Separate But Equal
November 12, 2008
11:16 AM CDT
A German Kurd looks at “parallel” societies within a single country:
The largest group in Germany with an immigrant background – after the Aussiedler or ethnic German resettlers – are the Turks, who were once recruited as guest workers and, unlike many Portuguese, Spanish and Greek economic migrants, did not return to their native country. These people of Turkish origin have now lived in this country for half a century. That would be a success story in itself if the following problem did not exist: many of them are not culturally, religiously, economically, socially or politically integrated. That creates an atmosphere of mutual critical scrutiny. Many issues have been debated in Germany – from the smell of garlic that allegedly wafts from housing blocks where the majority of tenants are from the Orient and how to tie a headscarf so that it doesn’t allow ambiguous assumptions about someone’s loyalty to the constitution and democracy to ethical controversies about specific slaughtering methods that are traditional in some cultures. Nevertheless, there is no subject that people argue about more passionately than Islam. All in all, you could say that although these debates have been vigorously and tirelessly conducted, people still haven’t really got to know one another even after 50 years. That applies to both sides. We stand on the threshold of the others’ home, as it were, but know nothing about them apart from their name. You may consider that good, you may consider that bad; there are equally good arguments for ignorance as there are for interest.
Here’s what I know: nothing creates friction within a society more quickly, or more certainly, than separate-but-equal mini-societies, who do not share a common language, culture, religion or worldview.
It is, despite the writer’s example of Israel, a recipe for failure. (Israel can have a divided society because it allows its security apparatus a degree of freedom unknown in the West.)
Now, I’m not suggesting some monolithic all-or-nothing nation: far from it. Monolithic cultures, and people who advocate them, tend to lead to State-sponsored activities like public beheadings, extermination camps and mass resettlement/expulsion of “the others”.
But there has to be some kind of glue, some common ground, or else humans, by nature, will always be suspicious of “the others”. This is a genetic impulse which is so deeply implanted in the human psyche as to be fundamental, and not capable of change.
So: what common ground, then?
Religion is pointless—too many imaginary friends, too much subjectivity, and (such as in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states), too much fertile ground for oppression.
Culture is essentially a meaningless basis for a society, especially in a nation of immigrants such as ours, or in a world which has become far smaller since civilization (and its corollary, mechanical progress) increased. We are, in essence, made richer by diverse cultures in a society, as long as one does not exist to the exclusion of the other, or another does not nullify the country’s principle culture.
Language. This is it. Unless people can talk to each other and be understood, there is absolutely no way that hostility and enmity can be prevented, and there is no way that people can come together. And note that I’m not supporting language chauvinism such as has been practiced in France over the years: that way ultimately ends up stultifying not only progress, but the society as a whole. The Language Police are little different, in their rigidity, than the Religious Police.
Note too that I’m not suggesting that retail stores, for example, be disallowed from speaking to their customers in any language they choose—but I am insisting that government should use one, and only one language to communicate with its citizens. (I don’t care, for example, if Mexican immigrants can’t read an IRS form. Call it a “spur to learning”, if you will.) In the long run, while accommodation to non-English-speakers may sound high-minded or even polite, it will end up doing more permanent harm than the temporary inconvenience caused by its opposite policy.
There’s more, of course, a lot more, but that would do for a start.
The very existence of nation-states creates the basis for “parallel societies”—but to create a microcosm of that situation within a nation will simply bring the global turmoil and enmity to people’s front door, instead of keeping it outside the borders.