Costs & Conflicts of Assimilation
By Omar Alansari-Kreger, Engage Minnesota
Be one of us or one of them.
Assimilation is a difficult thing to experience. Some choose to live insular lives which leaves very little room for external engagement. As a matter of principle, the ways of the old world are traditionally followed without question. The children of refugees find themselves in a very difficult position. There is this underlying belief suggesting that a way of life must be chosen. Either embrace the ways of the old world or become part of the new. That decision carries with it a weighty proposition. For a great deal of expatriated youths living across the United States, there is this feeling that a choice must be made between parents and their external surroundings. For example, parental refugees may choose to maintain minimal proficiency with the English language in addition to their newly acquired surroundings. Their children generally function as bridges which assist in overcoming barriers of language and culture. That eventually leads to a conflict of interest which materializes in a clash of ideas.
Youths experience a world that is fundamentally different from that of their elders. Such conflicts originate from cauldrons that brew oppositional antagonisms with old world traditions. An ongoing trend among refugees finds a need to keep assimilative forces at an arm’s length. The rationale behind that is supported by an analogy of fear.
That happens when youths become too Americanized for their own good. Too much assimilation could imply that youths will misplace their roots which could create a great rift with the forces of tradition. On the other hand, societies that sponsors refugees into the United States are prone to underestimating the strength of old world cultures in all of their distinct forms. It is maintained that assimilation is a good thing because it provides an experience that would otherwise be impossible in the old world. The fact of the matter is that a great deal of refugees migrate to the West, the United States in particular, out of necessity.
As a general rule of thumb, for the older generations of refugees, there is a place where they would rather like to be. After all, there is no place like home. As long as conditions remains oppressive in their respective homelands, they are obliged to be foreign expatriates because their situation demands it. This should not imply that older refugees secretly hold their new surroundings with contempt. There is one universal truism which transcends all aspects of human culture; there is no place like home. Westerners generally maintain there is only one form of assimilation, absolute integration. Be one of us or one of them. When taken in the extreme, the expatriation process will ultimately lead to a conflict of interest. A refugee youth should not be put positions where they must choose between two different extremes. Rather, they must strive to embrace the best qualities of two different worlds in order to maximize harmony between both.
When an entire way of life is attacked as backward and primitive, a defense mechanism emerges which rushes to redeem a distinct cultural identity. From there, polarities are born which ossify boundaries that do nothing but marginalize a way of life. That creates nothing but an aura of hopelessness. If a youth, a refugee in particular, feels they cannot gain the acceptance of their traditional elders or foreign sponsors, rejection hits home and begins to saturate in their minds. In its worst application, a youth is inclined to lead an insular way of life far removed from their sponsors or by selling out to their sponsors in hopes of redeeming total assimilation. In regards to Minnesota Muslims, such divisive polarities can lead to a slow, but gradual road to radicalization. Youths are inclined to form their own identities when they deem all others as undesirable and incompatible with their own.
Fringe organizations thrive on such polarities because their survival depends on it. There is a reason why disenfranchised youths are exploited as recruitable fodder for extremists. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) takes full advantage of this chasm. Opportunity is viewed as nothing but a form of false hope. Recruiters for organizations such as ISIL or Al-Shabab burn that message into the minds of their recruits. There is only one way out and that is attained through an unquestioned sacrifice of self. Truths are spun out of delusional destines. A recruiter for an extremist organization will take full advantage of a youth’s impressionable ignorance by selling them on the notion that the life of a mujahedeen is what they were chosen for.
When ignorance morphs with hopelessness, a very dangerous concoction is created. Both are interconnected to frequencies of anger and materialize into bodies of rage. The best solution for assimilation is to find a middle ground where expatriates can assimilate without compromising who they are.
Omar Alansari-Kreger, of Minneapolis, is a Muslim-American, a writer and a social activist.
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