Friday, 11 December 2009

Immigration: what happens to the second generation?

Five foreigners were arrested in Sargodha, Pakistan yesterday. Allegedly, they are members of a banned Islamic terrorist outfit. The incident raises broader questions about the integration of second generation immigrants into foreign societies.
Clearly, there is something unusual about five Americans turning up in Sargodha. It is unlikely they just wished to try the region's oranges. After attacks on Pakistan's army and navy headquarters, it might have been the air force's turn to face the ire of Islamic extremists.

In Pakistan, Sargodha is known for only two things: oranges and the country's largest air force base. The city also houses the air force's elite Combat Commanders School which trains fighter pilots in tactics and weapons.
It is not the first instance of Europeans and Americans supporting extremist Islam. Some may remember the 'American Taliban,' John Walker Lindh. French North Africans and British South Asians have also been involved in acts of terrorism in their adopted countries.
What drives the products of Western social systems and structures to vent their frustration in such an extreme manner? The majority of the disaffected youth are moulded by the school systems of their adopted countries. Some are university graduates from prestigious universities. Some even obtained military training courtesy of the US army.
Theoretically, these young people have the same economic opportunities as any French or British citizen.
It is easy to point the finger at Pakistan. Pakistan is a convenient flogging horse in the war against Islamic extremism. Pakistan is the cauldron where Islam is currently fighting its most extreme and bloody ideological battle. Naturally, these extremists gravitate to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But more often than not, the radicalization of these Western youth takes place prior to their travels to Pakistan / Afghanistan. It is because of their radicalization that these individuals seek 'specialization' and travel to the region.
It is one thing spouting ideological nonsense on the internet or media, especially in Western societies where freedom of speech is sacrosanct and has no bounds. It is quite another to move from radical thought to direct action, including terrorist training and suicide bombings.
It is not normal. Clearly, there are issues of alienation at play.

Estranged French youth of North African descent do not attack police stations and burn cars in Parisian suburbs to vent frustrations about French foreign policy. Similarly, it is no coincidence that British Asians tend to have unemployment rates far higher than the national average.
Immigrant populations, whether in Singapore or France, have an obligation to integrate into their new homes. The funny thing is that the first generation generally integrates without too many issues.
It is the second generation which appears to suffer from an identity crisis. In today's environment, fed by real life Hollywood style violence on the daily news, some turn to extreme measures to vent their frustration.
Let us not forget that many of these Westerners are as Egyptian or Yemeni as the average Singaporean can claim to be from mainland China.
Western sociologists have their work cut out. Unfortunately, the only people concerned with disgruntled European Muslims are the police. (The Swiss government seemed concerned but the broader population not.)

A mosque (and house) on the outskirts of Amsterdam, Netherlands

The old Hindu Sadhu or holy man, Goda, from whom Sargodha's name derives, must certainly be wondering what's happening in his otherwise serene orchard city.
PS – Admittedly, many of my statements above are not based on hard empirical data which a true academic would certainly 'mine' to support his arguments. However, I did feel the need to share my opinion and hopefully get you to think about Muslim immigrants in Western society through a different perspective. It will be nice to hear from you, whether you agree or disagree!

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