Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pursuing a better, smarter kind of immigrant?

Had an interesting discussion last week via the comments of this post with Razib Khan, who blogs prolifically at Gene Expression and elsewhere. It pertains to whether certain groups of immigrants (and Muslims in particular) are more problematic than others, and whether some kind of policy should be enacted to take this into account. I've included the comments below, after which I'll post some of my own thoughts. I've edited my own comments for length here.

(For the record, Razib is a Bangladeshi-American scientist. I assume he was raised as a Muslim but is now a passionate atheist. He's also considerably to the Right of me politically.)

Razib: whatever the details, i do think people need to be more cognizant of differences between various immigrant groups. muslims in particular, all things equal, are very problematic. specifically, i suspect a lot of the issues are pronounced in muslims from nations where they are a majority, and the culture mores as such that non-muslims are marginalized and "put in their place." muslims who are from india, often ismaili, are much more assimilated into british society than those from pakistan. some of this is due to human capital differentials (ismailis are often secondary migrants from east africa who had a history of being business people), but some of it is surely to the fact that ismailis in india have had to learn to fit in as one group among many, while muslims from pakistan come from a society where non-muslims are being cleansed and subject to de facto "jim crow" practices (because they are "dirty" kufars, with many christians and hindus being "low caste" to boot).


Eurasian Sensation: I do actually agree that Islam presents a challenge to multiculturalism in a way that [other, non-religion-specific] immigrant groups do not, since in its stricter interpretations it is incompatible with sharing a society with "kufar". However I also think that people who are Muslim have made valuable contributions to the fabric of my country. So having Muslim immigrants is not really the problem per se; it's how they are managed in their new home.
Razib: muslim immigrants from pakistan, unless appropriately sifted, *are* a problem. "moderates" in pakistan are not moderates like you and i would find congenial. moderates from turkey are less problematic. because of the influence and prestige of anti-pluralist muslim subcultures in the core of the arab world islam as a whole has a problem. if senegal was the model there wouldn't be a problem, but due to its marginality it's a deviation, not the expectation.

both racialists and multiculturalists elide these critical distinctions, because they make their positions easier to defend. after wall, who wants to defend a "crazy racist position" or the "crazy anti-white leftist position."

Eurasian Sensation: Your phrase "unless appropriately sifted" intrigues me. I'm opposed to racially discriminatory immigration policy, yet at the same time I want us to be more discerning in who we let in. How you do propose this sifting is done?

Razib: well, if you don't want to be culturally biased, filter on intelligence. real educational qualifications. the reality is that a lot of the most radical islamists are upwardly mobile, but their radicalism is in part a function of their lack of appropriate economic reward in societies where patronage and nepotism of entrenched elites keeps them from getting their just desserts

the main issue with education isn't that it makes people more liberal as such. *but*, if you are a professional it is almost impossible not to be socially integrated, and therefore see the "kufar" as a fellow human being (i.e., if they're your patients, clients, etc.).
that's why the working class pakistani proletariat in britain is terrifying. they live in their own subculture, and interact lot with "back home." and the amount of coddling they get from the british liberal mainstream is shocking. e.g., their persistent cousin marriage practices result in a genuine burden on the NIH way out of proportion to their numbers because of recessive diseases.


p.s on the last part about coddling. i went through britain last spring, and the working class pakistanis who adhere to conservative muslim values have their own place in that nation. it's accepted, tolerated, and encouraged. but they're nearly as sociopathological as the drunken british lower classes (in a different way). the white lower classes are not given the "space" that the pakistani working classes are, and that's because the latter are viewed as a "different culture," with "their own ways."


I don't really have any good solutions here but I'll throw out a few ideas. I'm speaking from an Australian perspective but the same roughly applies to other Western nations.

Immigration brings changes to any region or state, and like any phenomenon there will be both positive effects (added richness and dynamism to the culture, broadening of perspectives and opportunities, etc), and negative effects (environmental strain, ethnic tension, etc). There is no way to ensure that immigration has no negative aspects to it whatsoever. However, it would be negligent not to consider how migration and cultural integration policies could be improved to ensure that negative aspects can be minimised.
The general Left-Liberal position on immigration and diversity is this: that all races and cultures are basically equal. Given the right opportunities, anyone from any cultural background has the potential to succeed in a Western country.

It's an admirable perspective on things, based on a fairly optimistic view of human nature. But is it realistic? Obviously those on the Right would say no. The conservative point of view has long been that those of nationalities very different to the dominant ethnicity (in this case, Anglo-Saxon) are unlikely to be able to sufficiently integrate, and thus their immigration should be restricted.

The elephant in the room that the Left don't want to talk about and the Right often do is that some immigrant groups just don't perform as well as others on key indicators, and some seem far less likely to successfully integrate into the wider community than others. Some are over-represented in crime statistics.

In the Australian context, if we use crime rate as a key indicator, then a number of ethnicities have significantly higher rates of arrest and imprisonment than the locally-born. It's interesting to note that each of those ethnicities has it's own set of circumstances that impacts on crime rate, and it doesn't make a lot of sense to view it in terms of "race". For example, Vietnamese have a higher than average crime rate, yet the Chinese rate is considerably lower than average. The crime rate is high amongst Somalis and Sudanese, two communities based predominantly on refugees fleeing civil war; yet those Africans who migrated here under other schemes (Kenyans, Zimbabweans, Ghanaians, etc) tend to perform far better. This is primarily because they are more likely to be educated and professional, which echoes Razib's point about the educated being better equipped to integrate. Bear in mind as well that those who settle as refugees are more likely to have experienced trauma and have a broken family structure, and because of their poverty are more likely to live in areas in which the crime rate is already high.

Is the solution then simply to take only business migrants and reduce our refugee intake? I am certain that plenty would agree, but it's not an option in my book. Australia has a sometimes shaky record on asylum seekers, but few in politics would seriously look to make significant reductions to our humanitarian intake.

Here's one idea posited by commenter John Comnenus on the blog of Andrew Bolt, who is Australia's best-known conservative columnist. I have real problems with the implications of this, but it's an example of the sort of ideas that are out there:

In my opinion we should accept no migrants from countries that has a serious criminal incidence of more than 50% above the Australian level. The cost to the public in terms of victim costs, policing, justice and jailing means these groups fail the cost benefit test. Given that it is almost impossible to determine who will be a criminal we should have a blanket ban. Countries in this category are coloured dark red in the graph.

Immigrants ethnicity where the rate of serious criminality is more than 25% above the Australian born level should be subject to more detailed and thorough background checking. Countries in this group are coloured pink.
Countries in the gray zone i.e. within 10% of Australian norm should also have more detailed screening.
Australia’s immigration program should be heavily weighted to the countries in the green category, where the rate of criminality is less than half the Australian born rate. Over time such a policy will decrease crime rates, impact on fewer victims, cost less and leave a more positive view of immigration generally. It would make sure that immigration is being run in the national interest not the immigrants’ interest. The diversity in the green countries (China, India, UK) demonstrates unequivocally that this approach is NOT racist, it is colour blind without being behaviour blind.
Whether you like this plan or not is probably linked to your level of optimism about human nature and the prospects of those populations "levelling out" in terms of their crime rate, and immigration policy seems to assume that after some initial teething problems, crime issues within some of those key groups will normalise over time. If you're curious, the countries that Comnenus would exclude according to his plan are Tonga, Samoa, Romania, Sudan, Vietnam and Lebanon. Certainly those communities have produced more than their share of criminals, but they've also produced two Young Australians of the Year (Tan Le and Khoa Do), a former Premier of Victoria (Steve Bracks) and arguably Australia's greatest ever soccer player (Tim Cahill), to name just a few. Obviously, a few famous standouts are not representative of a whole community, but neither should an ethnic group be judged on the actions of its worst elements. And while crime is a serious issue, it doesn't define an entire community. Vietnamese-Australians, for example, have undergone a rapid transformation from a people mostly confined to blue-collar work in the 70s, to a highly-educated group strongly represented in professional fields. It tells you something about Comnenus and Bolt that their impression of Vietnamese-Australians seems to be predominantly as criminals.

Personally, I can't abide the idea of barring people from immigrating because of their race or where they came from. Most people would rightly regard that as racist. Of course, it's not an uncommon phenomenon, and it is really only Western democracies that believe it morally wrong to discriminate based on race. Japan, for example, has no problem doing so. While the introduction of such a policy would no doubt gain significant popular support in Australia, it would be so problematic and divisive that we are unlikely to see any such thing in the near future.

If we were to enforce a more rigid approach to immigration and settlement, it would have to be a non-racist one. Now, while I tend to despise the inevitable cries of "Send 'em back where they came from" anytime someone ethnic commits a crime, deportation does need to be a potential tool for deterring criminals. In some cases it would probably be the best option. Obviously taking up citizenship means that they becomine solely Australia's problem and exempt from deportation, but I'd even propose a "probationary" citizenship period of say, 3 years, in which it can be revoked in the event of serious crime or multiple minor crimes.

So what of the idea, suggested by Razib, of filtering on intelligence? It's an intriguing idea. At what IQ does one draw the line? 100? 90? Let's assume for a moment that this was practical; it still opens up a can of worms about how to measure intelligence, whether it is possible to make intelligence tests that are free of cultural bias, and whether someone with a high IQ must necessarily be a better contributor to society than someone with a low IQ.

It's fair to say that the majority of people involved in anti-social and criminal activities would be located in the low-to-average intelligence range. But it's also worthwhile mentioning that my discussion with Razib above focused largely on Muslims, and moderate vs fundamentalist. How does that equate with intelligence? As one of Razib's own posts details, there is a strong correlation between IQ and religiosity; the less intelligent are more likely to believe in the Bible (or presumably the Qur'an as the case may be) as the literal word of God, and to have a religiously conservative worldview. Higher IQ people tend more towards atheism, agnosticism and religious moderation, as well as liberal and moderate political views. But it should also be apparent that religion often negates rationality. I know numerous highly intelligent doctors who are Creationists. And the hardline Islamic lunar Right likewise seems to have a large number of articulate and intelligent people.

So would IQ-screening filter out all the dangerous nuts and extremists? Of course not. But extremism nonetheless requires a fairly ignorant base to work out of. If you accept that there is a correlation between IQ and social class, and between social class and the likelihood of being a criminal, then there is definitely an argument for testing immigrants for intelligence. In theory, anyway.

I don't ever see it being a reality. It might be feasible to apply such a test to economic migrants, but it's highly problematic to make someone fleeing torture, persecution and ethnic cleansing sit an IQ test in order to be granted safe haven. Likewise, is discriminating against the less intelligent (or more pertinently, those who don't perform well on IQ tests) really that much better than discriminating against someone because of their race? There are plenty of working-class folks who would bomb out on an IQ test, yet run their own businesses, employ many other people, and contribute greatly to society.


So beyond some minor tweaking of immigration controls we have now, there may be little else that may be done to guarantee we are letting in the right kind of migrant, at least without contravening some of our basic principles of fairness and equality. Thus it becomes essential that the right kinds of social policies are enacted to encourage an integrated society.

Is multiculturalism the problem? That largely depends on your interpretation of what that term means. "Culture" encompasses a whole list of things both good and bad, and it is possible to have a society made up of many ethnicities, yet firmly reject some of the practices that they may bring with them. Examples are polygamy, female genital mutilation and forced marriage, which occur in a wide variety of cultures worldwide; these are all outlawed in Australia, yet they are still tacitly accepted by some communities and thus persist covertly. As important as it is to respect and accommodate everyone's cultural perspectives, this can only go so far, and some things must be unequivocally rejected. (And in many cases, are rejected; for example, the consumption of dogs, cats and parts of endangered animals is all part of Chinese culture, but that is unlikely to be considered acceptable in the West, ever.)

I'll return to the topic of Islam. As I stated earlier, I agree with Razib that Muslim immigrants present a greater challenge to the fabric of society than other immigrant groups. Yet it is essential to distinguish between moderate and hardline here. The great majority of Muslims in the West are moderate and fit in without any major problems. Moderate Muslims realise that certain aspects of their religion are incompatible with modern life and can be conveniently ignored (in the same way that mainstream Christians don't adhere to the bit in the Bible where it says anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death). But of course, in any religious population there are hardliners, and Muslim hardliners tend to be a whole lot more worrying than Buddhist hardliners or Christian hardliners. Even without taking into account the potential threat of violence, Islam in its stricter interpretations makes it virtually impossible to integrate into a Western society, since it mandates separation from non-Muslims. A sensible government policy creates conditions in which the hardliners are marginalised to the point of insignificance; poor government policy allows hardline ideas to flourish and infect the moderate religious population.

Razib rightly points out that the UK stacks up poorly in this respect, whereas Australia, the US and Canada  seem to have done somewhat better. Surveys seem to indicate that young British Muslims are actually more conservative than their parents' generation, and more conservative than their counterparts in the other Anglophone countries. For example, one indicator of extreme views is whether a person believes that apostates (those who abandon Islam) should be punished by death. According to this Pew Research Centre study, 84% of Egyptian Muslims and 76% of Pakistani Muslims agree with this, whereas in Turkey, Lebanon and Indonesia this was the view of only 5%, 6% and 30% respectively. Yet amongst British Muslims aged 16-24, according to this article, 36% believe in the death penalty for apostasy. 13% of young British Muslims expressed support for Al-Qaeda, compared to only 5% in Turkey. (I'm not saying I put total faith in these surveys - the figure for Indonesia seems high to me - but that's what we have to work with.) In other words, despite their proximity to Western liberal values which emphasise freedom and tolerance for diversity, Britain is breeding a generation of young Muslims that is more extreme than numerous countries which are almost entirely Muslim. It is telling that Umar Abdulmutallab (aka the Underwear Bomber) acquired his extremist mentality not in his native Nigeria, but while studying at University College in London.

If Turkey (99% Muslim) can apparently be so much more progressive and secular than Britain's Islamic community, then it shows that the presence of Muslims does not mean extremism; it is the culture of that society that allows extremism to flourish. I'm not going to proclaim Turkey as any kind of champion of human rights and tolerance, but it has steadfastly maintained a moderate interpretation of Islam which has little room for extremism. So how has Britain managed to nurture a Muslim community where extreme beliefs are allowed to fester?

To an extent it is because Westen countries draw their Muslim migrants from some places with far more medieval attitudes than Turkey. But largely it is because multiculturalism is often too tolerant of intolerance - or at least a certain kind of intolerance. The age of political correctness has rightly turned white people's xenophobia into a taboo, yet it has too often given non-whites (or non-Christians) a free pass. Western governments' tolerance has allowed some mosques to import imams from overseas to preach violent and intolerant versions of Islam, and often thrown in the funding to do it with, all in the name of diversity. In Britain, crazed Islamist activist Anjem Choudry is allowed to publicly endorse terrorism and violence while picking up a social security cheque from the same government he so despises.

I'm firmly in support of a society in which all ethnic groups and religions can intermingle. But that only works if those various groups are prepared to play along. Expecting white Australians to embrace and accept cultural diversity is hollow if migrant groups are patronisingly viewed as exempt from having to be tolerant. Multiculturalism as fine with me only so long as it doesn't forget this.

7 comments:

  1. The general Left-Liberal position on immigration and diversity is this: that all races and cultures are basically equal.

    what does "equal" mean? in modern/western societies the idea of equality before the law is accepted as a given. but that does not mean that people are equal in all characteristics.

    interesting post. i appreciate that you actually put some thought into it, and addressed those who disagree with you, instead of glibly striking a vacuous morally superior pose. that's the lefty inversion of right-wing boorish xenophobia.

    Likewise, is discriminating against the less intelligent (or more pertinently, those who don't perform well on IQ tests) really that much better than discriminating against someone because of their race?

    clearly we view different types of discrimination differently. if saudi arabia treated blacks like they treated women, or shia, how do you think the world would react? discrimination based on race is perceived to be particular onerous, while that of sex and religion is not looked upon favorably, but is tolerated. of course saudia arabia, and many muslim nations, believe that discrimination on sex and religion *is* merit-worthy. that's a difference of values.

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  2. oh, and for the record. yes, i was "raised" muslim...though i never believed any of that superstitious crap. i've been self-consciously atheist since age 8.

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  3. "clearly we view different types of discrimination differently. if saudi arabia treated blacks like they treated women, or shia, how do you think the world would react? discrimination based on race is perceived to be particular onerous, while that of sex and religion is not looked upon favorably, but is tolerated. of course saudia arabia, and many muslim nations, believe that discrimination on sex and religion *is* merit-worthy. that's a difference of values."

    It's interesting that you bring up sex discrimination here, because I think that the fundamental values that separate "modern", "progressive" societies from the Saudi Arabias and Afghanistans of this world, predominantly come down to the level of freedom for women.

    I think that if Western liberal democracies have to draw the line anywhere between which cultural practices we can and cannot accept, it's here. Equal rights for women are non-negotiable. Particularly because the more freedom a culture grants to women, the better it tends to perform in terms of other social indicators too.

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  4. It's interesting that you bring up sex discrimination here, because I think that the fundamental values that separate "modern", "progressive" societies from the Saudi Arabias and Afghanistans of this world, predominantly come down to the level of freedom for women.

    perhaps. my own position that is that "modern" societies have regressed to a pre-neolithic state. hunter-gatherers aren't sex egalitarian in that men and women are interchangeable, but there tends to be a lack of powerful "bands of brothers" who control women as if they were property in these societies. e.g., in hunter-gatherer societies sexual "indiscretions" by women are sources of inter-personal conflict, as you'd expect them to be, but they aren't capital crimes. that only emerges in "traditional" societies where small coteries of powerful men, often related, monopolize property and access to women, and must safeguard the legitimacy of their lineage.

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  5. Equal rights for women are non-negotiable.

    well, then welcome to the clash of civilizations :-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Declaration_on_Human_Rights_in_Islam#Criticism

    The CDHRI could be criticized for falling short of international human rights standards by distinguishing different fundamental equality of men and women (Art 6) and for permitting killing according to Sharia law (Art 2A).

    for the record, i believe in sex differences, and as a practical matter think that social conservatives who argue for "traditional" roles for women aren't necessarily being "repressive." i think some liberal feminist women confuse their own preferences for those of *all* women (just as not all men want to be "heads of the household"). but, this should be something that emerges from free choice, and not legal fiat, or excessive social pressure.

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  6. i appreciate that you actually put some thought into it, and addressed those who disagree with you, instead of glibly striking a vacuous morally superior pose. that's the lefty inversion of right-wing boorish xenophobia.

    I think anyone, Left or Right, should be able to consider any issue on its merits. To just go along with the views of one's tribe is just too easy and it is intellectually lazy. Only a fool believes the other side of the political spectrum has nothing worth considering.

    clearly we view different types of discrimination differently. if saudi arabia treated blacks like they treated women, or shia, how do you think the world would react? discrimination based on race is perceived to be particular onerous, while that of sex and religion is not looked upon favorably, but is tolerated.

    I get your point, but it's worth remembering that Sudan oppressed it's black population for many years and the world didn't care until it turned into a major conflict. The world sadly only really cares when there is a material interest at stake, or the atrocities reach a level at which they can no longer be ignored.

    I'd also add that in Sudan, as in your hypothetical Saudi example, it would slip under the radar because Arabs are not really "white" in the way that Rhodesians and Afrikaners are. Sad, really.

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  7. sudan's racism is like latin american racism, not american jim crow or south africa. many of the oppressors are almost the same race as the oppressors and there are shades of difference. only a very small minority of arab sudanese could pass as white. in contrast, the substantial majority of lebanese can. sudanese arabs are referred to as "abd," the insulting term for black, when it go to other parts of the arab world. as you suggest, when colored person oppresses other colored person, that doesn't rise to the same level of objection as when white oppresses non-white. whites are held to a higher moral standard. why that is, well, i'll leave that to another day....

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