The Host Country/Immigrant Contract

EDITORIAL, 4 Aug 2008

#18 | Johan Galtung

A sad drama is unfolding in one European countryafter the other: higher barriers for immigrants, and for citizenship. Denmark, today one of the least tolerant countries, has an exam inDanish facts and values, Germany and France are planning the same,Norway’s opposition party, probably in government next year, iscontemplating; as opposed to Sweden, with citizenship automatic after 5years residence.  All over there is much talk about a contract withrules binding immigrants-citizens.

“Whenin Rome do as the Romans do” is valid, up to a certain point, for anyRome, and it makes good sense to demand that –immigrants have to learnand internalize as much of the host country culture as possible, lawsand rules, ability to communicate in everyday matters, like movingaround, shopping, meeting people, and knowledge and respect, if notpractice, of religion and life-style.  The immigrant is heading towarda bicultural life, and those cultures have to coexist inside him.

But a contract has two sides, so what should the host do?
–the host country has to show respect and curiosity for the culture ofthe immigrant, grant his/her right to practice it in private space, andto carry some of it over into public space.

We are talking about immigrants who have come to the host country astheir major residence for the years to come, with no end in sight,except by death, and then with a continuation for their offspring.  Weare talking about a serious move to living in a new country, not abouttourists and visitors – although that is how it may start.  A vacationvisit may become a stay for life, a change of country of residence,even of citizenship. A migration across gaps in laws,  regulations,language, religion and lifestyle, not minor differences in rules,dialects, manners.

And we are talking about a unique chance to learn about the world outthere, from our own immigrants.  The more the world is globalizing themore migration there will be, whether legal within an EU concept of”four freedoms”–the free move of goods and services, capital andlabor–or illegal within the global “three freedoms” for goods,services and capital only.  Both concepts are built around migrationfor livelihood through a job. But there are other push and pull forcesbehind migration, like for livelihood through better health in othermeteorological or social climates.  Some move because they must–aseconomic and political refugees–some because they can–afford it.

Islam comes up so often in this context because it is a strong cultureMuslims are not going to give up just because they  change country ofresidence.  Moreover, the five pillars of Islam all call for practicein public space, like open prayer 5 times a day, sharing with the poor,fasting, traveling to Mecca.  These are not private whispers, directlyto a personalized God.

A Western-Christian host country is used to immigrants leaning overbackward to acquire right knowledge, speech and action while hidinginner thoughts in their own idioms, or in the private space, at home. Others submit; Muslims not.  Muslims pick up other languages likeeverybody else, but not other religions.  Moreover, Muslims aretolerant of the religions of the kitab, the Book–Jews and Christians–expecting reciprocity as mutual respect.  But Christianity does notreciprocate.

Since we are in a period of exponential growth in migration problemswill aggravate unless some traffic rules take deep roots, internalizedinside us and institutionalized between us. But the rules have to bereciprocal as the basic formula for peaceful relations, also betweencivilizations is symmetry.

But how can we make symmetry out of a relation that easily becomesasymmetric because the host state system is so strong and the newcitizenship so shallow, limited to job and climate. By using cultureand participation as medium for mutual benefit.

Each party to the contract has to contribute something:

This means teaching and learning both ways, like language and culturecourses organized by both parties.  The need to make the immigrantsculturally more competent in the host country is obvious.  But theimmigrants should be invited to present their language, religion andlifestyle, dresses, foods and drinks, music, dances, readings, and beinvited to do so in host country schools, community associations.  Toknow ten words in a foreign language is already a sign of respect, agateway to mutuality.

Both parties are entitled to their own mono-cultural privatespace.  But public space must increasingly become multi-cultural sothat everybody feels at home regardless of country of origin: – givinginformation about places, events, goods also in all immigrant languages;

– by both immigrants, and shopkeepers-waiters, becoming more polyglot;

– by serving multicultural foodstuffs and drinks in polyglot eateriesand by having multi-, not only mono-religious services in public space.the mezquita in Cordoba being an obvious place;

– tolerating non-offensive differences in dress, like the hijab.

Globalization, the increasing removal of inter-state borders carriesthe removal of inter-nation borders in its wake.  The former withoutthe latter has landed us in unstable equilibria where small events havelarge consequences, like the cartoon issue.  Of course we need thefreedom of expression to critique cultures, including our own.  But wealso need the freedom from being wounded, hurt by people of littlerespect.  Time has now come to explore and respect the thin linebetween these freedoms.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Aug 2008.

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