28 April 2011

Integration vs. Assimilation, Turkish Assertiveness, and the Rise of the Right in Europe

This link is quite interesting.

Erdogan the Turkish Prime Minister demonstrates….

Turkey’s increasing self-confidence. Rejected by the EU and yet a longtime and crucial member of NATO, the Turks are growing quite comfortable if not a little assertive with their ‘Bridge’ role between East and West. They’re not afraid to stand up to the EU and the United States. Erdogan proves this by urging the massive Turkish population in Germany to ‘integrate’ not ‘assimilate’. In addition the Turks have succeeded in irritating Washington by refusing to cooperate with the 2003 Iraq invasion as well as finally assuaging their longtime animosities with Syria. Also, notice the difference between integrate…function in society but maintain your identity vs. assimilate… basically become in this case, German.

Why do Christians in the United States think it so essential for immigrants to assimilate? It is literally a theological issue for them. Isn’t integration enough? If you don’t want your society to change, then don’t invite people in. Of course all societies change anyway, and many American Christians seems to suggest that America has changed so much because of….immigrants? It’s a strange assertion. Most of the immigrants that come to the United States are coming from cultures far more conservative than our own. I think a lot of Americans and probably some Europeans don’t want to face the consequences of their materialistic lifestyles and especially in the United States, the type of children and youth it has produced.

Of course when speaking of inviting immigrants, I’m not talking about the millions of Mexicans and Central Americans that have entered the country illegally. That’s a separate issue but not unrelated to the Materialism issue I just raised. They weren’t invited per se, but the American economy needs them, wants them, and in many cases has facilitated their movement north by American policy both here and abroad. Mexico (a longtime American fief) is on its knees. Turkey (a former satellite, increasingly ally and partner) is not.

The Turks are proud of their heritage and their increased standing has only made them more so. Since at this point they are vital to both the EU and the US, and yet have (from their standpoint) been abused by both…why not? Erdogan can only gain at home. The recent damage to the previously strong if quiet Turkish-Israeli alliance only aids him as well. As the American Financial Empire wanes and the American Military Empire becomes unsustainable and undesirable, countries like Turkey will want to fill in their respective regional gaps. As astounding as it is to many Americans, some of these countries are proud of their heritage as well and are not a little bitter over having been made second-rate states since the end of the World Wars. Turkey wants to rise again, not to create another Ottoman Empire or Caliphate, but as a strong progressive leader in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

I wonder though if Erdogan realizes the effects this kind of speech can have in Europe and the United States? Turkey is hardly some kind of Salafi-type state. In fact until recently the state’s main hallmark has been secularism. They banned the hijab, the headscarf in government buildings. Not exactly the Taliban. And yet those on the Right will take these types of sound bytes and use them over and over again. But they would see no double standard in remaining die-hard Americans or English while permanently or semi-permanently residing in another country. Yes, Americans assimilate real well when they live abroad….that was something of a joke if you didn’t catch it.

And, this story from NPR is a story growing all too common. The Right is on the rise in Europe. Don’t confuse this with the American Right. There are similarities when it comes to Cultural Conservatism and Nationalism, but in Europe that can mean those on the Right stand for acceptance of homosexuality and things like that. Nevertheless the rise of these parties which seemed unthinkable not that many years ago demonstrates the growing uneasiness and tension among the peoples of Europe.

There’s only going to be more of this. As I said in another post, the dangers are that some will co-opt the Christian label to serve perverse political ends. They will often appeal to the legacy of Christendom which I would hope by now most readers here will at least have some misgivings regarding any kind of call to rally around that banner. Erroneous theological commitments will generate some Christians to continue to promote a militaristic foreign policy especially in regard to the Middle East. There is also the danger of racism, which though some Christians in the United States are trying once more to vindicate, it is incompatible with Biblical Christianity. And, these folks, often demagogues (though a little brighter than our Palin’s and Trump’s) have a power to stir people and distract… and like Jerome of old the cry will be…what will the Church do if Rome falls?

Immigration, integration, and assimilation are going to be big issues in the United States and Europe over the next decade. There’s likely to be some trouble and passions will run high. I hope there will be some voices of moderation, seeking reasonable and pragmatic solutions. Unfortunately I don’t look for them in Christian circles.

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