Welcome, Sturdy, Sober, Hard-Working Danes! (Other Danes Need Not Apply)

Viking-demo1

Tyler Cowen reviews a new book calling into question Scandinavian welfare states as a model for the world, and working out its implications for immigration policy:

Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish policy analyst and president of European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, has recently published a book called "Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism." And while the title may be overstated, his best facts and figures are persuasive. 

For instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism....
 
For one thing, Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population. For instance, data on Danish migrants from 1868 to 1900 show that laborers were underrepresented in the group and artisans and craftsmen were overrepresented by a factor of two. It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection.  And there is a growing literature showing that the cultural traits of migrants can persist to some degree for generations in their new countries....

Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English. 

Open borders wouldn't attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.

How's this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam's.

A few observations: Simple one-to-one comparisons of Danish to American living standards are not very meaningful, because even if Americans make more money, they have higher living expenses. They have to pay for (or do without) many things a Scandinavian welfare state provides for free or subsidized. How exactly do you calculate the effect on living standards of guaranteed paid parental leave, health insurance, pre-school education, and public transportation so effective that nobody has to buy a car?

That aside, though, notice the argument Cowen is making. Cowen is a professor of economics, a centrist with libertarian tendencies, and an interesting blogger. Being libertarian, he tends to be in favor of immigration in general. Economists tend to like many kinds of immigration, because it fosters economic growth and comparative advantage and those sorts of things.

But since Cowen is a pragmatic American, he accepts two arguments as so obvious as to need no elaboration. First, that immigration should favor the talented and intelligent. The Danes America got are doing well in America because they come from a successful culture, and because they were some of the most enterprising people in that culture. Second, he notes that immigration policy should obviously not attract people "who want to live off welfare". (Also, note that he uses the word "selection" in reference to getting better Danes. The German version of this word, Selektion, is thermonuclear-level verboten in Germany because it was the term used for the process of determining which new arrivals at Nazi death camps would be selected for immediate death, and which would be put to work).

Both of these arguments will immediately be disputed in European Urban Haute Bourgeois circles. Trust me, I know from personal experience. European urban elites who have liberal-arts educations are educated in hothouses of deontological thinking, in which experiences and policies should be evaluated according to abstract universal principles of humanism. In this view, selecting immigrants is denounced as elitist, as ignoring the "sacred principle" of human equality, as treating some persons as more inherently valuable than others, and as implicitly asserting the supposed "superiority" of Western culture.

Discouraging welfare tourism is denounced for similar reasons. Also, you often encounter the notion that Europeans have no "right" to live in comparative safety and prosperity, and therefore have no legitimate objection to foreigners coming to their country and living off state assistance their entire lives. What are you trying to say, that Joseph from Cameroon somehow has less right to live off German welfare than Josef from Dibbersen? Both are human beings, both have the same entitlement to inviolable human dignity, and therefore both must be treated equally by the welfare state. You didn't choose which country you were born in, so how is it fair for you to reap the incalculable privileges of being born in a place like Germany as opposed to, say, Zimbabwe?

To which the average Brit or American (but not Peter Singer) responds: What's all this bosh? These arguments may have abstract appeal in a seminar room, but as guides for formulating policy in a Western democracy, they're useless, not even wrong. Principles are all well and good, but they're hardly a guide to practical policy-making. Favoring skilled immigrants is legal, proper, does not violate any mutual obligations we may owe to others, and benefits us. Same with making sure foreign welfare cases don't burden our system, which is designed for our people. And no, we think the notion that making sure our welfare system helps our people is not only proper, but that it's the only remotely sane approach. And we feel no need to justify or explain these views. As Disraeli said, "Never complain, never explain."

This, gentle readers, is one of the most fascinating and enduring differences between the mindset of the educated elites of the English-speaking world and those of continental Europe.


The U.S. Is Much Less Xenophobic Than Europe

Foreigner poll

Here's another cultural difference to add to the others.

If you believe it's a good thing for a country to have a generally positive attitude toward diversity, then you must acknowledge that the USA is morally superior to any European country. European elites overwhelmingly think diversity is a good thing, which makes the results of this survey problematic to them. How can a country which embodies so many things they disapprove of 'score' so well on a value they desperately wish their countrymen shared?

If you're neutral on that question, as I am, this is just an interesting difference. Doubtless the main factor here is that the US is a nation of immigrants, while European nations all have native traditions and populations and thick, deep cultures and identities.

 


Arab World Fails in Mental Health Care, Germany Chooses to Pay the Price

Reutknife
A Syrian refugee in Reutlingen, apparently upset about relationship troubles, hacked a 45-year-old woman to death with a 40-cm döner kebab knife. He then ran shrieking through the city, hacking at other people with the knife, until a man in a BMW ran him over and brought the rampage to an end. Although only in Germany for a year, the accused killer had been in trouble with the police before for drug, property, and violent crimes (g). Early reports about the 27-year-old Syrian rejected asylum seeker who blew himself up in Ansbach, injuring a dozen other people, indicate he had a history of mental illness and had twice attempted suicide.

This is not normal behavior, even for people who (may) have withstood trauma. And this sort of behavior doesn't just crop up one day out of nowhere. It's a good bet both of these men displayed behavior problems back home, although given taboos and the language barrier, it will probably be hard to find out precise facts.

As I've argued before on this blog, it seems that among the hugely disproportionate numbers of random young males Germany allowed to wander across the border last year, there's a disproportionate number of violent, mentally ill young men. The reasoning could hardly be simpler: If you have 5 children, 3 of whom are men, and 2 of those men have jobs and/or families, who are you going to send to Germany to try to set down an anchor there and start the chain migration which, your hope, might one day allow your whole family to resettle? Two of your sons are founding families and/or generating income to support you, so losing them would be a problem. But what about your 18-year-old son, who has always seemed a bit 'off', who says odd things or deals drugs or has a nasty temper or sometimes talks to himself?

One of the reasons families might be eager to off-load family members with mental illnesses is because mental health care in the Arab world is totally inadequate

The Arab world is taken to mean the 22 members of the Arab League, accounting for 280 million people. The region has the largest proportion of young people in the world: 38% of Arabs are under 14. Life expectancy has increased by 15 years over the past three decades, and infant mortality has dropped by two-thirds. Around 12 million people, or 15% of the labor force, are unemployed. The quality of education has recently deteriorated, and there is a severe mismatch between the labor market and the education system. Adult illiteracy rates have declined, but are still very high: 65 million adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women. Some 10 million children still have no schooling at all.

The health expenditure estimated as a percentage of gross domestic product is highest in Palestine (13.5%), followed by Lebanon (8.8%), Jordan and Djibouti (8.5%) and Egypt (6.4%) . Health services in all Arab countries are provided by public (government) and private sector facilities and out of pocket (this last category representing 63.4% of the total in Sudan, 58.7% in Egypt, 58% in Yemen, 56.1% in Morocco and 54.9% in Syria). In some countries insurance systems contribute to the provision of the service. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come to be recognized as an important actor in the provision of health services, especially in countries with internal instability (in particular, Lebanon in late 1980s and Palestine now).

The mental health expenditure as a percentage of total health expenditure is not available in most Arab countries and not reported by the officials. Only three Arab countries have provided an estimate: Qatar (1%), Egypt (less than 1%) and Palestine (2.5%)....

Currently, most of the Arab countries are exposed to conflicts, wars, terrorism and fundamentalism, which may be the seeds for many behavioral and mental disorders.

Cultural beliefs of possessions and the impact of sorcery or the evil eye affect interpretation of mental symptoms. In this context, the first resort for the families of mental patients is not even the general practitioner, but the traditional healers, who acquire a special importance because of their claim of dealing with the “mystical” and the “unknown”. In the majority of Arab countries there is no interaction between the medical profession and the traditional healers. In Jordan, there is some kind of a relationship, which remains informal and unorganized. In Saudi Arabia, however, they constitute part of the staff, using religious text and recitation in management.

In conclusion, our data show that, in the Arab world, health and education budget assignment is below the recommended requirements far better quality of life. The budget allowed for mental health as a percentage from the total health budget, in the few countries where information is available, is far below the range to promote mental health services. The mental health human resources and the inefficient data collection by the official agencies are incompatible with the gross domestic product of Arab countries. An appeal for implementing mental health in primary care as stipulated as a policy in many Arab countries and to prioritize mental health in the agenda of politicians is urgently needed.

In the close kin-network and community you live in, your son already notorious as a problem child and/or petty criminal and/or target of a curse or evil eye, so he cannot find a job and isn't a suitable match for an arranged marriage. At home, he can do nothing but cause problems for your family. Abroad, nobody knows about his past, and he'll have a chance for a fresh start. 

As long as there's a country there offering a welcome and housing and education and money to any random young male who makes it across their borders, what's there to lose? Even the $5,000 for a smuggler isn't that much of a sacrifice, since you will no longer have that mouth to feed, and will no longer have to stay up at night worrying about what your unstable, unpredictable family black sheep might do tomorrow. And if he lands in prison or a mental hospital in Germany, everyone knows those are quite comfortable in comparison with similar institutions anywhere else in the world.  And maybe the change will do him good, he'll establish himself, and bring you to join him! What is $5,000 against the priceless prospect of being able to relocate most of your family to a nation which is infinitely more stable and secure than where you live?

More stable and secure for now, that is...


Europe Doesn't Have Private Charities for Refugees

 
Non-Europeans can't understand the immigration debate in Europe without recognizing a key fact: Every single migrant who enters a (Northern) European country and files an asylum claim is immediately entitled to state-funded housing, healthcare, and education, plus a monthly cash stipend and child benefit. And is automatically legally entitled to all these things indefinitely, no matter what.
 
If they eventually get to the point where they are employable and then turn down suitable jobs, the benefits may be reduced. But never eliminated. Since the vast majority of migrants arrive not speaking the native language, and a large percentage never learn it to proficiency, all immigrants will be welfare cases for at least 10-15 years, and many will never stop being welfare cases.
 
In many Western countries, including the U.S. refugees are sponsored and funded by a public-private mix of government (which does the screening), and private charities, often religious in nature, who find housing and aid in integration. This doesn't happen to anywhere near the same extent in Europe. In Europe, private charities operate on a much smaller scale, since they have essentially been frozen out by state welfare. Religious charities run by the major established churches usually have significant government involvement. As the chart above shows, Germany has a comparatively small private charity sector. It's about the OECD average, but it's worth remembering that the OECD includes a lot of countries much poorer than Germany. 
 
So every migrant let into the country who possesses no job skills immediately begins costing the state money. And lots of migrants cost lots of money. Germany is now spending an amount on refugee welfare that exceeds its annual federal education budget. It is spending almost €3 billion per year (g) just caring for 65,000 unaccompanied minor migrants.
 
Denmark has similar policies to Germany's. Which brings us to Daham Al Hasan, his three wives, and his twenty children: 
In Denmark these days, Daham Al Hasan is making headlines. He has twenty children with three wives, but two years ago fled alone from Syria to Denmark, and left his wives and children behind. Recently, under the Danish rules of family unification, one of his wives and eight of his children have joined him in Denmark. But Al Hasan wants all his children with him, as well as all his wives. He has been granted permission for nine additional children to join him, but as Denmark does not allow polygamy, the two remaining wives, under the same rules of family unification, are not permitted to join him. Lawyers, however, estimate that the remaining wives will also be able independently to join their children in Denmark, once they are there.
The case has caused rather a shock in Denmark, not only because of the extraordinary size of the family, and what it will cost the Danish state just in child allowance, but because Al Hassan claims that he is too ill to work or even to learn Danish. "I don't only have mental problems, but also physical problems", he says by way of explanation, "My back and my legs hurt." He has admitted that his "mental illness" consists of missing the children he voluntarily left behind. This means that he and his family live exclusively off the Danish taxpayers' money.

Schwarzenbek: One of the 13,816 New Epicenters of the Migrant Crisis

Schwarzenbek, Germany. Never heard of it before? Neither had I. But it does have an English Wikipedia page:

Schwarzenbek is a town in the district of Lauenburg, in Schleswig-Holstein,Germany. It is situated approximately 10 km northeast of Geesthacht, and 35 km east of Hamburg. Schwarzenbeks' coat of arms shows a black wolf on a yellow field, beneath the wolf, the water symbolizes the river Schwarze Beke (meaning Black Creek).

It's probably a typical North German village, with red-brick churches, quaint ivy-encrusted row-houses, and lots of tea drinkers. 15,000 inhabitants.

But then 78 migrant families, mostly Syrian and Afghan, arrived. They were sent to the middle of nowhere by the German migrant resettlement plan, the so-called Königsteiner Agreement, which is intended to spread the burden of resettlement evenly and prevent the creation of ghettos.

All the children had to be packed into Schwarzenbek's school system, which had to expand German as a Second Language classes. And a group of between 8 and 15 migrant boys, depending on whom you ask, are harassing and beating (g) the other children. Severely enough to inflict bruises and scrape wounds. Parents are reporting that their children are afraid to go to school. Nobody can figure out exactly why the boys are doing this, since they speak no German. But all the victims mentioned in the article are girls.

Of course, in rural areas of the third world, this sort of behavior would probably be countered by giving the boys a solid beating. Assuming, of course, that the boys' behavior was seen as a problem at all. But Germany's not that kind of country, so instead school authorities have called the parents in for 'discussions'. Not right away, of course -- they had to wait two weeks for Arabic and Dari/Pashto translators to arrive first. I can imagine those translators have their work cut out for them, traveling to one remote hamlet after another.

Parents have complained: "Principal Andreas Hartung did not try to minimize the problem, but asked the parents for patience: 'Give us time.' A new employee tasked with social integration has only been at the school for two weeks." Given that Schwarzenbek prides itself on being a stable bedroom community, parents weren't expecting their children being terrorized by gangs of foreigners at school. That's why they don't live in Hamburg.

Meanwhile, according to the former chair of the roundtable Willkommenskultur, Christoph Ziehm, the mood in the town is threatening to change. Enraged parents are posting Facebook comments, some with racist overtones, about their experiences. Although the chairman says it's regrettable that a minority of children are besmirching the reputation of the majority who cause no problems, he also agrees that integrating these very foreign foreigners is a "major social problem" and says: "When it comes to the subject of equal rights for women, Syrian families are fifty years behind us, and Afghans are eighty."

And that comes from the chief proponent of Willkommenskultur.

Meanwhile, similar scenes are no doubt occurring in thousands of towns and villages across Germany. Stay tuned.


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."


Migrant Children in Germany: "We Love Hitler!"

Ask any German who's lived in the Arab world for a while and interacted with normal people, and you will almost always hear of Arabs who admire, even love Adolf Hitler. Some of the ones I know even stopped identifying themselves as Germans in conversation, to avoid that blood-chilling moment when their conversation partner would say: 'Adolf Hitler very good man! Hero!' It has happened to me -- and not just in Arab countries -- when I identified myself as German to avoid getting into long conversations about American foreign policy.

But of course it's not just an Arab problem by any stretch. It happened to me most recently on a park bench in downtown Sofia, Bulgaria, where a man who borrowed a cigarette from me started chatting and revealed that he had once lived and worked in Germany but his work permit had been revoked because 'the Jews up there' didn't want more 'Christian Bulgarians' in the country. I was tempted to try to enlighten him, but really, where do you even begin with a comment like that?

Remember, we are not talking about the 15-20% of the educated elite of these societies, who either understand the evil of Hitler or know enough not to discuss the issue with foreigners. We are talking about ignorant or illiterate people. Their views are shaped by attitudes passed down through generations (and either tolerated or encouraged by their governments) and never challenged by an educated person.

But that doesn't mean we have to let these backward prejudices into Germany. Commenter KS brings a report from the front lines of migrant education in Germany right now which I thought worthy of hoisting to the main page: 

When I finished school in 2005, I travelled around some time in Egypt and Jordan and I was astonished by the fact, that the old-fashioned anti-semitism, that I only knew from history books, creepy internet-pages and grandma's honest moments, was pretty much political mainstream in these countries. Including the admiration of Hitler. (I mean, I expected some hatred towards Israel - but the arguments about filthy, conspiring jews were an exact copy of European anti-semitism.) Today I work as a teacher in a class in which pupils, who just came to Germany, learn the German language, before they can attend the regular classes.

Last week I taught about German history. Now my pupils were astonished by the fact, that Germany doesn't admire Hitler anymore. "Aber alle lieben Hitler!" ("But everyone loves Hitler!") was one of the reactions, by a Macedonian boy with a christian-orthodox background by the way. Two boys from Syria applauded him. So I asked politely (to get an honest reaction): "Wer von euch liebt Hitler?" ("Who of you loves Hitler?") Five out of eleven children raised their hands: the two guys from Syria (Kurdish Muslims), two Macedonians (Christian-Orthodox) and one guy from Somalia (Muslim). The children who didn't raise their hands were Roma and two boys from Portugal.

It's hard to imagine anything more depressing than young children taught to admire Hitler, isn't it? Now you could look at this as a glass-half-full optimist: at least these kids will be able to escape the miasma of ignorance and prejudice that poisons their countries of origin (and helps explain why their countries of origin have so many problems). At least they'll escape it while they're in school. Certain schools, that is. At home is a different story.

And I would agree with you, to a point. But an intensive re-education program requires significant resources. It might well work with 10,000, 20,000 or even 50,000 fresh migrants. But with 800,000+? And the millions who will follow thanks to family reunification? Not a chance. If policies don't change quickly, Germany may end up importing millions of new residents -- 3-4% of its entire population -- who despise Jews and admire Hitler.

I think that's a serious public-policy issue that should be openly and frankly debated right now, don't you?