One of the most striking developments in the modern era of globalization is the rapid flow of people across national borders. The United Nations estimates that, in 2005, 191 million migrants lived outside their country of birth (roughly 3% of the global population). This figure has doubled since 1960 and continues to rise; today the estimate is close to 200 million. Most move to Western societies; according to OECD statistics, just over two dozen countries of destination, mainly in Europe, North America and Asia, absorb almost three-quarters of all migrants around the world. In 2005, among all world regions, Europe hosted the largest number of international migrants (70.5 million), who represented almost one tenth of Europe's total population. Europe was followed by North America (45.1 million) and Asia (25.3 million). At the dawn of the twenty-first century, about one in four or five residents in countries such as Australia (24%), Switzerland (24%), New Zealand (19%), and Canada (18%) were foreign-born, as were one in eight in Germany (13%), the United States (13%), and Sweden (12%).
The rapid settlement of Muslim migrants into European societies, in particular, has raised important challenges for how policymakers manage cultural diversity, maintain social cohesion, and accommodate minorities. Recent events have intensified concerns about the integration of Muslim populations: (1) sharp ethnic tensions arose in The Netherlands after the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh by Islamic extremists in November 2004; (2) heated protests broke out in many countries, following the September 2005 publication of the 'Muhammad' cartoons in Denmark: the cartoons were seen as blasphemous in Islamic countries, while demands for their suppression raised concerns about freedom of expression in Western countries; and (3) violent riots occurred a few months later in suburban Paris housing projects involving disaffected Franco-Maghrebi communities. These concerns were heightened by a series of extreme terrorist events, particularly by 9/11 in the United States, the bombings directed against civilian targets in Madrid (2004), London (2005), and, most recently, Mumbai (2008). The UK was particularly shocked that British-born second-generation Muslim youths of Pakistani and Jamaican descent, with good education and job prospects, were the perpetrators. These events raise fears that second-generation Muslims living in isolated urban communities are becoming alienated from democratic societies and may be developing closer sympathies with extremist Islamic movements. For some observers, disaffected Muslims in France, the UK or the Netherlands are seeking to create a society entirely separate from the mainstream.
Do migrants carry their cultural values with them, or do they acquire the values of their host society?
This raises the broader question: to what extent do migrants carry their culture with them, and to what extent do they acquire the culture of their new setting? The answer not only has important political implications; it also helps us understand the extent to which basic cultural values are enduring or malleable; and whether cultural values are traits of individuals or attributes of a given society.
A new Harvard Kennedy School Working Paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that Muslim migrants do not simply reflect the traditional cultural attitudes and conservative social values which are commonly found in their countries of origin; instead the basic values of Muslims living in Western societies fall roughly half-way between the dominant culture prevailing within their countries of destination and origin.
Evidence is based on examining all five pooled waves of the World Values Survey and European Values Study, a global investigation of socio-cultural and political change carried out from 1981 to 2007. This project has conducted representative national surveys of the basic values and beliefs of the publics in more than 90 independent countries, containing over 88 of the world's population and covering all six inhabited continents. The survey covers 20 Islamic nations, defined as those where the Muslim population is the largest plurality (which may also contain substantial minorities of other faiths). It is important to compare a wide variety of societies to examine the variety of attitudes and values found among Muslim nations around the globe. The World Values Survey also includes 22 countries of destination, as shown in the appendix Table. This allows us to compare the attitudes of Muslims living in countries of origin, Western populations living in countries of destination, and Muslims living in Western societies.
We compared four types of values, those concerning religiosity, attitudes towards issues of sexual liberalization such as homosexuality, abortion and divorce, attitudes towards gender equality, and democratic values. Factors analysis was used to construct value scales, all standardized to 100-points. The mean position of the publics is shown in Figure 1, suggesting two main findings.
First, as expected, across all the scales there is a sizeable and significant gap between the publics living in Islamic societies of origin and Western societies of destination; Muslims living in Islamic societies proved far more religious, and far more traditional in tolerance of gays, women and sexual issues, as well as slightly less supportive of democratic values. By contrast, Western societies were far more secular in orientation as well as liberal on the social value scales.
But, equally importantly, Western Muslims were not as conservative as their compatriots in their countries of origin; instead Western Muslims were consistently located roughly half-way between their countries of origin and destination. These patterns persisted in multilevel regressions models (not reproduced here) controlling for many factors expected to shape social values and the backgrounds of migrant populations, including age, gender, education, income, marital status, 2nd generation, labor force participation, religiosity and world region (Middle East).
Figure 1: Cultural values by type of society and religious identity
Source: pooled World Values Survey 1981-2007.
In interpreting these results, we suspect that in the short-term, one reason why Muslim migrants express values located between their countries of origin and destination may be self-selection: people already sympathetic towards Western cultures, as well as those with the higher skills and status which facilitate mobility, are more likely to relocate to live in affluent post-industrial societies. Nevertheless in the long-term, there is probably a reciprocal process at work, especially for the second and third generations of migrant families. Our overall view of these findings is that Muslim migrants do not come to Western countries with rigidly fixed attitudes; instead, they gradually absorb the values prevalent in their host society, as assimilation theories suggest.
Appendix table: Countries under comparison
A copy of the HKS Working Paper: Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris. 2009 "Muslim integration into Western cultures: Between origins and destinations" can be downloaded from http://www.hks.harvard.edu/research/working_papers/index.htm
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