This pot’s for melting: Geert Wilders, Muslims, and Assimilation

Some of you might have caught wind of self-described Islam-hater Geert Wilders’ little jaunt through Ontario last month, during which the controversial Dutchman performed his usual routine, viz., warning of increasing Islamicisation of Europe thanks to the failure of European multiculturalism to assimilate immigrants from muslim countries.  He also warned Canadians that our own multicultural model was similarly doomed to fail:

Wilders, noting that Canadians recently elected a majority Conservative government, said that if Canadians want to conserve their way of life, they need to pressure the Tories to adopt certain policies: curbing immigration from Islamic countries, expelling immigrants who turn to crime, stopping the construction of mosques and closing Islamic schools, where, he said, hatred against western values is promulgated.

That is from a disappointingly credulous report from my old colleague at the Ottawa Citizen, Robert Sibley.  However accurate Wilders’ views may be of Holland, and perhaps of Europe in general, when it comes to Canada (and the United States as well), they appear to be considerably at odds with the facts.

One of the longest-standing myths about immigration in Canada is that while America has always been a “melting pot”, insisting that immigrants assimilate to American society, Canada – at least since 1971 – has promoted a multicultural “mosaic”, which encourages immigrants to retain their social customs and cultural traditions from the old country. It’s not true, and probably never was – I wrote a column debunking this way of thinking about things a while ago.

In fact, a new study by Duke University economics professor Jacob Vigdor, conducted for the (decidedly right-wing, it might be emphasized) Manhattan Institute, suggests that when it comes to assimilating immigrants, Canada is the most successful in the world, followed closely by the United States. (With the caveat that Portugal actually has higher assimilation rates than the US, which is skewed quite heavily by the fact that almost all immigration to Portugal consists of Portuguese speakers from former colonies, where the immigrants are given immediate citizenship).

But according to Vigdor’s paper, the patterns are clear:

1. Across all major immigrant groups –Indians, Asians, Africans, Eastern Europeans – immigrants to Canada are the most assimilated in the world, followed by immigrants to the United States.

2. This pattern holds for muslim immigrants, who are most integrated in Canada, followed closely by the United States.

3. Even when it comes to America’s stickiest immigration problem – the low assimilation rates of Mexicans and Central Americans – “Muslim immigrants in Italy and Switzerland are much less assimilated than Mexican and Central American immigrants are in the United States. Muslim immigrants’ standing in Spain is roughly equal to the standing of Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States.”

For Vigdor, “assimilation” is a measure of the degree to which immigrants become indistinguishable from native-born members of a society, based on a handful of economic (e.g. employment rates for men and women), civic (e.g. naturalization rates), and cultural (marital status, home ownership,) indicators. When you drill down into the data a bit, the differences that emerge between Canada and the USA on the one hand, and Europe on the other, are pretty remarkable.  Take the gap between immigrant and native employment rates for males:

In most countries, native-born males are more likely to be employed than male immigrants. The most striking gaps occur in the Netherlands, where natives are more than 20 percentage points more likely to be employed than immigrants, and in France, where the gap stands at 10 percentage points. In the United States, native-born males are 5 percentage points more likely to be employed—a gap similar to those observed in the U.K. and Switzerland.

Or since we’re supposed to be worried about them, let’s consider muslims. Muslims in Canada have a higher assimilation rate than any other country in the world. When it comes to a comparison with Europe, the gap is enormous. And the USA is close behind Canada; in fact “In the United States, immigrants born in predominantly Muslim nations are more assimilated than the rest of the foreign-born population, and this is true in the United States alone.” (my bold). Another interesting nugget from the data: The female employment rate for muslim immigrants in Canada is 49%, and is 50% in the USA. Compare this with a female employment rate for native-born women in Greece (40%) Italy (44%) and Spain (42%).

Vigdor attributes Canada’s success in assimilating immigrants to three main factors: First our relatively easy three-year path to naturalization. Second, our wide tolerance for dual citizenship. But third, and most crucially, our points-based system for selecting immigrants based on workplace skills. That system is being widely studied and adopted by other countries such as Australia (who is putting its system in place this summer) It is certainly controversial –Canada has been accused of poaching the best from the immigrant pool.

This is certainly worth debating, as are other questions such as the merits of assimilation in the first place. But when it comes to bringing people to our country and turning them into Canadians, our system works extremely well. Whatever problems Holland and Europe may have, with muslims or people from any other country for that matter, when it comes to Canada, Geert Wilders simply doesn’t know what he is talking about. The people who brought him here, promoted his talks, and reported on his views without criticism should be ashamed.


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