In discussing comparisons between the US and France, someone brought up the issues of immigration, assimilation, and violence. The specific focus was the children of the North African Muslim immigrants. Some have noted that violent crime, terrorism, and radicalization is seen more with the native-born second and third generations than with the immigrants themselves. So, this violence is learned in Europe, rather than it having been brought here by refugees.
It’s an interesting point, but it’s hard to disentangle the strands and harder still to put it all into context. For that reason, let me offer some of my commentary from a previous post, in response to Kenan Malik — Good Liberals vs Savage Nihilists:
“He does admit that some terrorists are refugees. His argument, though, is that they aren’t the majority. That’s true. As I recall, something like 20% are refugees, which admittedly still is a large number. More important is the entire atmosphere. Even for non-refugee Muslims in Europe, they likely would be surrounded by and regularly in contact with Muslims who are refugees. In general, they’d be constantly reminded of the refugee crisis in the media, reminded of the public response of hatred and bigotry, and probably mistaken as a refugee themselves. […]
“Many European Muslims still experience the negative effects of xenophobia, racism, ghettoization, and other forms of isolation, exclusion, and prejudice. They aren’t treated as fully integrated by their fellow citizens. Simply being born in a country doesn’t mean most people will see you as an equal. It takes generations for assimilation to take place. Even after centuries, Jews and Romani have continued to struggle for acceptance and tolerance in Europe. […]
“Plus, consider the situation in the United States. American Muslims on average are wealthier and more well-educated. But unlike in Europe they aren’t ghettoized nor racialized in the same way (we already have our racialized boogeyman with blacks). Maybe it should be unsurprising that per capita American Muslims commit far less mass violence than do native-born American whites. In the US, you’re more likely to be shot by a white terrorist and treated by a Islamic doctor, in terms of percentage of each population.
“The same identity politics and decline of traditional politics have happened in the United States. In some ways, the loss of community and culture of trust is far worse here in the States. Yet Islamic integration seems more of a reality than in Europe. American Muslims apparently don’t feel disenfranchised and nihilistic, as Malik assumes they should feel. This undermines his entire argument, indicating other factors are more important.
“Obviously, there is nothing inherently violent to either Arab culture or the Islamic religion. The Ottoman Empire was one of the great powers of the world, not particularly different than European empires. If any European empire with large contiguous territory (e.g., Russian Empire) had been defeated and demolished in a similar fashion and then artificially divided up as a colonial prize, we’d probably now have something in Europe akin to the present violence-torn Middle East. There is nothing that makes either region unique, besides the accidents of history. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire could have been left intact or even given assistance in rebuilding. In that case, none of the rest would have followed.”
Europe is having issues with assimilation based on a refugee crisis involving and related to more than a century of problematic relations with the the Middle East and North Africa. There is: the post-WWI forced dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, neo-colonial exploitation, Cold War conflict, proxy wars, covert operations, coups, assassinations, puppet dictators, destruction of democracy, support of theocracy, millions of innocents regularly killed over several generations, War on Terror, climate change-caused droughts, etc. All of this has been caused or contributed to by foreign governments, especially Western governments. This is built on centuries of ongoing racial and class conflicts in European history, including the legacies of colonial imperialism.
Assimilation is always a slow process. The Roman Empire spent centuries trying to assimilate the barbarian hordes of Europe, but they ultimately failed before those backwards Europeans took down that once great Mediterranean empire. Yet after the collapse of the Roman Empire, various European societies slowly assimilated aspects of the Roman Empire, developing into Western imperialism, colonialism, and feudalism. This process took most of Europe about a millennia or so, until finally a new assimilated culture could begin to be clearly identified as Western. For example, it took the Celts, Scandinavians, Germans, and Normans more than a millennia of bloodshed to assimilate into what eventually would be called the English.
As for our present situation, even in Europe, immigration violence is relatively low. Most of the increase in violence, as far as I know, hasn’t come from immigrants and their children. There has been a right-wing and reactionary radicalization of the native-born ‘white’ populations of European countries. It’s that few people ever bother to compare this native population violence against the immigrant population violence. I would like to see good data on this. I hear lot of people repeating what they think is true, but I never see the evidence for why they think it is true other than other people also repeating the same claims.
Even if it were true, this might be a normal pattern. Europe has seen millennia of violence rates that increase and then settle down following population shifts. And Americans were making similar complaints against European ethnic immigrants in the early 19th century. Yet immigrants almost always assimilate, slowly or quickly depending on the kind of society, but the only time assimilation fails is when there is enforced segregation (e.g., American blacks). I always take such allegations with a grain of salt because, when one researches them, they so often are found to be nothing more than stereotypes. Still, I do take seriously the problems of refugee crises, especially those that could be avoided, from the English-caused Irish potato famine to the US-promoted Latin American destabilization.
Unsurprisingly, desperate people act desperately. So, if the children of refugees are being targeted with prejudice, oppressed by systemic and institutional biases, economically segregated and ghettoized, it would be entirely predictable that bad results would follow. I’ve pointed out the research that shows diversity only correlates to mistrust when there is segregation. What I’d like to see is the data on prejudice and oppression, violent crime and police brutality committed against these immigrants, their children, and their grandchildren. And then I’d like to see that compared to rates of violent crime in immigrant communities, broken down in various ways: older and younger, foreign-born and native-born, etc.
But most importantly I’d like to see research that controls for at least the most obviously significant confounding factors: poverty, inequality, segregation, political disenfranchisement, racial/ethnic targeting, etc. Consider that last one. We know that American blacks get stopped, arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned more often and more harshly than do American whites, even for crimes that have been proven to have higher rates for American whites. So, how do we know the bias against these populations aren’t built into the institutions, such as police departments, that create and keep this data?
Now consider this. All these points I make, all these questions and criticisms, they seem obvious to me. And I can’t help but think that they should be obvious to everyone. Yet most of this is rarely if ever mentioned, much less seriously discussed, by right-wingers and neo-reactionaries, by race realists and genetic determinists, by white supremacists and ethno-nationalists. As far as that goes, you won’t hear much about it by mainstream liberals, Democratic politicians, and corporate media. Why is that?
Look at the essay below, “Crime and the Native Born Sons of European Immigrants.” It is from 1937. The author, Harold Ross, discussed and analyzed these very same kinds of issues, although about European (Christian) immigrants. He even considered the confounding factor of economic segregation, among other issues. So, how is it that such an essay could be written 80 years ago and so many people to this day continue to make ignorant arguments, as if such confounding factors don’t exist? Was Harold Ross a genius or, like me, was he simply willing to state the obvious?
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“Crime and the Native Born Sons of European Immigrants”
by Harold Ross
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
Volume 28, Issue 2 July-August, 1937
The European immigrant, landing on American shores, was forced to find cheap lodgings as he was usually penniless. These cheap lodgings he found in the disorganized slum areas of the industrialized American cities.5 The behavior of the new-comer himself was determined by behavior patterns organized in the culturally more stable European environment but his native born children suffered the stresses and strains of the new individualistic environment.
These children, the native born offspring of foreign parentage, were reared under those barren, poverty stricken socio-economic conditions that produced a higher crime rate than a more sheltered and prosperous environment. The environment of the slum dwellers meant for all the inhabitants there, be they of native or foreign parentage, a life conditioned by irregular, poorly paid employment, by a family disorganized by the necessity of the mother to leave the task of home-making in search of work to supplement the chief wage-earner’s meager income, by the general institutional disorganization, by inadequate educational opportunities and a sordid, barren milieu for the children. These vital forces were far more powerful than the fact that one slum-reared child’s parents spoke Italian and another’s parents spoke native American slang, that the one ate spaghetti, and other beef stew
If the crimes of the native born of native stock and those of the native born of foreign stock were stimulated by different causes, the cause in the latter case being a cultural clash between American and European customs which is non-existent in the former case, then there should be little similarity in the growth from childhood to careers of crime between both groups. If, on the other hand, crimes in both cases were stimulated by the same cause, namely dwelling on the same socio-economic level, then there should be definite similarity in the maturation from childhood to crime.
Anti-social behavior first becomes evident in the delinquencies of predatory boy gangs. Boys naturally tend to play with other boys. The environment determines whether this spontaneous grouping is social or anti-social, whether it is a respectable Boy Scout Troop or a predatory gang.’ The typical city “kids” gang consisted mainly of the native born offspring of foreign born parents, but nativity per se was not responsible for the gang problem.7 All boys of the same socio-economic class, whether of foreign, negro, or native white parentage, enter into gangs with equal facility.8 Boys of the more prosperous classes do not form anti-social gangs, not because they are of native white stock, but because of their prosperous environment.9 It is needless for them to rebel against the mores and law, for life has been comfortable to them. Others, regardless of parental nativity and because of their lower socio-economic position, did not willingly accept the mores and law that doomed them to a barren life, so naturally violated them.
This disregard by delinquency of nativity is illustrated by Chicago districts near the Loop, the stock yards, and the south Chicago steel mills which have had high delinquency rates as far back as the records go, and yet whose” population composition has been constantly changing. 0 In many cities it has been noted that the incidence in delinquency varied more accurately with community background than with nationality. High rates coincided with the areas of physical deterioration.”
There has been no fixed boundary between the boy’s predatory gang and the adult’s criminal group.’ 2 Behavior patterns organized in the former were carried over into and accentuated by the latter. Sons, both of native and foreign born stocks, made this promotion from juvenile delinquent to adult offender with equal facility. A follow up of 420 Chicago cases found a negligible difference.’ 3 Continuance of anti-social conduct was dependent upon other conditions than nationality. 4
Further, evidence that the crimes of native born white of both European and American parentage were the resultant not of conditions peculiar to either group but of the same general socio-economic pressures affecting both is shown by the fact that the types of crimes the immigrant’s sons were guilty of were similar not to the offenses of their parents, but to the offenses committed by native Americans. This tendency of the second generation to shift away from crimes peculiar to immigrants and towards native crimes is substantiated by records of all commitments to Massachusett’s penal institutions during the year ending September 30, 1909, and by the records of convictions in the New York Court of General Sessions from October 1, 1908 to June 30, 1909. 25
In summary, then, it was noted by an examination of both American and European reports that the differences in socio-economic conditions between urban and rural life resulted in differences in crime rate whatever may be the nativity or cultural heritage of the individuals. Further it is contended that there are just as marked differences between the environment of prosperous and poverty stricken districts within the urban areas which also result in differing crime rates. Thus the crime of the native born sons of foreign born parentage may be a result not of cultural maladjustment as is usually held, but of their position in a poverty class, a class which breeds criminals with equal facility from all its constituents be they of native or foreign parentage. This view is substantiated by evidence that indicates that native born whites of both American and European parents, if on the same socio-economic level, formed predatory groups, that both grew up into careers of crime with equal facility, and that both were guilty of the same types of crime. This coincidence of factors indicates that the criminality of both was not due to conditions peculiar to each group individually, but to general conditions affecting both equally, namely, their residence in a poverty stricken socio-economic class.
This explanation, if accepted, harmonizes the apparent contradiction between statistical studies, on the one hand, which demonstrate a higher crime rate for the native born of European parentage than for the native born of American parentage, and the personal experiences of countless officials and investigators, on the other hand, who claim, after handling hundreds of second generation offenders, that the foreign stock from which the offenders sprang was in no way responsible for the criminality.16 As the native born sons of foreign parentage tend to be segregated on that income level which has a high crime rate and the native stock tends to be dispersed through all income levels, then obviously statistical studies would endow the former with a higher crime ratio. […]
In conclusion concerning the number and causes of crime of native born individuals of foreign stock, in contradiction to accepted opinion, these views are tentatively presented.
2) Statistics seem to indicate a higher crime rate for the native born of European stock only because they disregard the various income levels. What their actual crime rate is is still a matter of opinion and it is this writer’s hypothesis that all peoples on the same socio-economic level have approximately the same crime rate.
1) The second generation is not a group culturally adrift with neither the culture of their parents nor of their new environment to guide them, but is a group with a very definite culture, a culture of a socio-economic level that is determined by irregular, poorly paid employment and results in broken homes, inadequate eductional and recreational opportunity, and a general stunted environment. And this culture determines for its inhabitants, whatever their nativity, a high crime rate.