Out Of The Past 3

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.


  1. When I moved to Germany in 1974 I learned the frustration of not being able to communicate with others. So I automatically set about fixing that. I did NOT start whining that others should accommodate me, after all, I was in their house, not the other way around. It was difficult and I never became a “native” but I did become conversational and able to read and write their language also. Not an expert, but well enough to get by. I only lived there a little over 3 years. If I had stayed I would have continued my effort.

    I can’t imagine why anyone else would not try to learn the language and customs of their newly adopted country. Why would anyone insist in making their own life more difficult by not learning the language?

  2. We Americans speak the same language as the gentry leftists and it doesn’t seem to help. It may even make things worse. I have more in common with a 2nd generation Mexican immigrant than I do with leftists from Silicon Valley or virtually any university.

    I think it is culture and that it is going to take some adjustment of the concept of the nation if we are not to have a civil war.

  3. You screwed up and tripped over your shadow right off the starting blocks Kim. So badly, in fact, that this is one post you probably should have left in the past.

    We can argue about imaginary friends – or rather, you can, my relationship with my Maker doesn’t require your approval or acceptance, and He will deal with you as He sees fit; same as He does with me. Like you, only a short while ago, I would have agreed that religion was about controlling people. But that is the opinion of people with sloppy minds who are too lazy and stupid to crack a bible and actually read it and study it. I was like that most of my life. Once you do, you will understand that most of it is about you – and you controlling yourself. And that is when you see your Maker… standing out in plain sight, right under your nose. You’ll wonder how you missed Him all those years. I know I did. And I can see how some men are frightened by that. They should be.

    In short we need shared morality and ethics. I get that guys like you and I will never agree on those and that’s fine, we can hang separately and I will at least have the pleasure of watching you swing first, and some comfort in knowing what comes next. But What happens to our culture and the kids we leave behind is entirely on us. From what I’m seeing, too many of us take freedom to be a lack of responsibility and duty and obligation to family, community and culture. That can only end one way and we’re seeing it now.

    1. What I resent most about self-righteous attitudes like yours is that you think that the Bible, and therefore your faith, is the font of all morality.
      People lived moral lives long before the Bible was written, or even before the Jews began recording their history. The Ten Commandments were in fact largely taken from Hammurabic principles which predated the Commandments by at least three hundred years — and even the Hammurabic scripts were simply codifying the “proper” behaviors learned over generations of trial and error.
      It IS possible to live a moral life without being a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or a Jew, despite what the adherents of said superstitions may believe.
      And by the way: I was educated in a Church school — chapel services twice daily, Divinity classes as part of the school curriculum, etc., etc. I’ve read the Bible often, likely more than many professed Christians, in fact, and have a King James version in my bookcase to this day. But long ago I learned to ignore the wrapping / marketing of religion, and follow the principles.
      This topic is now closed because I’m not going to get into a debate with people who have an imaginary friend.

  4. I’ve come up with an aphorism.
    Good men agree, bad men disagree.
    Could be applied to all sorts of things.

  5. Over the last century or so we’ve changed how we deal with immigrants. I’ll take my family on my mother’s side as an example.

    Both my maternal grandparents came here Norway. They didn’t speak a word of English when they got off the boat, but they set about changing that. My grandfather got a job in the shipyard cleaning the bathrooms, by the time he retired he was Carpenter’s Foreman. They learned English, and while they had Norwegian accents they could be understood and they could understand you. My mother could understand some Norwegian if it was spoken to her, but couldn’t speak it much herself and couldn’t read or write it. I know enough Norwegian to get my face smacked. This was typical of Irish, Italian, German, Chinese immigrants, first generation comes here, second generation blends in, third generation is indistinguishable from any other ethnic group.

    My former church (and no I’m not getting into THAT discussion) served a large local Hispanic population. There were third generation people in that population, as far removed from their former nation as I am from Norway, who couldn’t speak, read or write English. So what kind of job are you going to get if you can’t understand English?

    It’s one thing to accommodate first generation immigrants somewhat. It’s fine to be bilingual (or multi-lingual for that matter). It’s fine to teach ESL classes for immigrants to help them integrate, and in fact all these resources are available, so how is it that the grandchildren of the last people who lived in a place where Spanish was the native language can’t speak English?

    And it’s too early to open the bottle of Glenmorangie…..

    1. “so how is it that the grandchildren of the last people who lived in a place where Spanish was the native language can’t speak English?”

      Don’t even get me started on that one. Not one of my kids can speak Word One of Afrikaans; but French, German and Japanese (sadly all somewhat rusty) are well known and understood.

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