August 27, 2003

Norwegian Blogger returns

When I migrated from paleo Ideofact to this address, I reviewed my blogroll, and dropped some links to people who seemed to have given it up. I'm pleased to see that one I'd dropped, Vegard Valberg, the Norwegian Blogger, is back, with a pair of posts arguing that notices of Europe's death are premature.

I'm reminded somewhat of something the character Ulrich says in Robert Musil's monumental Man Without Qualities. During a discussion of Austro-Hungarian virtues, at which some propose militarism or Nietsche or other intellectual fashions of the day, Ulrich postulates the key virtue of the empire as the ability to just muddle through. This may not sound like much, but by and large Ulrich was onto something: it is far better to muddle through with contradictions than to face instead the all encompassing, uncompromising solutions of communism or fascism.

I have a few quibbles with Vegard's second post, on Islamic immigration and integration in Europe. A decade or so ago, when I was in Berlin doing my best to learn German, I was cornered at a party by a few of my classmates -- a couple of Swiss, a Frenchman and our teacher's significant other -- and asked fairly pointed questions about American racism. (Cornered is too strong a word -- it was a pleasant evening, after all, and I think they genuinely wanted to know if, say, the beating of Rodney King was unusual or par for the course.) I generally believe that America still has racial problems, but I also believe Americans have made a good faith effort to confront them, and while there's still room for further improvement, it's not as if great strides haven't been made. I ended by pointing out that a series of actions, from private sector efforts like Jackie Robinson in baseball to court decisions to national and state legislation, Americans have shown a remarkable desire to, as it were, "overcome." I ended by noting the situation of Turks in Berlin and Germany generally -- second and third generation Turks born in Germany were still denied citizenship. To which the German significant other replied, "Yes, but they're not German."

To be American is to adhere a set of ideas -- there is no American nation, in the sense of one ethnic group or volk. To be German -- to be part of the German nation -- means having a certain ancestry. A Turk can come here, swear his allegiance to the Constitution, and be every bit as American as I am (and even, perhaps, more so), but for a Turk to become a German is a rather more difficult feat.

Later that evening my French friend complained about the Eastern Europeans who came to France. I thought this was particularly rude, since at the time I had a Polish girlfriend, who was there with me, and listened to his diatribe about Poles, Czechs and Hungarians. His complaint was that, having ruined their own countries, they were now coming to France to ruin it -- running black market businesses, littering (I'm not making that one up), hanging out in public places and ruining things for the French. Much attention of late has been directed to the failure of immigrants from Muslim countries to integrate into their new countries -- I can't help but wonder how other groups immigrating in large numbers have fared, whether they too "are not German."

Posted by Ideofact at August 27, 2003 10:40 PM