Hannes Richter

Boots are Made for Walking

Hannes Richter

A Conference on Immigration, Integration and Identity

Immigration, integration and identity are complex and closely connected issues. Apart from their social and cultural significance, they have recently gained political weight both in the United States - with the debate on illegal immigration and border security - and in Europe - as a result of the riots in France, the cartoon issues in Denmark and the two negative referenda on the EU Constitution. Although the historical contexts in which problems of immigration and integration manifest themselves on both continents couldn’t be more different, the idea that an open transatlantic dialogue could help unveil misperceptions about each other and find possible solutions together was tempting enough to bring together eminent scholars for a day-long conference. The event was initiated by Austria, a country with a long tradition of religious and cultural dialogue, and took place in the U.S. Capitol on May 15. It addressed three topics organized in panels.

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Photo: Lukas Maximilian Hueller


Immigration and Identity: Do Current Patterns of Immigration Challenge Notions of National Identity?
Addressing Integration In Europe and the U.S. Today
Identity and Islam: Muslims in the U.S. and Europe

The following edited fragments are taken from speeches delivered at the conference:

Jonathan Faull
Director General, European Commission
Immigration is an international phenomenon that affects all member states of the European Union. EU Heads of State have recognized that a common approach is necessary to manage migration. They have decided to harmonize national legislation on immigration in order to regulate migration flows in line with the needs of the economy and the ability of the EU to absorb and integrate new immigrants.
In view of the projected decline in the working-age population of the European Union after 2010, increased migratory flows will be needed to meet the future needs of the EU labor market. The European Commission’s first annual report on migration and integration in Europe, presented in July 2004, states that improved access to the labor market, and better language skills and education will be essential conditions for the successful integration of migrants.

The European Union has taken several actions to promote the integration of migrants into their host societies, including exchanging information and good practice on integration through the National Contact Points for integration; revising employment guidelines calling for better integration of immigrants into the job market; and harmonizing the collection of data and statistics on immigration.


Rainer Münz
Migration Specialist, Europe

In 2005, the twenty-five EU member states had almost four hundred sixty- two million inhabitants, out of which forty million were foreign-born. This represents just 8.6 percent of Europe’s population. We cannot easily compare these forty million to a similar figure in the United States because the forty million in Europe also consist of people who have moved from one European country to another. In the United States, if you move from California to New York, you may have come a long way but you’re still not a migrant in the real sense. In 2005, population growth in Europe was around two million, of which eighty-five percent represented migrants. Twenty out of the twenty-five member states had a net gain from migration, so they had more immigrants than emigrants. Only the Baltic States and Poland have more emigration than immigration.

But in nine of the twenty-five EU member states, death rates had exceeded birth rates, and this number of countries will grow in the future and become the majority. In other words, there would be almost no population growth in Europe without migration. The U.S., on the other hand, would have sustained population growth even without immigration - with an overall growth of about three million people per year, including one million to 1.5 million immigrants, depending on where you set the number of irregular migrants coming though this country.

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco
Social Sciences and Humanities, New York University, USA

The United States is in the middle of the most dramatic demographic transformation in the history of the country. Today, over a third of the total population consists of members of ethnically-marked minority groups, such as Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians. Moving forward into the year 2050, the United States will be the only advanced post-industrial democracy in the world where at least half of the entire population will represent members of ethnic minorities.

This makes us ask a fundamental question: At what point does an advanced post-industrial democracy reach a tipping point in terms of the numbers of undocumented immigrants that it can metabolize before it addresses the profound democratic questions that are at stake when roughly a third of the immigrant-origin population of the country is inhabiting an increasingly shadowy world of work, with millions of children growing up in homes headed by undocumented immigrants. So it is clear that security concerns in our country have to do with the growing number of illegal immigrants that have become a part of the national economy, culture, and the national debate.

On the question of identity: In the United States, national origin labels are strongly involved in the crafting of identities in the first generation of immigrants. We have done studies following the lives of newly arrived immigrant children from Asia, from Latin America and from the Caribbean. Children will not say, I’m Caribbean, or, I’m Latin American or Latino. Children will say, I’m Dominican, I’m Haitian, I’m Mexican. One reason why the issue of identity becomes so complicated in the case of the Hispanics in the United States - the most important immigrant group - is the pattern by which immigrant groups marry at very high rates outside their group. The data suggest that over time and trans-generationally, the movement into more pan-ethnic self-labels, self-identification and identities tends to be quite strong.

Steven Beller
Historian, USA

Identities don’t disappear simply by what we call assimilation or integration. They remain. And instead of trying to erase the distinctive markers of these other identities, we should try as societies to include them as part of a new improved form of social identity or national identity. Between the late 18th to the middle of the 20th century, there was an attempt to integrate Central European Jewry into European society. And we know how that ended. Why did that happen? Why did anti-Semitism end up destroying so much of European Jewry? A common explanation is that anti-Semitism is an old Christian bias against Jews from ancient times.

In this context, “time immemorial” is a famous phrase that was very popular among historians. These were old-style historians, because new-style historians realized that ‘time immemorial’ never happened. If the ancient kind of Christian bias against Jews turned into anti-Semitism and ended up eradicating Jews, how did the one turn into the other? My answer would be that it has to do with ‘modernity.’ And it also has to do with the logic by which modernity has been driven. The corporate structure of pre-modern European society, with its many different components - aristocracy, clergy, peasantry - still had place for the Jews. But then modernity came along, with social and economic change, as well as intellectual and cultural change which we call ‘enlightenment.’ It swept away these corporate identities within European societies and replaced it with the Unitary State model.

Many Jews felt threatened by this change because it meant giving up their traditional difference and their collective autonomy. But the problem for integrating Jews was that the Unitary State turned very soon, in the 19th century, into a Unitary Nation State. There were, of course, different models of nation states, such as the French model which was revolutionary and civic or the British which was heterogeneous. But the real threat to the Jewish communities were the national movements which disregarded the linguistic and cultural aspects of identity and based the nation state on a purely ethnic model.

Lale Akgün
Member of the German Bundestag

Fifteen million Muslims live in the European Union today, and thirty million live in the whole of Europe. The largest Muslim population, five million, lives in France. In Germany, the Muslim population amounts to 3.2 - 3.4 million. What we witness, for example, in the German public debate on Muslims is the following: We talk about happenings and pathologies, such as honor killings, forced marriages and domestic violence, linking them directly to Islam and holding all Muslims guilty for these phenomena.

This leads to a situation where Muslims in Germany today have more and more the impression that they are reduced to their religion. In France, for example, young people from the suburbs revolted against the social conditions they live in and against the lack of perspectives they see for their future. During these riots in France we did not hear any Islamic claims.

The youngsters in France do not want to live in an Islamic society with the Sharia. They don’t want their sisters to wear head scarves. They want to have a chance to belong to French society, to find jobs and housing and to start a family. The crux of the matter of integration policies is, therefore, the social question. Immigrants, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds, internalize the culture of the social milieu in which they live. It is the milieu and not the ethnic or religious background which influences the values of a person.


Philippa Strum
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Out of an overall population of close to three-hundred million people, there are probably six million Muslims in the United States today. Of those six million Muslims, roughly twenty to twenty-five percent are African American, so they are most certainly not recent immigrants. Of all the Muslim immigrants, sixty-five percent were born abroad. So, we are talking about recent immigrants. And sixty percent immigrated within the last two decades. So we are talking about very recent immigrants.

They come from eighty different countries. What are the problems faced by American-Muslims after 9/11 aside from the very obvious ones? They’re being held in suspicion by both citizens and governments. The suspicion can be seen in the phenomenon of candidates running for office returning funds that have been donated by Muslims, fearing that somehow the acceptance of those funds will make them look pro-Palestinian. There has also been a bashing of Muslims who have attempted to run for office, usually on a local level. And those two things taken together mean that the political integration certainly has become a very big question for American Muslims. And here I see very big differences with Europe.

9/11 has made American Muslims ask, “Who am I?” And for most of them the answer was, “I am an American.” And so now the emphasis is on how we can make Islam work in the United States. How do we create a good American Islamic identity? Muslims now are insistent. They are going to stay here and they are going to fight for their rights. In a way, 9/11 was the graveyard for Islamic extremism in the United States. In other words, the major issue for American Muslims today is their civil rights.


Beate Winkler
European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia

The best hopes for a free, fair and open world in which racism and xenophobia will be defeated lie in having an effective transatlantic dialogue. America and Europe have common concerns and ambitions in this difficult area, and I expect common solutions at the end of the road. But we are not all travelling by the same route to get there. In part this is because of the nature of our different societies. It is clearly easier for America - with one integral society having a common language, one political unit, and one set of shared values - to achieve consensus on the right policy options to pursue.

America is a society created by the process of integration, and each new generation of immigrants adds a new flavor to the existing nation. Europe, by contrast, with its twenty-five individual member states and twenty different main languages, is not such a cohesive body. It is both young and old and it includes groups with many different visions of what constitutes integration-people with loyalties to many different groupings, some of them outside Europe.

For complete transcripts, visit: http://www.austria.org/conference