Jim Bennett has a good piece on assimilation of immigrants in the USA, which gives some idea of how hard this was to do in the past, and what it will take the UK to do the same thing. The fact that the 7/7 suicide bombers were home-grown came as a shock to many in the UK. This shock has set in motion a conversation, which may eventually be fruitful, to try to define what it is that immigrants to the UK should be trying to assimilate to. In other words, before you can say to someone, “if you want to come here, you have to decide to become one of us”, you need to answer the question for yourselves: “who are we?” This is a question many people don’t want to engage with. It leads to further questions, “why are we who we are?” and “is what we are good? Is it worth defending? Worth taking risks for? Worth dying to defend?” One early cut at defining a set of “core values” for Britain was this piece. It is a good list.
Creating a consensus on anything like this is very difficult, especially these days, either in UK, or the USA, and giving affirmative answers to these questions is even harder. The “commanding heights” are held by a news media, an entertainment industry and an academic community which convey a message of disdain for the history of these countries, which see little of value in their past or present, and which are actively opposed to the idea of assimilation.
If you teach generations of people nothing but the crimes of their ancestors and the corruption of their existing institutions, which is an incomplete and hence false depiction, they are unlikely to have the cohesion and confidence needed to insist that immigrants adopt certain base-line values and practices. In ordinary times this deficiency can be “kicked down the road”, since it may not seem urgent. However, it turns out to be a structural weakness when mortal threats arise.
This lack of cultural confidence become apparent when the UK, and to a lesser extent the USA, were faced by the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism. The Islamic radical looks around him in a country like England and sees people who do not respect their own way of life and are apologetic about it. The Islamic radical correctly senses weakness and has contempt for people who do not respect their own country, civilization or way of life. He sees the firmness of his own will and faith, and he discounts his material disadvantages, which he is not necessarily wrong to do. A small number of people with absolute conviction and willing to risk all for a cause can work seeming miracles. Mohammad’s followers came out of nowhere and overran the world, and their descendants never forget it. Closer to our own time, they recall that a superpower invaded Afghanistan, but that mujahideen from around the Muslim Umma rallied to its defense, and the Soviet Union is no more. The soft, comfort-seeking West seems like a much easier target. And like the Soviet Union, it no longer believes in the principles that supposedly animate it. To the outside observer looking at our depraved entertainment products and listening to the self-loathing on the mainstream news, the West must seem to be an animated corpse that will crumble into a putrescent heap if it is struck hard enough.
Weakness in any sphere invites attack, and the realm of cultural confidence and identity is no exception. Morale is more important than arms, and a country that starts out believing it does not really deserve to survive is already beaten. That may be overstating the case for the UK in 2005. However, a country that tries to wage a struggle where many of its most powerful and influential people believe that the moral right resides with their enemies is far weaker than it will appear if you try to add up the tangible assets each side brings to the fray.
Fortunately, the academic and educational and media communities, while still very powerful, are weakening. They are being stripped of their quasi-monopoly positions by advancing technology. A more complete, more affirmative and truer version of Anglo-American freedom can be formulated and disseminated via the new media, the home-schooling movement, and other means. The United States and the rest of the Anglosphere are magnets for immigrants. These people have experienced alternative arrangements up-close. They are likely to see and understand what is good about these communities. All we need to do is regain this understanding ourselves, and make it available for those who want to learn. This will be a difficult challenge in the years ahead. I anticipate that it will be successful, but nothing is inevitable.
Update: See Helen Szamuelly’s post from the EU Referendum blog. She paints a dire picture of how bad things have gotten in the UK. (You can only start rebuilding from where you are, says I.)
Update II: “If we lose faith in our values, we will lose the war on terrorism.” Michael Barone quotes the President of the Italian Senate, making a similar point.
15 thoughts on “Assimilation, Terrorism and History”
Good post. The views and concerns expressed in your post and the UK link are equally valid here in Australia.
Great rant Lex and largely true about the UK. Doesn’t go far enough, though. I bet you have never been accused of that before. The fact is that those famous British values are so vague and woolly that few people can define it. Therefore, it becomes easy to dismiss them by far more than just the “liberal” elite. At the time we on our blog responded to the Telegraph article, which was, I am afraid, rather silly. (As I said more fully, here)
The question remains: what is the British dream? What is it that immigrants ought to accept and become part of?
Great insight but I would point out that the idea that pluralistic, capitalistic democracies are decadent and lack will power is a very old one. For those with a militaristic mindset, the Free West has always looked like house of cards. Even militarist who are Free West chauvinist often decry what they see as the weaknesses within our own culture.
The militarists sees the martial virtues as the only virtues. They believe that the only reason a person or group refuses to fight is cowardice and that pacifistic beliefs are just rationalizations of their own weakness. Concessions are made only out of fear and never represent strength. Everything of value is accomplished by the sword.
It is almost impossible to negotiate with the militarist. They interpret any concession as arising from fear of the militarist power, (no matter weak that might be in real terms), and as evidence of their opponents lack of will. They respond to concessions by asking for more.
Once an individual or group has adopted the militaristic mindset their is little that others can do to influence them without the credible threat of violence. The great fault of the accommodationist is that they don’t understand that the militarist has a fundamentally different world view than they do. The accommodationist believes that the militarist only attacks because they feel threatened because that is the only conditions under which an accommodationist themselves would attack. They try to appear less threatening but to the militarist this looks like weakness which validates the militarist aggression to that point.
You can see this mindset quite clearly in Germany in both world wars, in imperial Japan and various Communist regimes. Attempts to negotiate solutions almost always resulted in more aggression. In the end, only counter-aggression works because it is all the militarist respects.
So, while timid support of our own culture invites attack from militarist of all types large and small, the true driver of violence is the internal dynamics of the militarist themselves.
Helen, thanks for the link. True, it is rare for me to be told that my rants were not over-the-top enough.
Shannon, I agree entirely. The external danger is the least of our problems. Even in a worst case situation, where the terrorists acquire nuclear weapons and destroy several of our major cities, we’d still win. We’d annihilate their entire civilization, if it came to that, God forbid. We won’t lose that part of the war. The big problem is the continual erosion of our freedoms if this drags on as a multi-generational struggle. To win that, we need to be able to assimilate people and make a clear case about what is good about our civilization and our country and our way of life. Trying to do that will lead to intense political struggles.
>>Closer to our own time, they recall that a superpower invaded Afghanistan, but that mujahideen from around the Muslim Umma rallied to its defense, and the Soviet Union is no more.
Wrong! I think this would be a better description:
“There was a national rebellion against Soviet intervention and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia rallied to support with billions of dollars and military training for the Islamists – particularly Gulbudin Hekmatyar who Afghans hated because he openly represented the Wahabi interest in Afghanistan and whom the U.S. special forces are currently on hunt for – in Afghanistan. The devastation, chaos, and anarchy left in the aftermath of the Soviet war opened the door for Pakistan – a U.S. client state – to turn Afghanistan into a vassal state and provide sanctury for INTERNATIONAL Islamists (what you and I call Islamofascists) who used the country as a base — Al-Qaida means the base in Arabic – against the U.S. The rape of Afghan culture and identity happened in open with the blessings of two other U.S. client states — UAE and Saudi Arabia.”
Sulaiman, I agree with all this. My summary is what I take to be the al Qaeda version of events — that they defeated the USSR and that this shows that they can take on and defeat a superpower. I don’t deny that the al Qaeda view of events is in large measure incorrect.
“Great insight but I would point out that the idea that pluralistic, capitalistic democracies are decadent and lack will power is a very old one.”
I think this has a grain of truth though. They only seem to be direct about problems when they’re staring them in the face. They keep their head in the sand for so long that they only fight back when their backs are up against the wall, when Nazis are bombing London, when the Pacific fleet is being devastated, etc. This attitude always produces catastrophe, and from where I stand, Europe is repeating the same exact behavior.
A few years ago, I came into class and a girl in the second row was beaming. I asked her why she was so happy; she said she’d loved reading Whitman the night before – “he made me feel okay about loving America.” (She already had her B.A. and was going to vet school the next semester; this was no simple-minded flag-waver; this was a sophisticated and well-read flag-waver.) It is that passion that helps us say, yes, this is who I am. And yes, I’ve got some big shoes to fill; there were Washington & Adams & Jefferson, there were Lincoln & Grant & Lee. And they all made up what being an American is.
Yesterday, on the phone-ins, someone asked Joseph Ellis if the insurgents in Iraq were like the American Revolutionaries. He said yes. A little while later, the same question was posed to David McCullough. That was a deep insult to the Americans, he said; they wanted the right to free speech and a free press while the “insurgents” (in his words) want “enforced ignorance.” May I point out that Ellis is an academic and McCullough took the road considerably less traveled; he has made a living for himself out of writing books that are both scholarly and popular. I like Ellis-he writes well & his affection for these guys seems genuine. But I wonder if he really understands.
What is this, Chicago Boyz with a fake moustache?
Re decadent democracies: Napoleon famously dismissed the British as a nation of shopkeepers, and the would-be aristocrats of the South described the Union rank and file as “New York counter-jumpers” (shopkeepers again!). Maybe it’s the commercial mentality that makes the most of every bullet spent. The British were famous for their marksmanship by land and sea in the Napoleonic wars.
Sorry, I meant this.
Fake moustache? Certainly not, sir! I adhere to the immortal words of Edwin Starr:
Mitch, as you know better than many, much like Agent Double-O-Soul, we ChicagoBoyz “can do the twine and the jerk” and cultivate “a reputation of bein´ gentle but bold.” However no one is required to wear “strictly continental suits and high collared shirts.” Your attire is your own affair. Blog in a union suit, or Pajamas, if you want. (Has anyone produced a “Blog Naked” t-shirt yet?)
But, the moustache thing, no way.
I don’t know. People say such odd things. Napoleon, for instance. It was not precisely shopkeepers he meant – the British are incredibly bad at it, which is why waves of immigrants have simply moved in and run shops (thankfully) – but merchants. Now that the British have always been good at and still are.
Secondly, Mariana, Britain did declare war on Germany after the invasion of Poland, recognizing that the line had been crossed. The Blitz came months afterwards. The Soviet menace was recognized by Britain as well as the USA at a very early stage.
“These people have experienced alternative arrangements up-close. They are likely to see and understand what is good about these communities. All we need to do is regain this understanding ourselves, and make it available for those who want to learn. ”
They have also see what is bad about their communities, abondon much of it, but still bring with them what are the best parts of their community. They may seek to replace what is bad in their culture with what is good in our culture, but it goes both ways. Asymilation goes both ways. We often preach tolerance, but I think that is less important than participation. We don’t have to like and accept all aspects of cultures, but we should be able to find ones that we can appreciate.
One of the reasons that I supported the runup to the Iraq war was that our culture was stagnating and I thought this was a big part of our economic problems. I knew the war would invigorate and bring new blood to our culture and also give our young workers (like my self), who had few prospects, experience and confidence and sense of achievement that would drive our economy further after the war ends. They would also bring back some aspects of other cultures, and exposure to other cultures will breed creativity.
Instead of “tolerance”, I should have said “accomodation”.
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