In the past two weeks, a soldier in London was beheaded by Islamic terrorists, a soldier near Paris was stabbed in the neck by an angry immigrant and immigrants rioted in Stockholm. As these events built, social media platforms lit up with exchanges on whether multiculturalism is starting to fail — or has already failed. At question are policies that bring in immigrants from Islamic nations to stave off population decline and associated economic calamities.
The issue, from what I have seen, is not that diverse peoples cannot live together in harmony. It is that diversity requires integration for long-term success. Many advocates of multiculturalism suggest that is is culturally insensitive or racist to require immigrants to learn a common language, adapt new societal norms in the new country and otherwise take part in the broader society. I believe the opposite is the case.
One of America’s current failings is that we are stepping backward in implementing Brown v. Board of Education. Integration doesn’t require busing children hours every day to different schools. But it does require that parents be able to choose their children’s school without being hamstrung by geography or race. It also means that schools need to be creative in developing integrating experiences that allow children (and perhaps their parents) to get to know people of different races and religions as real human beings.
Having worked in multi-national companies for many years, I came to know colleagues of all races, religions and nationalities — and to respect them as individuals. I believe fully in the value and richness that diversity brings. But I also believe that for people to live and work together successfully, they must share core principles and a common language to succeed. As an American of partially Irish heritage, it doesn’t take deep study of American history to know that it was not that long ago that No Irish Need Apply signs were a visible sign of hatred for Irish immigrants, or to recognize that the largest mass lynching murders were of Italian immigrants. It was only after these immigrants began to integrate into and contribute to broader society that animosity toward them waned.
Not everyone believes integration is possible. I wrote recently in a comment at CNN.com that my respect for diversity does not extend to individuals who believe they have the right to kill me because I don’t share their religion. One response back was that I have already failed if I respect diversity. In Twitter discussions, it is clear that many others fear people from groups based on the actions of individuals. Integration, in which we all get to know the broad cross-sections of America as people, is really the only long-term antidote.
A linked Q&A with Mishra Mrutyuanjai describes lessons learned in Sweden that must be considered as we reform our immigration policy. It is worth a few minutes to read.