to speak Dutch and partake in Dutch culture. Already, Europe strains to accommodate immigrants from vastly different cultural, racial, and linguistic backgrounds. Think of Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, or Pakistanis in England.
There's a way forward for Europe and its new immigrants.
America is a land of immigrants (the US is currently near its all-time high in the percentage of residents who are foreign-born: 13 percent or so). We think of ourselves as a melting pot, a chunky stew or a fondue slowly oozing together. Italian-Americans were a major immigrant group 100 years ago: they have made America more Italian (nothing is more American than pizza and spaghetti), and are American because they swear to uphold the Constitution and adapt to the American culture of independent thinking and productive living. Chinese immigrants do the same today: they embrace and exemplify the American ethic of success.
What is the European Union to be? Up to now, it has been less a fondue and more a meal of tapas: each country a world of its own. And it has dealt with immigrants through multiculturalism: accepting that if the immigrants can never be nationally native (their race is wrong, their habits are wrong), then they must be accorded the right to organize their own mini-nation, with special allowances for their laws and customs.
So the Europeans face a difficult, but crucial choice: to accept that our tribes don't define us and move towards being a melting pot; or hold on to their nationalist conceptions of self and allow this year's eager immigrants to turn into a resentful, cut-off minority like, well, the Algerians in France or the Pakistanis in England.
Muslim refugees: rebirth or revanche?
One hard fact that will come back to bite Europe, no matter what it does: amid the 100,000 or more immigrants who have rushed in this past month, mostly Muslims and mostly from areas torn by religious war, surely there are 10 or 20 people who now or later will embrace the Jihadist terrorist ethic and go on a killing spree somewhere. Given the atavisms consuming Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, how could it not be so?
After the Charlie Hebdo murders, 100,000 British Muslims, mainly immigrants, signed a petition calling for censorship and for the jailing of those who depict—they said “insult”—the Prophet. Anti-cartoon protests in the past drew tens of thousands of “behead the insulters” protestors. On the first anniversary of 9/11, a celebration of the crime was held at Finsburg Mosque. These are signs of the Islamist atavisms that have already been brought to Europe.
The vast majority of this wave of immigrants are decent people who seek a better life. They want peace and security. They want jobs, education, and the opportunity to grow and flourish. They are fleeing terror. They don't want to perpetuate it.
Our tribes don't define us.
These people face a difficult road. It is not enough to ask them to assimilate as fast as possible to the cultures they are joining—most of those cultures are not really ready to take them fully in no matter what they do. Afghans can never be German. In addition to working on the language skills and public mores that will allow them negotiate their new environments, their self-interest calls on the new immigrants to reject the past and embrace the future.
Their past is a traditional culture that has fallen down a pit of angry dogma, clannishness, and authoritarianism. But the future depends on a body of principles that represents the essence of the modern world—the European world they are joining.
What modernity asks of us
The essence of modernity is the culture of productiveness that recognizes a basic equality even between people of different backgrounds or status. It is a culture based in honesty and being trustworthy. It is not treating one's family with honor while cheating strangers as best one can. Rather it is treating all with honor. It means not practicing cronyism or corruption. Rather than looking for a back door to success or a way to pay off the law, it means seeking success through hard work and fair dealing. This is what the modern world asks of us, if we wish to join it.
And embracing the future, embracing modernity, requires a hard look at Islam. There's no room in modern society for accommodating medievalist preachers and the advocates of cultural resentment and violent revenge. But that's what many Muslim preachers in Europe now do. If the new immigrants want to leave the horrors of terror and war behind, they have to reject the ideology that gives it birth.
There's a way forward for Europe and its new immigrants. It is a way forward for America, too. It consists in accepting what modernity asks of us: individualism, reason, and achievement. It is the way we, be we natives or immigrants, can earn what modernity offers us: a thriving life and a flowering, rich culture in which to live it.