Why Arabs in the West cannot integrate into host societies

When Arabs withdraw into their communities, they develop a negative attitude towards life in European countries.
Saturday 06/07/2019
An Egyptian-American family and their friends enjoy dinner at their house in Manalapan, New Jersey.          (Reuters)
Between cultures. An Egyptian-American family and their friends enjoy dinner at their house in Manalapan, New Jersey. (Reuters)

Some Arab immigrants in the West remain forever strangers in their host countries because they have a problem integrating.

This situation endures even though European countries often allow refugees and immigrants to become full-fledged nationals after a few years of residence and under conditions that are not impossible to fulfil.

Attempting to explain Arabs’ failure to integrate into new social and political environments simply because they are part of the overall Muslim community does not offer a convincing answer.

Not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are culturally alike in their motherlands or in their host countries. A whole spectrum of other causes may shed light on Arabs’ deferred affiliation to Western societies, starting with the language barrier and not ending with religion.

There may be other reasons, such as unfavourable laws, immigrants’ attachment to their countries of origin and negative attitudes towards socio-political life in their adoptive countries.

It is difficult to pinpoint which causes have the greatest effect on most Arabs who are reluctant to integrate into Western societies. These causes vary and do not seem always to provide a convincing explanation.

Weather may be a justification for the “nomadic” life of Arabs who move from Nordic countries but, even when they settle in relatively warmer climates of France or Britain, it does not mean they are ready to integrate into those countries or become an active part of public life. Many years later, some do not even speak their new country’s language.

Many Arabs in Western countries live in closed communities to the point that some areas have been named after their ethnic group. Arabs can live for many years in those areas without having to use the country’s main language, except for very rare occasions.

When Arabs withdraw into their communities, they develop a negative attitude towards life in European countries and remain vigorously attached to their countries of origin by closely following events there. It is as if their bodies are in the West while their minds and souls are roaming the streets and neighbourhoods of the countries they left.

By insisting on maintaining bonds to their countries of origin, Arabs in the West lead their old same lives but in a different place. This makes integration into their new environments nearly impossible, especially for older people whose minds follow straight lines leading to their countries of origin.

Those lines, often determined by beliefs, ideologies, nationalities or regionalism, are generally passed on by immigrants to their children, making minor adjustments to comply with the laws of the new homeland.

To be fair, we cannot place the full blame for failing to integrate on the shoulders of immigrants alone. Part of the responsibility must be borne by the laws of the host nation, another by the attitude of host societies and a third rests with Arab governments.

Immigration laws in some countries are discriminatory, targeting specific sections of immigrant populations according to professional qualifications. Some host countries neglect to provide language programmes for new arrivals and immigrants live in closed Arab communities because they have difficulty communicating and interacting with the wider community.

With respect to the host societies, there is no denying there is a level of rejection of Arabs and Muslims, both because of the spread of Islamophobia that is being nourished by ideas popularised by Western media stereotypes linking Islam to terrorism and by the rise of extreme right-wing groups defending the “purity” of Western societies.

Arab regimes contribute to delaying integration of Arab immigrants. Not only do these regimes persecute their citizens at home to the point of pushing them to emigrate, they, at times, pursue them in the diaspora and turn some into spies, dooming their integration to failure.

Arab regimes do not want their people to become liberated even in the diaspora. They will not allow any opposition to them to develop among those communities, even hundreds of thousands of kilometres from their palaces.

Political Islam groups in the West helping thwart attempts to integrate Arab migrants into new societies are no less ugly than those Arab regimes. Their distorted and hateful fatwas and rulings do nothing but nourish the new immigrants’ hate for the West.

So, how can a Muslim be expected to integrate when his sheikhs keep telling him that wishing a Merry Christmas to a Christian or accepting a gift from a Christian neighbour on eid day is “haram”? How can a Muslim child be expected to strike a friendship with a Christian child when the former’s schoolbooks tell him that the latter is a “kafir”?

Can we expect those who consider television an “illegitimate novelty” to be capable of correcting themselves and of reconciling themselves with the inventors of this “evil” device?