The brighter side of immigration

Hany Ghoraba
Friday 27 Jul 2018

The brighter side of immigration was shown during this year’s football World Cup, and it must be learned from by all responsible governments

Immigration has been a source of controversy and debate in Western countries for the past two decades. Some believe that new immigrants have been the cause of social problems including crime, poverty and unemployment.

There may be some truth in the view that such problems have resulted from the unplanned influx of immigrants to mostly Western countries in Europe and North America and the inability of many of them to integrate into their new societies.

As a result, some of the new immigrants may tend to resist integration or cultural assimilation in the countries they have migrated to out of fears of losing their identities.

While the decision to immigrate was not forced on these immigrants except in cases of war or the need to claim the status of political refugees, they may feel that their strength lies in resisting the new state in which they find themselves through seclusion in ghettos or neighbourhoods where a large number of immigrants of identical nationalities reside.

Prime examples of this were found in the Chinatowns and Italian neighbourhoods that existed in many American cities in the 20th century

By the end of the 20th century and in the early 21st such problems did not evaporate but became exacerbated as further immigrants from Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East fled their poverty stricken, economically crippled or war-torn nations seeking a new life for themselves and their families in developed Western countries.

On 15 July this year, however, one of the brighter sides of immigration emerged when the whole world saw France crowned with its second football World Cup title by an amazing group of talented young men most of whom were the sons of immigrants.

France was not the only country whose national team featured second-generation immigrants, as third-placed Belgium did as well.

All these players performed to their utmost for the nations they represented because they believed they were complete and genuine citizens of these nations.

What France attained during the recent World Cup was the rare assimilation of talents garnered from the mostly second-generation sons of immigrants whose attachment to France was real and who were poised to honour their homeland.

The majority of the French team was made up of young men of African and Arab descent who performed like champions for their homeland of France. The diversity of their races, religions and ethnicities was an enormous boost for the country that had raised and nurtured them.

France’s victory in the World Cup was thus a victory for a successful integration policy in the field of sport that has managed to channel the efforts of these second-generation immigrants for the glory of the country as a whole.

The issue of whether this French team represented the majority of the French nation is irrelevant, as American national basketball teams are also mostly comprised of black players who represent just 12.3 per cent of the US population.

No pundits claim that these teams are unrepresentative of the wider country as a result. The reason is that sport is a field that transcends racial strife as its results are dependent on physical performance, teamwork and ability, all of which were displayed brilliantly by the French National Football Team.

The French use of the talents of immigrants is commendable and is a path that will assist in integrating other immigrants who may not practise sports but will find that their new home country’s teams feature players from many races and ethnicities all playing for the glory of France and thus cementing the new immigrants’ sense of belonging and loyalty.

While some might say that France along with other European countries are exploiting African talent and taking away African and other non-European players from their former homelands, this would not be accurate.

The truth is that these players had the opportunity to play for their parents’ countries of origin should they have wanted to or had been chosen to, but they chose to play for France, Belgium or other countries instead where they reside and had been raised as citizens.

The idea that they would have succeeded to the same level in their parents’ or grandparents’ countries of origin is also questionable given the great facilities and incentives offered by European countries such as France.

On the other hand, for decades Islamists such as members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafi groups have been operating extensively in European and North American countries, hoping to take control of mosques and Islamic centres in them.

Their mission has been aimed at crippling efforts by the governments of these countries to integrate or culturally assimilate new immigrants into their societies by highlighting the importance of maintaining an “Islamic” identity and not mingling with or dissolving in Western societies lest this is lost.

These groups have even taken such ideas a step further by ridiculing or demeaning the citizens of the host countries and giving the new immigrants a sense of religious superiority.

The end result of these seditious activities has been reflected in the young men and women who have joined jihadist or terrorist groups and have even planned attacks against the very nations that have hosted them and the very people who have extended a helping hand to them.

The victory of France in this year’s football World Cup is bad news for Islamists and Western supremacists alike, since it tears down their ludicrous theories of superiority and the idea that it is impossible for people of different religions to live with each other in one society.

Instead, it is a lesson that people can create wonders if they put their minds together and relinquish any form of discrimination, hate and violence against others.

However, as is the case in other Western countries, there are still problems among immigrants in France, who now make up a significant proportion of the population, including the difficulty of some second-generation immigrants of being able to assimilate in their host societies either out of choice or by being rejected by others.

In this context, the French football integration model is one that should be studied in order that new immigrants can be fully assimilated not only in sports but in other fields as well.

It is high time for us to acknowledge that almost all societies will receive immigrants in one form or another as communications and transport improve, facilitating the movement of people across the world.

No country can totally stop such immigration, but smarter governments can manage to get the best out of these new immigrants by treating them as added value to their societies.

It is important for Western governments in particular to study the effects of immigration on their societies by weighing up the pros and cons of it and without over-dramatising its effects either positively or negatively.

Tackling the immigration issue could be the key to solving many social and economic problems and may one day hinder illegal immigration to countries that may be rich but have no economic or social plans to absorb large influxes of immigrants effectively.

The brighter side of immigration was amply shown during the 2018 World Cup, and it must now be learned from in other fields by all responsible governments.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The brighter side of immigration  

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