Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On the lumpiness of nations and migrations and the importance of details

Over at the Middle East/North Africa-focused blog 'Aqoul, Matthew Hogan has an interesting post ("Class Demographics Explain Better MENA/Muslim Integration in USA?") that makes the point that comparisons between the levels of integration enjoyed or not enjoyed by Muslims in the United States and Europe are owing at least as much to the characteristics of the migrants as to the policies and attitudes of the receiving countries.

While I do enjoy a nice dose of American exceptionalism, and I do think it may apply here in some ways, let me nevertheless throw out a less nationalistic hypothesis on relative integration levels. I am too lazy and busy to find and crunch the appropriate numbers and surveys to confirm or refute it, but here it is: Could some of the relatively better Muslim/MENA integration in America be simply due to the fact that Muslim immigrants there have tended towards the educated professional and middle class, rather than being a large class of laborers as may be the case in lots of Europe?

Immigration-engendered social stress induced by large numbers of peasants coming up from the south is in the USA an issue associated with Mexican, and not Muslim and/or MENA, immigration. (There is no religious identity or practice fault-line, however, related to USA Mexican migration because Mexicans are typically Christians. The historic Catholic-Protestant divides of yesteryear's America and Greater Anglo-Saxonia have long since faded into insignificance.)

But on the issue of Mexican immigration, there is alot of overlap with European-type fears of Muslim/MENA immigration - namely the deeper fears engendered by the preceived phenomenon of lots-and-lots-of-brown-people-who-look-talk-and-act-funny-and-are-sucking-down-our-welfare-and-still-speaking-their-language-and-not doing-stuff-our-way.

But that type of fear may be less active where immigrants are more educated or entrepreneurial, thereby speaking the language well and living in (and selling to) mainstream communities. They also interact more frequently with different groups in the workplace. Such relative interaction seems to be the case of Muslim immigrants to the USA, many of whom came here to get an education and a profession, or start wholesale or retail-oriented businesses. They don’t manifest the isolation levels of MENA/Muslim immigrants in Europe, or Mexicans in North America for that matter.


Is this at all surprising?

National populations don't exhibit uniform demographic behaviours, with these instead varying according to such factors as ethnicity, region, class, or religion--East Germany within Germany is a perfect example of this. Migration is a notoriously "lumpy" phenomenon, depending critically on all manner of formal and informal links between sending and receiving areas, links which don't exist in the same way for different populations. One-third of the Mexican-born population in the United States was born in three west-central Mexican states (Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán) where only 15% of the Mexican population lives. A wildly disproportionate share of Japan's emigrants have come from the Ryukyu Islands, centered on Okinawa, virtually an independent state until the late 19th century. A disproportionate number of the Atlantic Canadian province of New Brunswick's Francophones (and perhaps Francophones elsewhere in Atlantic Canada) move to Québec. And yes, a disproportionate number of the immigrants to the United States from Muslim countries were professionals, while European countries which received immigrants explicitly recruited immigrants for unskilled labour.

When you're talking about population trends, it's very important to take note of the details. Without the details, any conclusions one might hope to reach will necessarily be flawed.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting and conceptually correct, except I think a bit overstated on the empirical question of the class status of ME/muslim immigrants to the USA. If you look closely at Arab immigrants in Brooklyn, Pakistani immigrants in Brooklyn, various muslim immigrants in northern virginia, etc, etc I think you will find quite a considerable number of working class immigrants, who still integrate better than Muslim immigrants in europe. OTOH they are less visible to white Americans than muslim immigrants in Europe, or latin Americans in the USA, so that could be important. But thats only if you think the native reaction to the immigrants is the main driver of poor integration in Europe.

Richard said...

Perhaps the Darwinian nature of American society with its sink or swim ethic and relatively non-existent welfare system compared to Europe, coupled with a greater distance from home, forces Muslim immigrants to integrate more rapidly.

Anonymous said...

I dispute the notion that Muslim immigrants and their offspring in the US are well-integrated. If you're a practicing Muslim in the US, there's an 80% chance you attend a Wahhabist-sponsored mosque (leaving out the question of the Nation of Islam). We have seen many cases of well-educated Muslims radicalized at home or at college here in the US. The only difference between the Muslim population in the US and those in Europe are the relative sizes. Once Muslims become more numerous in the US, we will have all the same trouble as in Europe.

Anonymous said...

The US barely get any muslim immigrants from their war adventures compared to Europe. Europe gets the Iraqis, the Afghans and so on bacause it is impossible for the traffickers to traffic them across the ocean to the US compared to driving through Turkey to Europe.

Richard said...

The US Arab population is disproportionately Christian. In fact, I beleive Arab-Americans are still majority Christian.

Oh, and "Anonymous", do you have anything like facts, etc. to substantiate your claim that 80% of practicing Muslims in the US attend Wahhabist-sponsored mosques?

Richard said...

BTW, I'm the second Richard, and a different Richard from the first Richard.