Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cologne and The Graft vs. Host Reaction of Immigration

In transplant medicine, there is the curious response called "graft vs host" in which immune cells contained in  the donor organ actually attack the recipient, rather than the recipient's immune system attacking the donated organ as "foreign."

What Germany., France and, to a far lesser extent, America are dealing with is whether or not we face a "graft vs host" reaction. 

The events on New Year's Eve in Cologne suggested the transplants from Syria and Turkey have found themselves to be strangers in a strange land. Groping, even raping un-escorted women in Tahrir Square, in Cairo or in the market in   Saudi Arabia,  may be considered a social norm, but it is not acceptable behavior in Cologne.

In France, the Muslim population has never been accepted fully into French life, as the origins of these people were mainly North African, Algerian, and they were more or less isolated in the suburbs of Paris where rather than thriving, they festered.

Speaking on NPR about his new book about US immigration policies since the 19th century, Tom Jelton notes that until 1965 the United States favored white, primarily Protestant,  Northern Europeans over Asian, South American immigrants. So while the quota on people from China or El Salvador might have been 100 a year each, 50,000 a year were allowed from England, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia.  This kept the country white.

After World War II, some Americans felt badly about having turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler, and attempts to change the quota system were launched in Congress and failed. Lyndon Johnson, in his early years in Congress voted to maintain this racial bias, but 12 years later, as President, in 1965, he pushed through a change. The change was actually fashioned by a conservative, who suggested the idea of keeping families united, so rather than having an advantage if you came from Sweden, you had an advantage if you were living in the country and you wanted to bring over your wife and family. 

Of course, the idea was if you had lots of Swedes already here, they would bring in their family members and the racial balance would remain stable. But it didn't work out that way because the Scots, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Germans and even the Irish living in America found their family members who wanted to come to America had already come over and those who remained in Europe were happy there and so it was the South Americans, Asians and Caribbean people who were here who were able to import family members.

Now, we are faced with folks of Middle Eastern descent in the upper Midwest who want to bring in their relatives, who are desperate to escape the cauldron that has become the Middle East. 

The Donald tells us this is a huge threat to America.

He is, of course, pandering to the worst demons of our soul, but we should, in quiet moments, reflect that even in the most hideous and repugnant lines of thought, there may be some ideas we need to examine.  It is true some second generation Middle Eastern kids have got on planes to go fight for Isis.  But we have not seen the sort of Tahrir Square episodes in American cities. 

In "The Serial" the Middle Eastern mother storms into a high school dance to drag away her adolescent son who she thinks is being contaminated by the free love of a high school prom, where girls are present who do not have a male family member to protect their virtue and where music is played and, horror, girls dance with boys.

We do have among us people who reject us, reject our values. But the Muslims are not the first who have done this: Orthodox Jews, and even Catholics have rejected prevailing American values about pre marital sex, contraception and the proper behavior of males and females.

What we have going for us in the United States is we accept the idea that you parents may have been born in Lebanon or Egypt, but if you dress like us, talk like us, go to our schools, play on our teams, you are as American as anyone else.

It's only Republicans who believe you do not qualify if you worship Allah rather than Jesus.


  1. Mad Dog,
    What about those immigrants-including many Muslims-who do not, as you say "dress like us, talk like us, play on our teams," you're not suggesting they are not "as American as anyone else"-are you?..that only those that fully assimilate and blend it with the norm are "true" Americans..You can't be saying that, because then you would be sounding remarkably similar to the Donald and that's a troubling thought..No one would condone the abhorrent behavior of the thugs in Cologne, criminality is different than adopting all the trappings of the larger society. Even though trying to fit into the community has distinct benefits-it's not essential to being "American" is it?

  2. Maud,

    Hadn't thought of this, but you are absolutely correct.
    A Finnish friend of mine announced he was moving his family back to Finland and I was amazed. "But Veikko," I protested. "Your work here in the laboratory is going so well. How can you leave?"
    And he pointed to a gaggle of kids from our department, at the picnic playing in a jungle gym.
    "Look, there," he said. "Can you tell my kids from any of the others?"
    "No, they all look like kids."
    "American kids," he said. "They are forgetting they are Finnish."
    I always thought that was a good thing, assimilation.
    But some people do not want that and if they want to live here and retain their identity, we should celebrate that, too.
    Being American has to do with shared values.
    As Obama has said, "America is an idea. That's why you cannot kill it."
    Mad Dog