THE PROBLEM OF INTEGRATION

I gasp when I hear that the failure of integration in Europe only applies to Muslims and other groups like Asians ‘who don’t cause any trouble’ are the ‘success’ case of integration.


‘Not causing any trouble’ is not good enough a measure of ‘success’ in integration, because the expectation that the society has of immigrants is so low. It is as if the host society merely tolerates the presence of minorities — by letting them stay in their country — but has no intention of making them part of the ‘circle of we’, as ‘one of us’.


It seemed that there was a need to establish a common understanding on what we mean by ‘integration’ anyway, and how we imagine a ‘well integrated’ individual is.


First, a distinction must be made between functional integration — of overcoming the language barrier and becoming fully participating members of the mainstream society, and emotional integration — of coming to feel a sense of belonging and emotional identification with the society.


Functional integration doesn’t necessarily lead to emotional integration — I have seen too many second and third generation of migrant background in Europe who speak the language fluently and are highly educated and fully participating members of the mainstream society on a professional level, and yet, they don't feel a sense of belonging and emotional identification with the nation they were born or grew up in.


Why did they not feel a sense of belonging or emotional identification with their 'home' country?


I couldn’t imagine that I could have developed a sense of belonging and emotional identification with a society, if the society perceived me as a permanent outsider based on how I looked and how my name sounded.


I couldn’t imagine that I could have developed a sense of belonging and emotional identification with a society, if there was a group who claimed ownership of the nation and my destiny remained at mercy of them — how much equality, inclusion and tolerance they would grant me — even if they indeed were inclusive and tolerant.


I couldn’t imagine that I could have developed a sense of belonging and emotional identification with a society, if the society preached ‘equality’ and 'tolerance' as its cherished values, and yet it didn't quite translate into the experience of my daily life.


Integration problem in Europe is often characterized as the problem of the immigrants’ lack of effort in integrating themselves: ‘They don’t even make the effort to learn the language, stick to their own community, and hold onto the culture that they brought with them without adapting to the new culture. Why do they even come here, if they are going to live exactly the same way they were back home?’


In turn, the 'integration effort' in Europe focuses on encouraging immigrants to ‘try harder’ to integrate themselves by offering them 'integration courses’ — of learning the language and adopting the norms of the host society.


But it has kept short of asking themselves whether the society was ready to integrate them. What about the society, as it stands, fails to achieve emotional integration of immigrants, who don't feel 'at home' in the country they were born or grew up in even after two or three generations?


Emotional integration of immigrants didn’t even seem to be the 'goal' of integration in Europe. The goal of integration for European societies seemed to be that immigrants didn’t threaten the culture and identity of the nation.


Whom was integration for? Was it for the society or for the immigrants? In fact, who benefits whom couldn't be separated, because when immigrants as well as natives were thriving, it was in the best interest of the society as a whole to thrive. When everyone felt a sense of belonging and emotional identification with the society, then it was to the society’s benefit too that the nation remained unified and not fractured. But this acknowledgement by the society depended on whether the society saw immigrants as part of the 'circle of we', as 'one of us.’


If European societies want to truly solve the ‘integration problem' — not only functional integration but also emotional integration of immigrants, encouraging immigrants to 'try harder' to integrate themselves won't solve the root of the integration problem.


It was first the willingness to take an honest look at what about the society is inhibiting integration — not only integration of the new comers, but the second and third generation of migrant background, who remain unintegrated by virtue of being permanent outsiders in a society they were born or grew up in.


This was not trying to shift the responsibility of integration from immigrants to society, but without the society providing the necessary framework for immigrants to integrate themselves, successful integration could not take place, no matter how hard they tried to integrate themselves.