A common explanation for the recent bombings in London centers on the lack of integration of South Asians in England and their apparent political and social disillusionment. Fareed Zakaria, a good commentator and writer for Newsweek who I nevertheless sometimes feel is a tool for the neo-cons, once again explained this idea on the Daily Show.
This is a compelling argument. I’ve often wondered at the differences between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to integrating, or simply dealing with, immigrant populations. I think France has it completely wrong about not allowing schoolchildren to wear headscarves, turbans, yarmulkes, or any other religious items to school. Call me jingoistic, but it seems to me that one of the reasons why America has remained a relatively safe place for religious pluralism is because it allows such diverse forms of expression, rather than outlawing them.
But it seems to me that the implication of this idea that immigrants can’t integrate in Europe as well as in America, is that there is no problem with the treatment American immigrants. I wish that were true, but it’s clearly not as simple as that.
My neighborhood in Brooklyn has a sizable Arab population, with Yemeni, Moroccan, and Lebanese shops and restaurants all around. Up the street, along Atlantic Avenue, run Islamic bookstores and clothing shops. I love this part of town and the Arabic influence, but I’m pretty sure Brooklyn is the exception to the way most of America thinks of and adapts to the presence of Arabs, South Asians, and other immigrants that are prejudged as terrorists by the majority population.
Think of the attacks against, of all people, Sikhs following 9/11. Even though I grew up and went to school in a small New England town, I new one or two Sikhs. Indians have been immigrating in large numbers over the last 20 or 30 years, and among them are good numbers of Sikhs. They should have been fully integrated, right? Yet when local populations felt had a recent to attack them, they did. “The Taliban on the TV wear turbans, and so do the Sikhs, so let’s get ’em!”
My Indian friends tell stories of harassment at airports. Whites joke about being nervous around Arabs. The fairy tale about America not being prone to the London attacks because of its inclusive attitude toward immigrants is just that.
I do believe that we are more tolerant toward all people than any other nation, but so many Americans don’t wish to look at the problems we still have and the distance we have to go before achieving true pluralism. This arrogance will, I fear, come back to bite us. There is plenty of resentment brewing here at home.