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Who are you callin' unassimilated?

August 22, 2010, 8:36 am

Douthat gets some pushback on his earlier post concerning assimilation.   His argument was simply that he thinks that bigotry can be justified because it, like procedural liberalism, helps immigrants assimilate.  It looks bad when you state it like that without running it through the pomposity generator, so he’s stepped back a bit.  He wants to draw a distinction between ugly bigotry and positive nativist sentiment, but he concedes that such a distinction is fuzzy and in practice hard to draw, and because he thinks the alternative is European-style assimilation, where no one says anything politically incorrect and immigrants fail to assimilate, better to err on the side of nativist sentiment, which he admits is going to be occasionally indistinguishable from bigotry.

A couple of quick responses.  First, while it’s hard to generalize about all of Europe, surely one thing to note is that in many cases the laws of the state are not conducive to assimilation; there is no birthright citizenship in many countries, differences in religious toleration and freedom of speech, differences in attitudes toward the official language.  It’s a cute move, but it’s a lot to pin on multicultural squishiness.  (The fact that none of these countries take themselves to be composed of immigrant populations that forge a national identity also seems to be relevant.)

Even if we grant Douthat’s claim that bigotry has a causal role in assimilation, that’s far from a moral justification of it.  For one, it doesn’t work to cause assimilation, rather than expulsion, unless there’s a structure in place that permits the immigrants to flourish, say by getting educated and practicing their religion, despite the bigotry.    Second, there are lots of bad things that have good effects, and that’s not normally sufficient to establish that the bad things should be pursued, especially when the good things (assimilation) are barely even side effects of the purpose of the bad things (no Irish need apply.)  He also continually indicates that he thinks of assimilation as the minority culture dropping everything that the dominant culture finds offensive, but historically, assimilation also works just as much by the dominant culture changing.  What’s more American than spaghetti and meatballs?  Or football?

The final point is simply that most American Muslims are already assimilated just fine.  Education, hard work, like their communities. Rauf’s had a mosque in New York City for twenty-seven years.   He has more invested in NYC that most of the commentators. Douthat picks examples here and there to show that Rauf is not moderate enough and that the burden of proof should be on Muslims to assimilate by proving they’re not dangerous, that they’re sensitive, and that collective responsibility (“at your father’s mosque, someone who wasn’t you said that Israel bore some responsibility for 9/11 nine years ago…”) is good what to force assimilation.   I could argue that he’s cherrypicking his examples, because Rauf is moderate and invested in exactly the sort of program to create a moderate American Islam that Douthat says he wants.

But instead I’ll note that what we have here isn’t a force for assimilation, but exclusion, because he’s telling a group that no matter how much they believe in hard work and blue jeans and making money like everyone else, they’re going to face extra scrutiny whenever they want to exercise their Constitutional rights, a scrutiny that doesn’t apply to Catholics whose spokesmen argue that the real problem with the sex abuse scandal is the negative attention heaped on the Church (“At your mother’s church, a priest argued that the real reason the media cared about the sex abuse scandal was due to secular humanism, so before you form this chapter of Pax Christi at a school…”), a standard that doesn’t apply to churches arguing that the murder of abortion clinic doctors is justifiable homicide, a standard that doesn’t apply to anyone except… Muslims.

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