Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tolerant America, intolerant Europe

Today I saw a headline in Helsingin Sanomat, saying that by 2025 almost one in four students in Helsinki schools will be of a foreign background. Later they changed it to say that one student out of ten is an immigrant.

By "foreign background" they meant that their native language is not Finnish or Swedish.

"Argh!" - was my first thought. I can imagine... On the second thought, I don't need to imagine - I remember attending such a school. It was a rather large high school, and about a quarter of its student body was foreign-born. There were some classes of English as a second language for the new immigrants, but most kids already spoke enough English to take part in regular classes. The immigrants did not have classes in their native language, unless it happened to be one of the five foreign languages already taught there. There was, of course - it being an American public school - no religious instruction for anyone.

And there were no problems, really. Many people tended to hang out with those who spoke the same language, but they were quite friendly to outsiders, too. No ethnic tensions, and no ethnic crime.

It wasn't some multicultural utopia. It was Brookline, MA, late eighties.

People in the US are usually quite tolerant towards immigrants. Not everyone - there are the kind of people who sort of dislike foreigners by definition, there are people who are afraid of competition for jobs (sometimes rightly and sometimes not), there are also people who are concerned specifically about the Mexican immigration, due to the fact that its numbers are very high and Mexican immigrants are on average extremely badly educated, there are people concerned with immigration of Islamic extremists, and then there are people who are specifically concerned about illegal immigration, on the general principle that we should be able to control our borders better, but in general people are not very concerned. At least up North, far from the Mexican border, if you say that you are afraid to walk, live, or send your children to school in some place because there are a lot of foreigners, people will give you a very strange look, and that's not because of the political correctness.

Meet Brookline, a town with 26.6% of foreign-born population. Median household income $66,711. Unemployment 3.5%. 76.9% of adults have college degrees. 2002 crime index is 171.8, a little over half the national average. Obviously, both the native and the immigrant (including the refugee) population tends to be highly educated professionals employed in the local universities, hospitals, and high-tech companies. The town has some poor people, too, as a proper liberal town should. They tend to be senior citizens. Senior citizens rarely engage in violent crime, and you can freely walk around their neighborhoods at night.

On the other hand, Helsinki is not Brookline, and somehow I don't think that everything is gonna go just as well over here.

Americans often say that Europe is intolerant, and that anyone who moves to America can always become an American, whereas in Europe an immigrant is never really accepted. This is not quite true. Americans have understandable problems accepting a jihadist screaming "Death to America!" as a real American, and Europeans - or at least Finns - don't seem to have any problems accepting an immigrant who can speak Finnish, works, and doesn't do anything particularly disturbing. It has been my impression, however, that there is a gray area in between where Americans are ready to accept an immigrant, and Finns aren't, and, more importantly, where Americans expect an immigrant to make some effort to become one of them, and Finns don't.

My visceral reaction to the American accusations of European intolerance is "no, they aren't". My other visceral reaction to the American accusations of European intolerance is "well, you'd be intolerant too, if you had immigrants like that".

I don't even mean the country of origin as such. You obviously get better results admitting immigrants from Germany than from Pakistan, but that's not even the point here. The point is that the US gets better results admitting immigrants from Pakistan than Europe does. Whether this is a wise thing to do, even for the US, is questionable - Islamic extremism, honor killings, etc., are a problem in the US as well - but there is no perpetually unemployed criminal Pakistani underclass in the US. Or Arab, for that matter, or immigrant African.

US Census has fairly detailed demographic, social and economic information on foreign-born people by country. The information is as of 2000, but enough to give you the idea. For example, 13.8% of civilian Somalia-born workforce is unemployed, which is more than twice the unemployment rate of African immigrants, but still doesn't come even close to their unemployment rate here.

African immigrants to the US have an unemployment rate of 6.4%. 42.8% of them have college or university degrees.

Not that the US doesn't have immigration-related problems, but in general it is doing much better than Europe. Which makes me wonder: how come all the people who like to advertise the joys of immigration in other countries rarely mention the US, and never mention Israel? These are undoubtedly the two first-world countries that have accepted the most immigrants with the best success.

One can wonder whether the better integration is the result of higher tolerance, or the higher tolerance is the result of better integration - I suspect that both are to some extent the case - but I think that both ultimately stem from the fact that the US doesn't usually take shit from its immigrants. Public assistance for refugees is not for life, unless the refugees are elderly; the immigrants who commit more or less serious crimes are deported regardless of what awaits them back home; and if you want to teach your children your native culture, language and religion - well, it's a free country, your time and your money. Americans will often welcome the immigrants and mean it, they will hire the immigrants, but if the immigrant cab drivers decide that their religion doesn't let them transport passengers carrying alcohol, Americans will also explain to them in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable.

Europe, on the other hand... I know the situation firsthand in Finland, but I follow it in the rest of Europe, and it's quite similar, with some differences, but the general impression is that Europe wants to accept the most unacceptable things and tolerate them through the clenched teeth. Nobody seems to expect the refugees to integrate, or to work, and many of them don't, because the public assistance is forever. Half of the population of some immigrant groups don't have jobs, or know the local language, but damn, we gotta teach them their native language, culture and religion, and arrange their own time in the swimming pools. Europeans keep the violent refugee criminals here, because to deport them is somehow considered equal to death penalty (why? most refugees are not in an imminent danger of death), and then complain that refugees commit a lot of crime.

Normal immigrants (of the kind that work and don't commit crimes) are the majority of immigrants, and well tolerated, but somehow invisible, at least here. The problematic minority (I don't mean any particular group, just the permanent underclass) is a large minority, and growing fast.

It is, IMO, an immigrant's responsibility to integrate into a new culture, but if you feed them indefinitely, don't deport them for serious crimes, and try to encourage them to retain their culture as much as possible, is it any fucking surprise when many of them live on welfare, commit crimes, and don't even bother to learn the language? Europe's passive-aggressive mix of coddling and resentment is not doing any favors to Europe, nor to immigrants.

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