Monday, March 27, 2017

One Billion Muslims

Shortly after Trump was elected, I remember reading an article describing the Muslim ban he had suggested during his campaign as a proposed policy to ban over 1 billion Muslims from immigrating to the U.S.  Now, literally a ban on Muslims would potentially apply to over 1 billion Muslims, but practically there are fewer than a billion Muslims seeking entry to the U.S.

In that regard, the claim seemed purposefully inflammatory, intentionally trying to put Trump’s reticence on allowing all comers from the Middle East into the country as a policy that practically shuts the door on 1 billion would-be immigrants.  No doubt the author regarded any proposed Muslim ban as motivated by some combination of racism (even though Whities like Beau Bergdahl can join with Allah!) and discrimination against a marginalized religious minority (which is also mistaken, as most Muslims live in Muslim dominated countries). 

The description of the proposed ban in that extreme way suggests a useful thought experiment that I believe gives the lie to the knee-jerk accusation that setting limits on immigration from certain demographics is somehow morally reprehensible.  The experiment is simple – suppose that all 1 billion plus Muslims outside our shores sought to immigrate to the United States tomorrow.  Are you for it or against it?

If you are for it, let’s take the example one step further.  Let’s suppose that every single person of those billion immigrants has a preference for settling in your home state.   Still for it?  What if they all want to be in the same county as you?  And if you have in mind slyly moving to another state while professing your love of immigrants, suppose still that wherever you seek to move within the country, they will similarly see as a greener pasture and be on your heals.

Now, clearly putting 1 billion people of one religious faith in your 50 square mile county makes you an exceedingly small religious (or non-religious) minority within that county.  Maybe your county had as many as 1 million professed Christians (which is probably higher than any one county in the US).  Your religious group just went from a dominant and tolerant majority in the county to 0.1 percent of the population, with 99.9 percent Muslim presence.

Are you still OK with this?  Let’s say that you are.  Can you name for me any country in this world where an exceedingly small religious minority of Christians is able to freely practice their religion without persecution in a Muslim dominated country?  Can you name for a dominant Muslim country that Christians currently seek to immigrate to?  Or is it the opposite – are Christians generally fleeing such countries if possible?  Does the fact that no Christians are immigrating to Muslim dominated countries suggest something about the nature of living in Muslim dominated countries? 

If you think it is OK for one billion Muslims to move next door, but have no desire yourself to move to a Muslim country, what makes you think the end-result politically and culturally would not be the same? 

Anyone uncomfortable with these questions has been so indoctrinated by the concept that America’s diversity is its strength that they are blind to the obvious limitations of that propaganada.  And it is propaganda.  The Borjas book was largely about the economic effects of immigration, but he did touch on issues such as assimilation.  Discussing the research of a Harvard sociologist who was loathe to draw these conclusions from his research:

Immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to “hunker down.” Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. Putnam goes on to provide a long list of the seemingly harmful effects of increased ethnic diversity: lower confidence in government, lower voter registration rates, a lower probability of giving to charity or volunteering, and a lower chance of participating in community projects.

I’ve read about Putnam’s conclusions before in a funny little book called We Are Doomed.  The author described Putnam’s article as having a curious structure with three main sections:

The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

He then suggested a similar structure for a publication in a health journal with comparably self-contradicting section titles:

Health benefits of drinking green tea
Green tea causes intestinal cancer
Making the switch to green tea

Putnam, after all, understands the implications of bucking the diversity mob in academia, and so had to go through the hand wringing of drawing normative conclusions or recommendations that were clearly at odds with the positive findings of his research.

The diversity concerns are not separate from the underlying economic aspects of immigration.  This decline in social capital is happening in the low-rent neighborhoods where poor immigrants are forced to settle by economic necessity.  And it is not merely a racist reaction from whities wishing it was 1950s Happy Days again, as all groups – even the immigrants - find themselves hunkering down.  All rich liberals want diversity in very small doses for themselves, if at all, but in large doses for others whether they like it or not.  The costs of diversity all fall to a specific group.   The group that incurs none of those costs meanwhile safely preens about its high-mindedness, when in reality the issue doesn’t touch them.   

I think it would be absurd for anyone to argue that the importation of a billion Muslims would not fundamentally change the country for the worse.  Our Constitution wouldn’t protect us in a democracy where one billion culturally distinct people have common political interests that are antithetical to most of our best political and cultural traditions.  It is not wrong to keep people who view such traditions as obstacles and major flaws out of the country in the first place.  It’s not racist, it’s not oppressive, it’s common sense.  Some cultural differences imply the best approach is to keep such cultures separate, or otherwise to prudently manage the degree to which you allow immigration from Muslim countries to occur.  We should all agree that 1 billion is not the right number.  I would say 100 million or 10 million is still too high.  Whatever your number is, having a number beneath 1 billion doesn’t make you a racist.


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