The elites are attempting to preserve an unstable status quo out of fear that embracing a coherent immigration policy could ignite a dangerous political conflict.
Quiz: Who defended an immigration law that allows the police to demand that an individual "show us your papers" and even to arrest him if the color of his skin raises suspicion that he is residing in the state illegally? Who also recalled with a sense of nostalgia the good old days when the state outlawed the immigration of freed slaves and persons with contagious diseases?
Alas, I must disappoint Eva Illouz: The speaker was neither Eli Yishai, Israel's interior minister, nor Georges Mauco, a leading expert on immigration and population in France in the 1930s, both of whom she mentioned in "Universality is a foreign concept" (Haaretz English Edition, June 22). Rather, it was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the arguments he made recently appeared in his minority opinion written in support of the draconian Arizona immigration law that allowed police in that state to stop anyone whose looks or mannerisms raises suspicion that he or she is an illegal alien.
Scalia is a bright legal scholar with degrees from the most prestigious universities in a country whose constitution is based on liberal principles and serves as a model for other democracies. He is also a conservative intellectual who believes that the federal government doesn't have the right to impose its immigration laws on Arizona, which currently hosts over 300,000 illegal immigrants, most of them from Mexico.
The debate over the controversial Arizona immigration law is part of a wider public discourse on the way to deal with more than 11 million illegal immigrants, most of them Hispanics, who reside and work in the United States. A coalition of liberal groups and business organizations is backing legislation that would allow the absorption of most of these immigrants into the American society and economy. Conservative politicians, who are supported by Americans who regard the growing Hispanic population as a threat to their national identity and economic status, are opposed to what they depict as an "amnesty" for immigrants who have broken the law.
The debate is a legitimate one, and it's taking place in the United States and other democracies whose legal systems are based not on universal principles, as Prof. Illouz argued, but on the recognition that the sovereign nation-state needs to maintain the principle of equal rights between its citizens. The political struggle in the United States and other democracies has focused on the expansion of equal rights to all citizens, including women and religious, ethnic and racial minorities - not on the right of free immigration into the state.
One of the factors that drove opposition to immigration of Catholics to the United States in the 19th century - a time when the Church was the bastion of political reaction in Europe - was the concern among members of the progressive elites of New England that these immigrants would continue to adhere to religious principles that don't include a commitment to liberal positions, such as equality for women. Similarly, the current opposition of some liberal Europeans to immigration from Muslim countries derives from fears that immigrants would try to impose their anti-secular views on the Western societies that absorb them.
The debate over immigration policies doesn't necessarily reflect the ideological differences between the political left and right. America's labor unions led the struggle to restrict immigration during the economic depression of the 1930s (a policy that also prevented the entry of Jewish refugees from Europe ). Today, leading American corporations support liberalizing U.S. immigration policies.
And like in Israel, Americans and Europeans who belong to the upper-middle class and many intellectuals are inclined to embrace more liberal attitudes toward illegal immigrants (who clean their homes and take care of their kids ), while members of the lower-middle class and the poor (who compete with immigrants for jobs and diminishing economic resources ) are attracted to xenophobic demagogues like Yishai in Israel, Marine La Pen in France - or for that matter, those who support the Arizona immigration law.
Eva Illouz writes that she would not presume to propose a set of immigration policies, suggesting that, "immigration is and perhaps must be monitored." But like other members of political and intellectual leaderships in Israel and the West, in general, she refuses to draw the outline of policies that would reflect the numerous interests and principles that are shared by the citizens of the nation-state.
Instead, the elites are attempting to preserve an unstable status quo out of fear that embracing a coherent immigration policy would require a clear definition of the national and cultural identity of the state - of "who we are" - which could in turn ignite a dangerous political conflict. The problem is that this attitude tends to play into the hands of Yishai and others who exploit the democratic system as part of an effort to demolish the reigning liberal agenda. Unlike the elites, they do seem to have a clear definition of "who we are."
Dr. Leon Hadar is a senior analyst with Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting firm.
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