Continuing the Discussion: What to Do with Refugees – Multiculturalism vs. Assimilation?

Multiculturalism is Better Model than Assimilation for Integration of Immigrants


With the migrant crisis at the forefront of international concerns in 2015, it is no surprise that matters of allegiance, identity, and patriotism have come into question for many nations around the world. As countries, particularly those in Europe, consider accepting large numbers of refugees fleeing the Middle East-North Africa region, one begins to question what this “acceptance” might actually mean. It may seem suitable to adhere to the American method of assimilation within society, especially with regards to the success of the “Great American Melting Pot.” However, it is more beneficial to both the immigrants and the host nation to encourage a sense of multiculturalism instead of assimilation.

One of the most difficult challenges that many immigrants face is the fervent commitment of European countries to maintaining national identity. It is hard to feel welcome in places like Italy or France without accepting the nation’s language, cultural values, and societal norms. The United States is not very different. Jeb Bush recently observed that America is “creeping toward multiculturalism” and called it “the wrong approach.” One is not considered to be a “fellow American” if she or he is not proud to flaunt a star-spangled T-shirt or has not memorized the Pledge of Allegiance verbatim. When is the last time you saw an Indian, Colombian, or Saudi flag hanging in the front lawn of an immigrant American household? The problem with assimilating various cultures into one generalized national identity is that it removes the crucial element of tolerance from society.

Canada stands as one of the most prominent examples of a multicultural society, which is not to be mistaken as similar to the assimilating nature of its southern neighbor. Multiculturalism promotes the idea of being a “tossed salad” over that of a “melting pot.” Instead of simply blending nationalities and cultures together into a murky substance, multiculturalism allows every ethnicity to be distinct, while forming a colorful presentation as one item. It presents the notion of tolerance and pluralism, while highlighting the benefits of having differences within society. In areas of rights, security, and economic success (issues of great concern to many immigrants), multiculturalism is far more beneficial than assimilation.

1) Rights: Protecting group rights is essential in protecting individual rights. Since minority groups are often discriminated against and systematically disenfranchised, the recognition of “universal individual rights” is simply not enough. These systematic problems cannot be adequately tackled without first recognizing the existence of various groups within society. Steps towards understanding, compensation, and equal opportunity can be taken when differences are clearly identified. This is the most effective way to ensure that groups, and the rights of the individuals within them, are protected.

2) Security: Multiculturalism’s tolerance is better than assimilation’s exclusivity. It may be argued that since multiculturalism highlights differences, it endangers groups and prompts hate crimes. However, this principle is the very crux of the issue. Racial groups should not have to fear their distinctive identities, only to assimilate into a central unity that evades resentment, but should instead be accepted for their unique differences. Discrimination against any culture promotes hatred, disrespect, and exclusion. It is better to promote a society in which all cultures are accepted, rather than one in which people are rejected for not assimilating to the norm. Hate crimes are a non-issue in a society where diverse groups do not have reason to hate one another.

3) Economic success: Globalization has not only increased the flow of goods and services between countries, but has led to a series of mergers and alliances that have stimulated economies. Multiculturalism allows individuals to maintain their cultural identities while living in another country, thus creating a connection between these two innately dissimilar bodies. This connection promotes the flow of information, creativity, and intelligence across national borders. Furthermore, multiculturalism’s promotion of diversity is crucial to the business world because it enables a variety of perspectives and dynamism within a single society. These evident benefits of multiculturalism only encourage immigration, resulting in further economic stimulus.

Although assimilation may foster an overall abundance of nationalism within societies and may provide incoming migrants with a collective sense of allegiance, it strips them of their unique identities. When forgetting to recognize individual groups and hesitating to promote their dissimilarities, society is left with a clash based in ignorance rather than a clash of differences. The last thing we need in the world is to condone the notion of ignorance.

Assimilation Key to Sense of Collective Ownership of National Identity


One of the largest challenges facing Europe is the problem of integrating millions of arriving refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa into a common social system. Notice: a common social system does not necessarily mean the existing social system.

An obvious example of a country that has a remarkable track record of integrating immigrants into its national cultural identity is the United States. One can also throw Canada into the mix to avoid obvious criticisms of national chauvinistic bias. The United States has benefitted from a system that vigorously imposes a top-down national secular value structure, whether that is embodied in a daily routine of “pledging allegiance to the flag” in public schools, the hanging of American flags in most front yards, or the celebration of past immigrant waves as key contributors to the formation of the present national identity. At the same time, however, the American system permits the attachment of qualifying prefixes to one’s national identity: Ukrainian-American, Italian-American, Chinese-American, and so on. The social system in the United States is based on the idea that the American identity is the foremost identity of a resident of the United States, but that pride in being American is in large part rooted in the way a person’s ethnic-origin identity has been molded into the amalgam of the “Great American Melting Pot” of cultures.

Unfortunately, Europe, with the exception of perhaps Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands, has largely relied on the imposition of centuries-old cultural values of the longtime inhabitants of each country on its immigrants. There is less flexibility in the definition of what it means to be French or Italian, for example, than there is in being American, Brazilian, Canadian, or Peruvian. To a certain extent, this has a lot to do with the absence of an immigrant history on the European continent. Because residents of Greece, France, Italy, or Spain have grown accustomed to a society dominated by one ethnic group, the institutional capacity to absorb new cultures, if there ever was one, deteriorates.

For an immigrant from the Maghreb, for example, it is difficult to integrate into French society because almost by definition one cannot be French if one is not of French ethnic origin. Unfortunately, this means that large swathes of recent migrants are excluded from participation in the formation of a national identity. The absence of social mobility in many countries of the “European South” exacerbates this problem as economic participation — one of the key drivers of integration in American society — within immigrant groups is kept to a minimum as well. The process of assimilation need not take the form of exclusionary programs; there is no inevitable clash of “Our” versus “Their” values that must take place during the integration process. Instead, Europe, and particularly its peripheral economies, must aim to build consensus on common goals within its society to create national identities that can rely on immigrant ownership while accelerating growth and security within each state.

It is simultaneously imperative and difficult to cover the issue of immigration in the aftermath of an event such as the recent terrorist attack on multiple public venues in Paris. Nonetheless, the issue must be addressed; perhaps the current spotlight on immigration can lead to substantive policy change rather than a cacophony of partisan disagreement.

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