This is the most thought-provoking book I've read in quite a while.
Immigration is a subject it seems rather difficult to discuss without getting aerated one way or another, slipping into extreme positions, or suggesting platitudinous compromises that satisfy no-one.
But this book provides a cool, calm and closely argued overview of the subject from a comprehensive range of perspectives.
Each chapter is an essay on some aspect of immigration.
Chapter 1, 'A Suitcase in the Hall', looks at how so many immigrants initially arrive as 'guest workers', only here for a job, always looking to return to family and community, finding themselves slowly becoming residents, albeit within their own transplanted society, not really becoming a part of the society in which they still consider themselves temporary residents.
Chapter 2 expands on this. 'The World in the City' looks at how different immigrant communities slowly form within western cities, segregated in schools, inward looking, defensive:
'The monotonous high-rise blocks are speckled with satellite dishes tuned to a different reality. 'Dish city' symbolizes a world that's grown smaller in both senses, in which technological innovation helps to perpetuate a parochial way of life. A global village, indeed, but did the people who thought up that slogan ever consider the ways in which global communications can foster a village mentality?' (P43)
Chapter 3, 'The Great Migration', considers the reasons and impetus for the current waves of immigration. This is the only chapter to contain statistics and they make for interesting reading. To what extent is migration a form of 'development aid' as so many immigrants send money home? How are economic policies, such as protectionism for agricultural produce, fuelling immigration? Are we seeing a 'clash of civilisations'? And the end of 'nation states'?
Chapter 4 looks specifically at the Netherlands (Scheffer is Dutch). The Netherlands is famously tolerant, but how far should this tolerant country tolerate the intolerant? And to what extent is this famed tolerance merely a cover for indifference?
Following from this, Chapter 5 compares French, German and British experiences and histories of earlier migrations. Irish catholics in Britain, Poles to Germany (Prussia), Italians to France, amongst many other groups and nationalities.
Chapter 6 considers the effects of colonialism and post-colonialism. This chapter is fascinating, as it considers not only Darwinism, but also the growing subject of anthropology and its positing of cultural relativism:
'This tendency within anthropology has an explicit pedagogical goal: a recognition of the relativity of all morality will encourage politeness and respect in our dealings with people of other cultures. The defeat of ethnocentrism in Europe and America is therefore seen as a contributor towards peaceful coexistence of different cultural groups.' (P194)
Although conceived with the best of intentions, this really leads us into a very conservative position:
'Bias is democratised, as it were; everyone has a right to his own prejudices. No escape is possible, since we are all trapped in our own partiality. In this sense relativism is a form of conservatism; if we take the force of custom as a starting point, cultural innovation becomes hard to conceive. A critical morality, by contrast, aims to put cultural traditions up for negotiation in the name of universal values.' (P195)
Chapter 7 continues with a look at the history of immigration in the US, suggesting that there are surprising and illuminating parallels between Europe and the US. Initially, the US was a 'land of colonists'; only subsequently did it become a 'land of immigrants' and the various waves of immigration have each had their effects.
Chapter 8 looks at Islam. In this post-9/11 world, this is a crucial subject to consider and again Scheffer provides much food for thought. It seems too often that Muslims see themselves as 'victims' - Islam has stagnated largely because of 'Western imperialism and Israeli Zionism' (P274). But there are reformist thinkers who suggest that perhaps the fault has been at least in part within Islam itself. Initially a thriving society, it stagnated within a religious orthodoxy. Scheffer suggests that:
'[I]f Muslims intend to live in liberal democracies while retaining the idea that the Koran or the prophet are above all criticism and must never be the object of ridicule, then they condemn themselves to the role of eternal outsiders. Freedom for Muslims can be defended only if Muslims are willing to defend the freedom of their critics.' (P282)
Finally, Chapter 9, 'Land of Arrival' pulls many of the threads together, returning to the themes outlined in the opening chapters.
The pressure to allow immigration of unskilled, uneducated workers comes from business, a neoliberal 'laissez-faire' ideology, holding down the value of wages to the extent that 'indigenous' workers will not accept such pay and conditions, preferring instead to rely on welfare.
And then business has no further use for these low paid immigrants who, in the interim, have brought over their families and dependents.
So, from an initial immigrant population with 80% employment, we have an established community of immigrants with perhaps only 40% employment, the rest simply relying on welfare. The resentment of the indigenous population is understandable but, as Owen Jones suggests in his recent book 'Chavs', too often this resentment is used by 'liberals' to suggest that:
"they [liberals] are defending immigrants from the "ignorant" white working class." (Johann Hari, quoted in 'Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
' P 116)
In this book, Scheffer is not afraid to challenge this 'liberal class'. In fact, he points out that, although immigration might initially effect just those at the 'bottom' of the social pile, slowly the effects spread out and up.
But really, the main theme that Scheffer keeps coming back to, implicitly and explicitly, is 'reciprocation'. He challenges the French insistence on 'Frenchness' which alienates so many, the German post-World War II timidity and the much-vaunted British 'multiculturalism' (which, interestingly, he links to neoliberalism - 'Multiculturalism and market liberalism have a great deal in common in that they both seriously call in to question the value of the social compromise within the borders of Western countries.' (P92))
'...reciprocity is the key. Anyone wanting to challenge discrimination against migrants and their children must be prepared to oppose other forms of discrimination too - against unbelievers or homosexuals, for example. We can't demand equal treatment for some but not for all. With this attitude in mind we begin to see the outlines of a society in which people with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds realize that for all their independence they nevertheless rely on one another.' (P314)
At times the prose may be dense, but the ideas are challenging, uncomfortable and even occasionally upsetting. But they are important ideas and they may show us a way forward, while maintaining the links with all our pasts.