European Multiculturalism's Lessons for the U.S.: Double Standards

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on February 14, 2011

The crumbling of the heretofore-taboo subject of the impact of multiculturalism on immigrant assimilation opens up a critical question for debate. That question is premised on the reality that immigration into the western democracies from all parts of the world will continue to be a fact that these governments must address. The question is how best to do so.

It is instructive in this regard to begin that effort by highlighting some of what David Cameron said about multiculturalism as a vehicle for immigrant integration, as his critique is the most detailed.

One place to begin is Prime Minister Cameron's frank discussion of double standards:

We've even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

So, when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don't want to, is a case in point. This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.

The double standard of hands-off tolerance takes several forms. The most obvious is the silent acceptance of behavior for one group that, were it evidenced in another group, would be the occasion for an outcry of opprobrium. The United States is no stranger to this kind of double standard, though it has been associated here mostly with racially-based accusations, not cultural practices.

Yet, there is another form of the double standard that has become commonplace in the United States. That is the attempt to tar as "extremist" or "anti-immigrant" any person or group that holds legitimate concerns about any aspect of immigration policy that is inconsistent with the standard of immigration liberals and "pragmatists" who favor "comprehensive immigration reform" that must include legalization of this county's 11-12 million illegal immigrants and other liberalization of immigration laws. Or, as columnist Ruben J. Navarrette said of that issue, during a visit to last month's Hispanic Leadership Network Conference designed to bridge the GOP-Latino American political identification gap: "If you come away thinking that this is all about language and tone, you will miss the point... You are always going to be number 2... The problem is not the tone. It is the message itself – it is offensive, racist." (emphasis mine)

Advocates deploy that rhetoric as a political weapon to bludgeon into submission or silence those who don't share their views. It is also meant evoke fear among new immigrants that they are in danger even if they have come to this country legally. In stroking this fear, these rhetorical demagogues seek to add new immigrants to their party's political rolls or, in the case of ostensibly Republican Navarette, to shame or scare Republicans to take a pro-legalization stance as the sine qua non of successful "Hispanic" outreach.

These accusations are an ugly rhetorical weapon that is gradually losing its sting from egregious overuse. Calling such excesses to account would helpfully hasten its demise. Regretfully, though, the silence that often greets them lends them credence. And when even the Senate Democratic leader makes these kinds of accusations, immigrants can be excused for wondering if the other half of the country that supports the GOP doesn't have something very profound against all immigrants, whether legal or illegal. But of course that is precisely the point of such tawdry rhetoric.

Such baseless charges poison the attachment process that is the basis of successful assimilation. Ironically, some supposedly pro-immigration advocates apparently feel it is worth the price.

Next: "European Multiculturalism's Lessons for the U.S.: The Role of NGOs"