Sanity in the Extreme

So, the Alternative for Germany party convention (g) rejected a platform plank that would have declared that Germany is "not a country of immigrants" and instead approved the following: "Immigrants who have relevant qualifications for the labor market and who demonstrate a high degree of willingness to integrate are welcome here."

Whenever the AfD is criticized as extreme and xenophobic in the coming years -- and it will be, constantly and unrelentingly, in a barrage of propaganda -- remember that sentence:

"Immigrants who have relevant qualifications for the labor market and who demonstrate a high degree of willingness to integrate are welcome here."

That is the party's official stance on immigration. Not only is there nothing extreme about this, this is currently the policy of the overwhelming majority of countries on the face of the earth. All countries to which a rational person might want to immigrate -- and many others -- openly and frankly say to potential immigrants: we only want you if you can contribute to our society. Otherwise, we won't let you in. Our country's immigration policy puts the interests of existing citizens first, and there is nothing shameful, wrong, or even questionable about that.

Noted racist authoritarian backwater Canada, on an official government website, lists the factors it uses for its own immigration point system:

Screenshot 2016-05-01 15.07.14

In Canada, you have to score at least 67 points. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that current German immigration policy, driven by a bizarre form of cultural masochism, is drawing mainly people who score less than 20 points on this scale. Many less than 10. Many less than 5.

It's hard to know where to place on this scale the tens of thousands of (often illiterate) 2015 immigrants to Germany who have already committed serious crimes. They are, after all, not only not benefiting Germany in any way, they are actively harming the country. Perhaps we need to expand the scale below 0 to capture Germany's current immigration policy.

-20? -50?

So remember, whenever les bien-pensants accuse the AfD of xenophobia, they are condemning the current immigration policies of virtually every developed nation.

That may give you a new perspective on who the extremists are.


Frauke Petry's English: A Solid 'B'

I'd give her a solid 'B' in English, about comparable to the German '2'. Like many Germans, she seems to have learned her English from someone in the UK, so she has a German-English accent, which I always find amusing. Germans, for their part, find it amusing when I speak with a Rhineland accent.

The Times also publishes a short profile of Petry:

Ms. Petry and other nationalist-minded leaders ousted the more Europe-oriented founder of the party, then locked onto the identity issue as the embodiment of how Ms. Merkel and the German establishment were ruining the country and ignoring ordinary folk, said Hajo Funke, a politics professor at the Free University in Berlin.

Starting in the former Communist East Germany, in Ms. Petry’s home state of Saxony, they whipped “unhappiness about political and economic alienation” into anger and double-digit scores in opinion polls, Professor Funke said.

Ms. Petry has stood out, he added. “She wants power, she wants to get into government.”

Professor Funke and other leading political scientists are doubtful her success will last. But the immediate impact of the migrant crisis is undeniable, cutting across age, education, class, region and political persuasion....

In a shabby hall on the outskirts of Mannheim, a city of 300,000 about 60 miles south of Frankfurt, Ms. Petry got a sympathetic hearing from some 250 listeners.

“Germany is crazy,” said Katja Kornmacher, 46, who said she works in a publishing house and holds two university degrees. “We have the feeling that we can’t say anything” against the leftist view in Germany. “It starts in school, where we are told what is correct.”

“And those who follow this line land better in life,” she continued. “The line is: ‘Right is bad, left is good.’ And then the leftists are outside shouting against this democratic event.”

Apparently the New York Times hasn't gotten the memo that any article about Frauke Petry must be liberally salted with phrases like 'rabble-rouser', 'liar', 'cynical', and 'inhuman'.

It's almost as if they think their readers can make up their own minds.


Advice for Women Marrying Saudi Nationals

How big is the cultural gap between Germany and the nations many migrants are coming from? One useful document is this State Department guide for American women who are contemplating marrying Saudi nationals. It was later retracted, for reasons that will probably become obvious as you read it. Now, Saudi is a more conservative place than most Arab countries (and also a lot richer), but at least half of the customs described in this document apply in some form to most Arab countries, I would wager. And as you'll see, there are quite a lot of them.

[The] American citizen spouse of a Saudi national is with a handful of exceptions always female. Saudi women are prohibited from marrying non-Arabs except with a special dispensation from the King. (A dispensation is also required before a Saudi woman may marry an Arab who is not a citizen of the Gulf Cooperation Council—i.e., Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.) The Embassy is only aware of four American men who are married to Saudis. A few daughters of Saudi diplomats, raised and educated abroad, are also known to have received Kingly dispensation for marriage to Europeans. Most Saudi women who are married to Westerners tend to reside abroad with their husbands.

American spouses fall into two broad categories: those who are married to well-off, westernized Saudis, and those who are married to not-well-off and non-westernized Saudis. Both meet their husbands when they are students in the U.S. The former tend to maintain homes in the Kingdom and in the West, they socialize with other dual-national couples, they send their children abroad for college education (sometimes high school), travel frequently, and while in the Kingdom have the luxuries of drivers, servants, and villas separate from where the Saudi in-laws reside. Their husbands permit them to appear before men to whom they are not related, accept—if not encourage—their desire to find employment and generally do not require them to veil fully (i.e., cover the face with one or more layers of cloth) while in public. The women are allowed to travel separately with the dual-national children. The women may or may not have converted to Islam; their conversion may or may not be sincere. These represent the minority of dual-national marriages.

Most American women fall in love with westernized Muslim traditionalists, leery of the West and its corrosive ways, and eager to prove their wives' conformity to Saudi standards. The husbands are not "Arab princes" of western folklore; rather, they are part of the vast majority of Saudis who "get along" with the help of extended family members and marginal expectations. Their American citizen wives are often from the South/Southwest (where many Saudis prefer to study), they have virtually no knowledge of Saudi Arabia other than what their fiancés have told them, and do not speak Arabic. When they arrive in the Kingdom, they take up residence in the family's home where family members greet them with varying degrees of enthusiasm and little English. Typically, their only driver will be their husband (or another male family member), their social circle with be the extended family, and they will not be permitted to work or appear uncovered among men to whom their husband is not related. Initially, the American citizen spouse will be almost entirely isolated from the large western community that resides in the Kingdom. Gradually, the spouses who survive form a network with other American citizen women married to Saudis. The majority of American citizen spouses fall into this category.

The Myth of the Westernized Saudi

Inevitably, American citizen spouses characterize their Saudi husbands during their school days in the United States as being completely "westernized"; drinking beer with the best of them, chasing after women and generally celebrating all the diversities and decadence of a secular society. Women married to Saudis who did not fit the stereotype of the partying, or playboy/prince, are careful to point out that their spouses nevertheless displayed a tolerance toward all of these diversions and, particularly, toward them. In other words, the Saudi-American relationship virtually always blossoms in the States, in a climate that allows dating, cohabitation, children out of wedlock, religious diversity, and a multitude of other Islamic sins which go unnoticed by Saudi relatives and religious leaders thousands of miles away.

American citizen wives swear that the transformation in their Saudi husbands occurs during the transatlantic flight to the Kingdom. There is the universal recollection of approaching Riyadh and witnessing the donning of the black abayas and face veils by the fashionably dressed Saudi women. For many women, the Saudi airport is the first time they see their husband in Arab dress (i.e., the thobe and ghutra). For those American women reluctant to wear an abaya (the all-encompassing black cloak) and for those Saudi husbands who did not make an issue of the abaya prior to arriving, the intense public scrutiny that starts at the airport—given to a western woman who is accompanying a Saudi male—is usually the catalyst for the eventual covering up. Since the overwhelming majority of American citizen wives never travel to the Kingdom prior to their marriage, they are abruptly catapulted into Saudi society. When they arrive, their husband's traditional dress, speech, and responsibilities to his family re-emerge and the American citizen wife is left to cope with a new country, a new language, a new family, and a new husband. Whether a Saudi has spent one year or eight studying in the United States, each must return to the fold—grudgingly or with relief—to get along in Saudi society and within the family hierarchy that structures most social and business relations.

Social pressures on even the most liberal Saudi are daunting. Shame is brought upon the entire family for the acts of an American citizen wife who does not dress modestly (e.g., cover) in public, who is not Muslim, who associates with men other than her extended relatives. Silent disapprobation from family and friends is matched by virulent public disapproval by the Kingdom's religious proctors (Mutawwaiin) and vigilante enforcers of the faith. Several American wives, fearing the latest round of religious harassment, have started fully veiling; not to do so, they discovered, meant public squabbles with the Mutawwaiin who vociferously oppose dual-national marriages. The experience of all dual-national couples is that voluntary and involuntary compromises are made or simply evolve. The sum of these compromises is quite often a life very different than the one imagined and speculated upon in the safety of the United States.

What to Expect and Consider

Quality of Life. Life in a desert kingdom that prides itself on its conservative interpretation and application of the Qur'an (Koran) requires that couples talk about very basic lifestyle issues.

How cosmopolitan is the Saudi husband's family? All American wives encourage prospective brides to meet the Saudi family before arriving in the Kingdom as a married woman. (Most Saudi families will travel to the U.S. during the course of their sons' studies, if only to attend graduation.) While it is no guarantee of acceptance, a family that regularly travels abroad or one in which the father has been stationed abroad is generally more broad-minded when it comes to their son marrying a Westerner. It is the parents who can be the greatest source of pressure on a dual-national marriage, and it is important to divine their opinions on what an American wife can and cannot do while living in the Kingdom.

With whom will you live? Many newly married couples move in with the groom's parents, in a sprawling villa which may house several other siblings and their wives and families. Privacy is elusive and tensions with family members who for one reason or another resent the presence of an American wife often make this living arrangement difficult. In a more affluent family, a couple may inhabit one of several homes that comprise a small family compound. Some Saudis live separately in villas or apartments. While that resolves the issue of privacy, many American wives find themselves completely isolated during the day, surrounded by neighbors who only speak Arabic, with no access to public or private transportation.

One tolerably married American citizen wife is not permitted to step out on the apartment porch since the risk is too great that an unrelated male would be able to see her.

The most western, but least common, housing arrangement would be an apartment or villa located in a western compound or on the Diplomatic Quarter. There, a semblance of western suburban life goes on behind high walls or, in the case of the Diplomatic Quarter, under the protective gaze of a multitude of Saudi police officers. However, most Saudi owners of western style compounds ban Saudi tenants since they fear western inhabitants would object. The very rare Saudi male who endorses this living arrangement is generally a naturalized Saudi, of Lebanese or Palestinian origin. For the average Saudi family, residence in a western compound would be an unnatural renunciation of Saudi culture and would make one culturally "suspect."

With whom will you socialize? Saudis socialize within the family. Expatriates who have lived and worked for years in the Kingdom may never meet the wife of a close Saudi friend and, according to custom, should never so much as inquire about her health. For an American wife, a social life confined to her husband's family can be stultifying, particularly since few American wives speak, or learn to speak, Arabic. Whether the Saudi husband permits his wife to socialize with men to whom they are not related determines how "normal" (i.e. how western) a social life they will enjoy. Several American wives have difficulty even visiting the American Embassy for routine passport renewals since their husbands are opposed to their speaking to a male Foreign Service Officer. Because of the segregated society, Saudi men naturally spend much of their time together, separate from wives and family. (Even Saudi weddings are segregated affairs, often held on different evenings and in different locations.) Only the most westernized Saudi will commit to socializing with other dual-national couples.

What freedom of movement will you enjoy? Women are prohibited from driving, riding a motorcycle, pedaling a bicycle, or traveling by taxi, train, or plane without an escort. All American wives were aware that they would not be able to drive while in the Kingdom, but few comprehended just how restricted their movements would be. Only the relatively affluent Saudi family will have a driver on staff; most American women depend entirely upon their husbands and male relatives for transportation. While most expatriate western women routinely use taxis, an American spouse will be expected to have an escort—either another female relative or children—before entering the taxi of an unrelated male.

Will you be permitted to travel separately from your husband? Travel by train or plane inside the Kingdom requires the permission of the male spouse and the presence of a male family escort. Travel outside the Kingdom is even more restricted. Everyone leaving the Kingdom must have an exit visa. For an American spouse, this visa must be obtained by her Saudi husband. The Saudi spouse must accompany his wife to the airport to assure airport officials that he has given his permission for his wife to travel alone or with the children.

One American's marriage contract specified that "she stated that she shall never request to travel from Saudi Arabia with any one of her children unless with his prior consent."...

Will you be permitted to work? There are two hurdles an American wife must overcome before finding work outside the home: the disapproval of the family and the paucity of employment opportunities.

Most husbands will not approve of a wife working outside the home if it entails contact with unrelated men. One American wife, who was a teacher in the U.S. during the entire five years of her courtship with her husband, was shocked when her husband threatened her with divorce when she requested to return to the U.S. to finish up one quarter of classes in order to qualify for a state pension. Now that she was married, the Saudi husband could not tolerate her being in the presence of other men. However, even if the husband is willing, the jobs are few. Employment is generally restricted to the fields of education (teaching women only) and medicine. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous social bias against the nursing profession and Saudi husbands would not approve of a wife working with patients, except in the position of a physician.

Will your husband take a second wife? Among the younger generation, it is rare for a Saudi to have a second wife but it does occur. A man is legally entitled up to four wives, with the proviso that he is able to financially and emotionally accord them equal status. One American wife discovered that her Saudi husband had married her best friend, also an American, while he was on vacation in the U.S.

Religion

In principle, all Saudi men must marry Muslims or converts to Islam. In practice, many American women blur the issue, participating in a Sharia wedding ceremony but never actually converting.

The pressure to become a Muslim, or to be come a sincere Muslim, is enormous and never-ending. There is no separation of church and state in Saudi Arabia, and at the popular level there is simply no comprehension of religious freedom, of the desire to remain Christian or undecided. One American wife, approaching her tenth wedding anniversary, has been terrorized by relatives who insist that the King has ordered that all women who don't see the light after ten years must be divorced and deported. For another, the pressure comes mainly from her children who are mercilessly teased at school for having a foreign, non-Muslim mother. (Half-hearted converts to Islam find that their children are ridiculed for having mothers who pray awkwardly or not at all.) One Saudi teacher informed the children of an American citizen mother, who has sincerely converted to Islam, that their mother could never be a Muslim since "only Arabs can be Muslim." Women who don't convert must accept that their children, through hours of Islamic education a day at school and under the tutelage of the family, will be Muslim. Women who do convert must understand that their conversion, particularly in the aftermath of a divorce, will be suspect and their fidelity to Islam perceived to be less than their husband's.

Family

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest birthrates in the world and families with five or more children are the norm. The family is the basic unit of Saudi life and family members have much closer relations than in the United States. Every family member feels free to give an opinion on any facet of another family member's life. Siblings—particularly an older brother—are expected to financially aid each other, and males must band together to guard the honor of their female relations. Children are not expected or encouraged to leave the nest; rather, extended adolescence can occur well into a man's early thirties.

What are the differences in child raising? To a much greater degree than in the West, Saudi children are indulged. Little girls are dressed in miniature prom dresses; little boys wear the latest in western sport togs. Both wreak havoc. American wives must suffer silently when the children of various relations run riot through the house. One wife related the story of a brother-in-law's child who carefully doled out chocolate pudding on the brand new furniture. When she scolded the child, she was in turn scolded for making a fuss about something that could be cleaned.

On the other hand, the Saudi family is replete with babysitters and children always have young and old playmates with whom to mix. Because foreign labor is so cheap in Saudi Arabia, even lower middle class families will have an Indonesian or Filipino housemaid to help with the chores. Among the very affluent Saudi families and particularly within the royal family, each child will generate its own servant.

Many American mothers are frustrated by the dearth of things to do with their children. Absent a driver, mothers are cooped up at home with the children and, even with a driver, there are few venues to visit.

What will it be like to raise a daughter? Cultural differences are never greater than when it comes to the role of women, and raising a daughter is a challenge in any Saudi-American marriage. Growing up in the Kingdom, a young girl will naturally look forward to the day when she comes of age and can wear the abaya and cover her hair. She will naturally be very devout. She may be expected to marry a first cousin. While playing a central role in the family, a girl is nevertheless a statutory second-class citizen who needs to be protected and whose word is worth only half of a man's.

For a Saudi girl, this is the natural state of affairs; for an American mother of a Saudi girl, it can be unsettling. Not surprisingly, most of our child custody cases in which a child has been kidnapped from the United States involve a Saudi father "saving" his daughter from a "sinful" society and her "decadent" mother.

Since Saudi women are prohibited from marrying western men, an American mother must expect her daughter to integrate more tightly into Saudi society. This is not necessarily the case with sons who might be encouraged to study in the U.S. (Saudi girls are permitted to study in the U.S. only if they are chaperoned by a family member), who could freely travel to the West, whose business might facilitate travel between the two countries, and who might elect to marry an American woman. Several very liberal Saudi fathers and their American wives have been embarrassed by their more conservative daughters' decisions not to attend school in the United States in deference to the disapproval of their culture.

If the Marriage Fails

In the worst scenario, an American wife can find herself summarily divorced, deported, and deprived of any right of visitation with her dual-national children. Sharia law decidedly favors men in the dissolution of marriage. And the laws of Saudi Arabia require that all individuals be sponsored by a Saudi citizen in order to receive a visa, resident or otherwise. Therefore, once a marriage breaks up, the ex-wife must leave the Kingdom and may only return with the explicit permission and sponsorship of her ex-husband. (In cases where the Saudi husband attempts to prevent his spouse from leaving, the Embassy can call upon Saudi authorities to facilitate the American wife's departure. The Embassy cannot force a Saudi husband to relinquish the children.)

 

 


Oh Dear, The Migrants Are Not Very Progressive ("Women Want to Obey")

As Adam Curtis points out, the mainstream media ignore context and nuance, preferring to split the world into simple dichotomies. And since the media focus relentlessly on war, chaos, oppression, violence, and disaster, you're left with a feeling of learned helplessness, like living in the mind of a 'depressed hippie', in Curtis' memorable phrase.

The German variant of this tendency is to call all recent migrants 'refugees', and to assume that the only relevant aspect of their existence is that they all desperately fled from various forms of war and oppression, which are rarely described or analyzed in any depth. Germans are just reminded that (1) there are many conflicts and despotic rulers in the world today; and (2) therefore Germany must open its borders. The fact that there are several logical gaps between (1) and (2) is rarely mentioned.

And so Germans, in their sentimental naiveté, fail to understand that many migrants have prehistoric attitudes on a host of social issues.

In other words, many of the people 'fleeing war and oppression' enthusiastically support war and oppression when their side is winning.

Which brings us to this interesting story from the Tagesspiegel (g, paywalled). A reporter visited a migrant shelter and began quizzing a few randomly-chosen people about their attitudes. The beginning paragraph pretty much sums it up (my translation): 

Jews? Control the media. In the West, but also in Russia and Iran. Says Ahmed, wiry, 20 years old, from Syria.

Blacks? Some 'apes' are nice, most are a menace. Says Mohammed, well-nourished, in his early 20s, from Egypt.

Homosexuals? Disgusting. God wills that they should not live. Says Abdul, gaunt, 30, from Afghanistan.

In calm, friendly, soothing tones, all three men explain: Women obey the man. It's permissible to hit them, but unnecessary. After all, women want to obey.

To sum up, the attitudes of uneducated young Arab males -- the majority of the people whom Germany has allowed to stream across its borders -- are a septic tank of prejudices so nauseating they make Donald Trump look like Albert Schweitzer.

Now, the typical response to this fact from liberal Germans is either uncomfortable silence or the insistence that 'the only solution is education'. We must explain our values to the new arrivals and gently insist that they take them on board. 

But of course, this 'solution' also betrays the sentimental naiveté of liberal Germans. They seem to believe that benighted natives of Third World countries (1) are interested in learning German values; (2) will understand them; and (3) will discard their old beliefs and accept new ones.

Now, the millions of educated and intelligent people from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq are in a position to do all three things. In fact, the question barely arises, since they generally have beliefs about racism, women's rights, and homosexuality that are notably more progressive than their less-educated countrymen, and quite compatible with life in Germany.

But alas, when Germany threw open its borders, it gave up all control of who entered its territory. A massive number of new arrivals share the beliefs of the three young men quoted in the Tagesspiegel. 

And the idea that they care about learning about and accepting modern Western European values is silly. Consider the following thought experiment: You are a middle-of-the-road German who is forced by circumstance to relocate to Egypt and try to integrate into Egyptian society. Well-meaning Egyptians, eager to help you adjust to a different culture, explain what ordinary Egyptians think about Jews, blacks, women, and the Holocaust. They urge you to adopt that way of thinking, to make your adjustment to Egypt more smooth.

Will you do it? Or will you cling to your existing beliefs? And why should your answer to this question be any different than the answer Mohammed gives about 'German values'?


Arab Spring and Arab Immigration

Marc Lynch is an American professor and Middle East expert who blogs at Abu Aardvark. Late last year, he wrote a disarmingly frank and honest article for the Washington Post on what scholars of the Middle East had gotten wrong about the Arab Spring of 2011. Many of them had high hopes at the time, which were later dashed. As I read it recently I thought to myself: 'Some of this wishful thinking and distorted perception reminds me a lot of what I am seeing currently in Germany.'

See if you agree:

I asked a group of the authors from my edited volume “The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East” to write short memos assessing their contributions critically after having another year to reflect. Those memos have now been published as POMEPS Studies 10 “Reflections on the Arab Uprisings” (free PDF available here). Their auto-critique is full of worthy observations: We paid too much attention to the activists and not enough to the authoritarians; we understated the importance of identity politics; we assumed too quickly that successful popular uprisings would lead to a democratic transition; we under-estimated the key role of international and regional factors in domestic outcomes; we took for granted a second wave of uprisings, which thus far has yet to materialize; we understated the risk of state failure and over-stated the possibility of democratic consensus.

One point that emerged in the workshop discussions is the extent to which we became too emotionally attached to particular actors or policies. Caught up in the rush of events, and often deeply identifying with our networks of friends and colleagues involved in these politics, we may have allowed hope or passion to cloud our better comparative judgment. That’s a fine quality in activists, but not so helpful for academic rigor.

...

As for me, there are a number of areas where I’ve been rethinking things over the last year or two. There are some negative developments that did not surprise me, I should add, even though I had hoped they would be avoided. My earlier book, “The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East,” devoted an entire chapter to demonstrating how each previous round of popular mobilization in modern Arab history had ended up with the consolidation of even more heavy-handed authoritarianism. The disastrous results of the decision by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to field a presidential candidate were easily foreseen. So were the catastrophic consequences of external support to the Syrian insurgency, which has produced unbelievable human suffering but few real surprises to anyone versed in the comparative literature on civil wars and insurgencies. We’ve paid a lot of attention to the problems of Yemen’s transition.

...

New Arab Public: For a long time I believed that a mobilized Arab public would never again allow themselves to be manipulated and dominated by autocrats. Whatever the tactical setbacks and inevitable ups and downs of difficult transitions, I thought that the generational transformation would keep trends moving in the direction of more open politics. It was this new Arab public that gave me at least some optimism that the region could avoid repeating the failures of the past.

That conviction suffered a near-mortal blow in Egypt, where a shocking number of the youth and public voices who had made the uprisings proved more than willing to enthusiastically support the restoration of military government and violent repression of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was not simply the military’s successful coup that was shocking – such a denouement was always a possibility. The shock was the coup’s embrace by many of the popular forces upon whom hopes of irresistible change had been placed. The new Arab media and social media proved to be just as capable of transmitting negative and divisive ideas and images as they had been at spreading revolutionary ones. Egypt’s military coup traveled just as powerfully as had its revolution. The pan-Arab revolutionary unity of early 2011 has long since given way to sectarianism, polarization between Islamists and their enemies, and horror over the relentless images of death and despair in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

The media generally played a highly destructive role in the post-uprisings environment. For a brief, tantalizing moment, independent television stations and newspapers seemed to constitute a genuine Egyptian public sphere. But that quickly collapsed. Unreconstructed state media offered up a relentless stream of propaganda. Many private media outlets were captured by the state or by counter-revolutionary interests and the airwaves filled with the most vile forms of populist incitement. Meanwhile, transnational broadcasting descended into little more than transparent vehicles for state foreign policies, a change most noticeable – and damaging – with the once proud Al Jazeera. And while social media and new Web sites have certainly offered a plethora of opportunities for information to flow and opinions to be voiced, they have largely failed to supplant mainstream media as a source of news for mass publics.

"[W]e understated the importance of identity politics...we may have allowed hope or passion to cloud our better comparative judgment."


Study-Abroad Programs Make Americans Prouder to be Americans

Calvert Jones, a professor of political science, tested American students who went to study abroad and compared them to similar students who hadn't. The results were interesting:

First, I tested the core liberal hypothesis that cross-border contact promotes a sense of shared international community, or what political scientist Karl Deutsch called a “we-feeling” across cultural divides. Theorists define this in terms of warmth, shared understandings and values, and trust. Surprisingly, the hypothesis was not supported: None of the indicators for international community was higher on average for students returning from study abroad than for those yet to travel. In fact, those who had just returned from a semester abroad felt they had significantly fewer values in common and were more likely to say their understandings of key concepts were different from the people of their host country. None of this was sensitive to potential moderators like whether or not students opted to live with a host family. Given the intuitive plausibility of the liberal hypothesis, these results are striking.

Jones_Fig1Blue

How about threat perceptions? I asked students to rate how threatening they would consider their study abroad host country if it were to surpass the United States in terms of material power, such as economic growth or military expansion. In theory, cross-border contact should mitigate perceptions of foreign threat and foster expectations of peaceful change and cooperation, despite uncertainty and shifts in the distribution of power. And indeed, given identical scenarios, those just returned from a semester abroad rated their host countries as less threatening than did students about to leave. So the liberal hypothesis that cross-border contact mitigates threat perceptions was supported, even though the hypothesis that it fosters “community” was not.

Finally, I tested a variant on the “clash of civilizations” hypothesis—that cross-border contact, rather than encouraging a sense of shared international community, promotes nationalism. Perhaps troubling for some, the results strongly supported that hypothesis.

Jones_Fig2Red

Students returning from their study abroad experience were considerably prouder of America along a range of dimensions, including its literature, achievements in the arts, armed forces, athletic accomplishments and political influence. They were also prouder to be American, warmer toward American culture and more patriotic. Importantly, however, they did not display a heightened belief in America’s superiority; there was no difference in that attitude across the two groups. So while cross-border contact heightened nationalism, it did not appear to promote a virulent or chauvinistic form of it.

...We are used to thinking about nationalism and internationalism as mutually exclusive; people who are highly nationalistic are often assumed to lack the cosmopolitan mindset of a “global citizen.” Yet study abroad returnees were both more nationalistic and less prone to seeing other nations as threatening. Rather than fostering a sense of shared international community and warm realizations of “we are the same,” cross-border contact may instead encourage a form of “enlightened nationalism”—a sharper sense of national difference, and pride in that difference, tempered by tolerance and the realization that such differences need not be threatening.

It would be tempting to consider this another data point supporting the well-understood finding that close contact with foreign cultures reduces feelings of trust and empathy. Nothing new about that. That's why people generally prefer to live among people similar to themselves.

But not so fast. I think there's a huge limitation to this study: the fact that it was conducted among American college students. First, let's not beat around the bush: Americans know much less about the rest of the world than people in other developed countries, and are a lot less likely to speak a foreign language fluently. So they are generally ill-equipped to hit the ground running in a foreign country.

Americans are also on average the richest people on earth, and American college students come overwhelmingly from the upper-middle class. The contrast in standard of living between American and even UK college students is large. The gap between what an American expects from a university experience and what is on offer in France, Spain, or Germany is gigantic. Shabby, ancient buildings; no legion of mid-level bureaucrats to find you a place to live or guide you around campus or help you find a job; scummy student digs; overcrowded and often dull or inaudible lectures; rampant absenteeism and cheating. Having no standard of comparison, most American students going to an ordinary Spanish university will feel like they have been dropped into the third world.

I wonder if anyone's ever done a study like this among European Erasmus exchange students. I'd be willing to bet the ones who can actually remember their experience after all that partying probably had a very different reaction.


Should Germany Take all of Europe's Roma?

It’s interesting to explore the contours of political correctness in Germany. Case-in-point: Exactly who is leaving Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania to come to Germany and file asylum claims? Are we talking about degreed professionals looking for better jobs? Unemployed construction workers? The very poor, or the middle-class?

Or are we talking about Roma? People who want to liberalize German immigration policy say that some of those applying for asylum are Roma who face discrimination and therefore have valid asylum claims. But they rarely attach numbers to this claim. I went looking for such numbers, with little success. When you have a hard time finding out a fact from the mainstream German media, you can usually assume that the Platonic Guardians have decided that the readers of their publications cannot be trusted to handle it. It must therefore be concealed or obfuscated.

But one reporter in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung bucked the trend (g), and reported that 90% of Serbian migrants from January to March 2015 were Roma, and 60% or over of the ones from Bosnia and Macedonia. The majority of German journalists wants to conceal the fact that most asylum seekers from the Balkans are Roma because, presumably, this would reduce support for them.

A few, however, emphasize this fact to argue for granting them asylum. In fact, the rest of the article advocates granting them asylum owing to the discrimination and persecution they face at home. It quoted a research report by Norman Paech, a German international-law professor hired by a German Roma organization who concluded that although ethnic discrimination alone usually does not amount to the ‘persecution’ required to qualify for asylum under international law, the persistent and severe exclusion from society which he claims exists in countries such as Kosovo and Albania could fit that definition. Therefore, he’s against classifying these countries as ‘secure countries of origin’, which would make it easier to repatriate people back to them.

I think there's a good case Germany should agree to take on board all of Europe’s Roma who wish to resettle there.

Reason #1: Historical Responsibility

Germany murdered up to 400,000 Roma during the Holocaust. Every German politician recognizes a special responsibility to those who were persecuted and murdered during the Third Reich. 

Reason #2: European Solidarity

If you ask Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, and Serbians about the Roma, you will hear one argument over and over: France and Germany and the do-gooders in Brussels should shut the fuck up about how we treat the Roma. They point out that the absolute numbers of Roma in their country and the proportion of Roma as part of the population are much, much higher where they live than in Germany:

Romani_population_average_estimate

They will point out that their countries are dramatically poorer than Germany, France, or Sweden. They will point out that they barely have enough money to support their own retirees, much less administer expensive and often marginally successful 'integration' programs for the Roma. And finally, they point out that whenever large numbers of Roma turn up in Western Europe, there's almost always a huge public backlash. France has a stringent anti-Roma policies and routinely destroys gypsy camps.

Hundreds of thousands of Roma - mostly from Romania and Bulgaria - have moved to Western Europe since the 1990s. Widely perceived as scroungers and thieves, they are rarely made welcome.

But they come under a particular kind of pressure in France. Their illegal camps - such as the one Alex occupied in Champs-sur-Marne, east of Paris - are systematically destroyed by authorities.

According to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), 19,300 Roma people were evicted across France last year - more than double the 2012 figure.

There are now so many Roma beggars on the sidewalks of Stockholm that half of Swedes favor outlawing begging altogether. 

I violated the first rule of the Internet and read the comments to the video I linked to above. There is the usual amount of racist garbage, but there are also a lot of comments from Bulgarians who deeply resent being called to task for the problems of Roma. Here's Valya Marinova:

They can go wherever they like within Bulgaria and the European Union. And a lot of them do it quite often because traditionally they are nomads and easy to move. France doesn't want them, destroys their camps there and sends them back to Bulgaria, in Britain there is a political party that is stongly against them, German people murmur a lot against the Bulgarian gypsies, but officially the country still plays the tolerant guy. Hurray for Germany, all the rest European countries should follow their positive example! 

In 2005, George Soros' Open Society Institute published a large study of attitudes about the Roma in 8 Eastern European countries. The study relied on focus groups made up both of Roma and non-Roma. I've put some excerpts below the jump for the curious. But the overall themes are unmistakable. Non-Roma in these countries believe: (1) Roma themselves are responsible for their place at the margins of society; (2) the negative attitudes toward Roma are based on personal experience, not on baseless stereotypes; (3) their countries are already doing enough, with their limited resources, to help the Roma; (4) life is hard for everybody in my country, so I am not going to support a government program that helps only one sub-group; and (5) Western Europe should stop the condescending bullying and lecturing, since they don't have to deal with the far, far larger number of Roma we have. If they think they can do a better job integrating the Roma, they should step right up and try it. Then they'll see how hard it is.

Reason #3: If Germany Can't Integrate Roma, Nobody Can

The third, related reason is that there is no country more likely to succeed in integrating Roma than Germany. Even though Germans share the basic European hostility to Roma, it's much less pronounced than in other European countries, for obvious historical reasons (see #1, above). Compared to, say, Albania, Germany is a rich country. It has hordes of trained social workers who have experience in integrating foreigners from remote cultures. It has a functioning educational system that already hosts students from dozens of countries. It is large enough to absorb, say, 4 million Roma immigrants (out of the 10 million in Europe) without the risk of social collapse.

Of course, this plan would require a vast investment of resources. Many of the Roma in places like Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia are illiterate, and many don't even speak the language of the country they currently live in fluently. Many will never be able to learn fluent German. Learning a second language to fluency as an adult requires significant cognitive abilities that most adults do not possess. The best predictor of your ability to master a second language is your level of ability in your first. Also, since their level of education is so low, most will never integrate into the mainstream job market. Many will likely live from social welfare benefits, odd jobs, begging, and petty crime -- just as they do today in their home countries. They will certainly cluster together in clan-groups.

In other words, they will present the same formidable challenges to integration in Germany as they do now in their home countries. Further, this project will enjoy very little support from the German population. Yet it's quite possible for European political elites to push through ambitious, expensive projects (such as the Euro) against the will of the majority of citizens. Similarly, Germany's decision to build a large Holocaust memorial or in the middle of Berlin or transfer billions to the former East may or may not have been supported by a majority of Germans, but that fact was irrelevant. It was pitched as an important national objective necessitated by History, and that was enough. Taking in all of Europe's unwanted Roma could be portrayed the same way.

What do you say, Germans?

Continue reading "Should Germany Take all of Europe's Roma?" »


Jochen Bittner and Anna Sauerbrey are the Face of Germany in the USA

Cultural Ambassadors. These are the people, usually journalists, who get picked by Home Country journalists to be the face of Foreign Country in Home's press. Usually, it's because they have learned to speak Home's language, and have connections there. They then become the sole source of information and commentary about Foreign Country for the vast millions of Home's residents who are mildly curious about Foreign Country, but not curious enough to do more than read an occasional newspaper column.

Right now, the preferred Germany-explainers to America are Jochen Bittner of Die Zeit, and Anna Sauerbrey of Die Welt. Here is an excerpt of Sauerbrey's most recent column in the New York Times, about the Muslim female blogger Betül Ulusoy (g) a lawyer who has blogged about facing discrimination because she wears a headscarf: 

That piety and independence, religion and political wit can go together indeed doesn’t fit into many Germans’ heads. Germany has become deeply secular in recent decades. Both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches have been losing members rapidly. Today, over a third of all Germans do not belong to any denomination.

Immigration, however, is bringing religion to Germany. The number of Muslims in Germany is estimated to be between 3.8 million and 4.3 million, about 5 percent of the population. That makes the Muslim community in Germany the second-largest in Europe, after France.

Though such projections show that Islam will remain marginal in Europe for decades to come, the fear of “Islamization” is widespread. It has led to the rise of right-wing populist parties from Finland to France. Their rise is usually regarded as a political phenomenon. It might as well be seen as a result of cultural alienation, though. In Germany, many have come to see faith as a spooky and potentially dangerous pathology. Want to make a character on a Friday night TV detective show look suspicious? Let him pray.

In Germany’s secular society, religion in general, and Islam in particular, is regarded as an atavism, a relic from a premodern era from which the country has luckily matured. Renunciation and deliberate submission, common elements of religion, throw the average German hedonist into a state of panic (unless they are part of a no-carbs diet or yoga routine). Why would anybody in her right mind refrain from eating or wrap a scarf around her head in the summer? 

So German readers, next time you're at a dinner party in the USA, be prepared to be confronted with the name Anna Sauerbrey and asked how she could possibly have been so brilliant/stupid as to write X in the New York Times.


Why Americans Don't Read European Writers in Translation

Bill Morris on why Americans don't read (European) writers in translation: 

On a crisp morning last October, I paused in front of one of the many magnificent bookshops that dot the city of Cologne. In the display window was a large, hand-lettered sign: NOBELPREIS FÜR LITERATUR, PATRICK MODIANO. Arrayed around the sign were a dozen works of fiction by Patrick Modiano—most in German, a few in French, none in English.

I walked into the shop and introduced myself as an American writer visiting from New York. Then I came clean: “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never even heard of Patrick Modiano. Is he any good?”

“Oh yes,” said the woman behind the cash register. Like most bookshop workers in Europe, she was young and bright, fluent in English, and criminally well read. “He’s French and he’s quite good. You should definitely read him. Start with his first novel, La Place de l’Étoile, or Dora Bruder.”

...

Three Percent, a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester, derives its name from the fact that about 3 percent of all the books published in the U.S. every year are translations. But the bulk of these are technical writings or reprints of literary classics; only 0.7 percent are first-time translations of fiction and poetry. While the number of fiction and poetry books available in translation remains small, it has been rising steadily—from a total of 360 in 2008 to 587 last year, according to Three Percent.

So the question becomes: are so few translated books available because American readers don’t read them, or do American readers read so little foreign fiction and poetry because so little of it is available in translation? Or is it a bit of both?

“It’s complicated,” says Judith Gurewich, publisher of Other Press, which is consistently among the top American publishers of foreign fiction in translation. “I think it’s getting easier to get books in translation into the hands of reviewers. They’re excited—not only receptive, but very kind. But the reading public? That’s the million-dollar question.”

...

After noting that translators are doing some superb work today, Glusman offers his own theories about why translated fiction and poetry remain a tough sell for American publishers. One theory is that Americans lag behind other nationalities in exposure to foreign cultures, which is reflected in a lack of foreign language instruction in American schools. This certainly doesn’t help foster a hunger for foreign literature. Nor does the fact that only about one-third of Americans hold a passport.

Another theory, which Glusman credits to the German writer Peter Schneider, is deliciously counter-intuitive. Germany is a homogenous culture, largely white Anglo-Saxons with a smattering of immigrants, mostly from Turkey—and yet there is a voracious appetite for translated fiction in Germany, as I was reminded that day at the Cologne bookshop. America, on other hand, has been absorbing immigrants from all over the world for centuries, which might work as an impediment to fostering a hunger for foreign literature.

Schneider’s theory, says Glusman, “was that there’s an assumption that because of the heterogeneous nature of American society, we think we know more about foreign cultures than we actually do. And that breeds a certain insularity.”


National Scorpions in a European Bottle

The Washington Post examines the chances of a right-wing block in the European Parliament and uncovers a few interesting cross-currents among European Euroskeptic parties:

With France’s National Front the likely anchor of any nationalist coalition, it has been up to Le Pen to try to forge a legislative bloc. Success would mean winning at least 25 seats from seven countries. Though almost assured of enough seats, Le Pen appears to be at least one nation shy of the country threshold.

Meanwhile, one nationalist group, the United Kingdom Independence Party, has refused to work with her. Like Le Pen, UKIP chief Nigel Farage has sought to position his party as sane moderates who happen to have an anti-E.U., anti-immigration bent. While he touts his party as mainstream, Le Pen’s National Front, he insists, is just faking it.

“Our view is that whatever Marine Le Pen is trying to do with the Front National, anti-Semitism is still imbedded in that party, and we’re not going to work with them now or at any point in the future,” Farage told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.

But even her critics concede that Le Pen has determinedly sought to distance herself from her controversial father and has made strides toward steering the party away from explicit racism. In October, the National Front ejected a mayoral candidate, Anne-Sophie Leclere, after she publicly compared France’s French Guiana-born justice minister, Christiane Taubira, to a monkey.

In fact, Le Pen is portraying the party as the best ally French Jews could have against a common enemy.

“Not only am I not anti-Semitic, but I have explained to my Jewish compatriots that the movement most able to protect them is the Front National,” she said. “For the greatest danger today is the rise of an anti-Semitism in the suburbs, stemming from Muslim fundamentalists.”

It seems to me the European nationalist right can be traced to two factors, the first being the economic distress in many southern and Eastern European countries. But that doesn't explain the rise of the right in Scandinavia or Britain.

What we're seeing, I think, is proof of the uncomfortable fact that as Robert Putnam reluctantly concluded, "[i]n the short to medium run, … immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital." It appears impossible to induce ethnically homogeneous societies like those in Europe to harmoniously integrate people from radically different cultural, religious, and educational backgrounds. The best we can hope for is a largely peaceful but not static-free co-existence. 

Another factor is the often-feckless response of the pro-diversity crowd. No matter how much outrage or sarcasm you direct at the latest racist comment from a Front National member, their message will still resound with millions of people. And this is where many European social democrats turn to counterproctive responses:

  1. lecturing voters who keep stubbornly voting for the "wrong" parties;
  2. even more patronizingly, searching for the 'real' reasons behind anti-immigrant sentiment; and/or
  3. blaming the 'rat-catchers' and 'demagogues' and 'populists' for 'fanning the flames' of anti-immigrant sentiment (as if were somehow dishonest to address your clientele's genuine concerns).

The approaches seem to posit that there might still be a way to 're-educate' ordinary Europeans to embrace diversity. If only we could get rid of the demagogues! If only we could find the perfect way to showcase the benefits of diversity! But I suspect lots of European voters say they don't like foreigners because they don't like foreigners. And they never will, no matter how often you remind them that they really, really should

I'm not sure this particular problem has a solution. But as long as anti-immigrant parties are in the minority, it probably doesn't need one. The vast majority of Europeans, whether they're uncomfortable with immigrants or not, are still unwilling to vote for parties whose main focus is immigrant-bashing. Preserving that status quo is probably the best Europe can do.