November 13, 2005
The Disuniting of Europe -- and America
Americans might be forgiven for experiencing a sense of schadenfreude
-satisfaction in the misery of others - at the rioting in France.
The jihad is coming home, it would appear, to a corrupt French
political elite that thought it could appease Muslim extremists
by snubbing the United States in Iraq.
America, by contrast, is suffering no such anger in the streets.
Around metropolitan Detroit, for example, home to one of the largest
concentrations of ethnic Arabs and Muslims outside the Middle
East, all is peaceful, despite strongly-held beliefs among community
leaders and local imams that U.S. policy in the Middle East is
The reason is fairly clear: Detroit's Arab-American population,
usually estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000, is a model of
upward mobility, thanks to auto industry employment in the early
days and, more recently, ability to capitalize on its own entrepreneurial
energy. Americans of Arab descent have a strong stake in society.
In France, by contrast, where overall unemployment has long hovered
in the 10 percent range -and at least twice that for the ethnic
Arab population -- despair and anger are rampant.
To this economic disorder has been added a severe moral disorder:
an ideology of multiculturalism that is even more deeply entrenched
in Europe than in America. It invites disaffected communities
to dwell on their grievances and reject the common values that
allow people of differing backgrounds to work together. The multicultural
message: somebody else is responsible for your problems.
Before Americans wax too self-congratulatory, however, they should
remember that similar forces are afoot here that, if unchecked,
could unleash the same social toxins. Stubbornly high taxes and
job-killing regulations - including union-backed minimum wage,
prevailing wage and "living wage" schemes aimed at preventing
willing workers from undercutting union wage levels -- make it
difficult to sustain the economic growth that mutes social tensions.
And multiculturalism already is the official ideology among American
elites: witness the fanatical allegiance to "diversity" within
the education, political and business establishments. Virtually
every establishment group in Michigan, for example, has already
come out against a pending 2006 referendum that would outlaw racial
preferences in university admissions and state hiring. Even businessman
Dick DeVos, the odds-on favorite to be the Republican candidate
for governor, has rushed to distance himself from the measure.
Affirmative action was invented mainly to help African Americans
in the wake of the Jim Crow era. But now that official segregation
is long behind us, it's being replaced by the more amorphous goal
of "diversity." Almost any group with a grievance is being invited
to join the racial spoils game. Talk about a perfect formula for
producing what liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger, in a book
attacking the separatism implicit in multiculturalism, termed
"the disuniting of America."
Just as deadly are the taxes and regulations that suppress job
formation - or drive it underground, where the jobs can only be
filled with continuing streams of illegal immigrants, creating
a potentially dangerous underclass like that in Europe. Many on
the left and right want to deal with this by enacting tough new
measures to seal the southern borders and send the estimated 10
million illegal immigrants already inside the United States packing.
It's likely to be a dominant issue in 2006 and 2008.
But good luck trying to build and effectively patrol a wall along
a 2,000-mile border, much less apprehending and expelling millions
of Mexicans and others for the sin of taking jobs that in effect
are created by government's burden on the economy. A more cogent
immigration policy may be long overdue. But if we don't also learn
the right lessons from Europe's experience, we may be doomed to
Bray is a Detroit News columnist.