Pontificating on immigration

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 17: Pope Benedict XVI attends a Canonisation ceremony in St Peter's square, on October 17, 2010 in Vatican City, Vatican. The pontiff today named six new Saints; Stanislaw Soltys, Andre Bessette, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola of Spain, Mary of the Cross (Mary Helen) MacKillop, Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla da Varano. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

We’ve had an interesting discussion after a post yesterday about an article on a group that monitors Muslim extremism. One of the last commenters, Irenicum, had a few interesting parts, such as noting how often “we’re stuck in a false dichotomy of ‘every Muslim is a potential terrorist’ to ‘there is no radical Islam.’” His last line, though, made me think of another news story:

As an aside, at what point does a legitimate concern for preserving a cultural “tradition/norm” as many non-Muslim Americans want to do become a xenophobic impulse that is potentially dangerous? A good deal of the controversy I see seems to come about from this very dividing line. And since this is about journalism, who is writing in a public venue about this in a nuanced way?

I thought it was interesting because I’d only moments before finished reading the Pope’s Message for World Migrant and Refugee Day. Why was I doing this? I don’t know. Anyway, I decided to look at the media coverage of this message because the message itself was so, well, nuanced. For instance, note this passage:

Venerable John Paul II, on the occasion of this same Day celebrated in 2001, emphasized that “[the universal common good] includes the whole family of peoples, beyond every nationalistic egoism. The right to emigrate must be considered in this context. The Church recognizes this right in every human person, in its dual aspect of the possibility to leave one’s country and the possibility to enter another country to look for better conditions of life.”

At the same time, States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity. “The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life.”

It’s not that the church’s views — at least those presented in the first paragraph above — haven’t been well documented in the press. I think the media actually has done a generally good job of reporting on the Catholic church’s position that refugees are to be welcomed. But the second message, which, admittedly, may be a new emphasis, hasn’t been well covered. The Pope thinks that countries have the right to regulate their borders and that migrants need to integrate into their host country? That’s interesting stuff.

I figured that in this election year when border regulation is having a serious impact, this would get some noteworthy coverage. But it appears that it hasn’t, at least yet. The Associated Press issued a four paragraph piece. Reuters had seven graphs. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal mention was only a few dozen words. The Catholic press did more thorough coverage. Here’s Catholic News Service‘s piece and here’s Catholic Culture, which said that the message sounded several familiar themes about treating all refugees with dignity while being more explicit about the right to defend borders and the need for migrants to assimilate.

But in general, this nuanced message was too nuanced to receive significant media coverage. It really is a shame when only the loudest or most extreme voices in contentious fights are heard.

One exception was a brief but notable BBC report, which didn’t just highlight Benedict’s remarks but used them as a hook to discuss immigration issues in Europe. It began:

Pope Benedict has called on immigrants to respect the laws and national identity of their host countries.

He said that every country had the right to regulate the flow of migration and immigrants had a duty to integrate.

The Pope’s comments are likely to add to the Europe-wide debate about integration of foreigners.

The Vatican traditionally identifies with migrants and refugees and recently criticised France for deporting 1,000 Roma (gypsies) to Romania and Bulgaria.

This is a hot-button topic in Europe. It is here, too. I really wish that more reporters would avail themselves the opportunity to discuss the topic with more light than heat. Does it have an effect on policy and discourse when the only times we discuss issues is when more extreme news events provoke it?

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  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    And the lack of commenting on this thread is probably all that needs to be said about why news stories shy away from nuance and instead go for the extreme.

  • joye

    Mollie, this story literally just appeared on my RSS feed. I understand that the instant nature of the internet can cause bloggers to feel like a failure if there aren’t a ton of comments within the hour, but seriously. Relax! :)

    The big question, of course, is what does it mean “to integrate”? To speak the language? To celebrate the holidays? To eat the foods? To attend the public schools? To adopt the religion, or lack thereof? To intermarry?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    There are a number of reasons the pope’s message doesn’t get covered much in the U.S.
    Many immigrants here–legal and illegal– are Catholic so the Catholic Church here doesn’t want to be placed in the position of seeming to side against so many Catholics by emphasizing the pope’s (and Church teachings) respect for borders. So, in general, it keeps quiet on the border issue. Thus few news stories.
    And, of course, the press is virtually pro-illegal immigrant and boundary anarchy, so they don’t want to give publicity to anything that challenges that stance.
    On the other hand, this Catholic-papal respect for a nation’s boundaries and culture is NOT something new–even though quite uncovered in the biased(???) media.
    Part of a nation’s culture is in the names of its people. The number one boy’s name in Britain is now Mohammed according to a news story today. But the problem isn’t just uncontrolled, anarchic immigration. Part of the problem is the self-genocide of the European Christian population in its ignoring of the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply and the strong ridicule of the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and artificial birth control which makes some Christians feel virtually guilty for having children.

  • Passing By

    I read the post at lunch today, but reading complex material is difficult enough, writing a comment is worse.

    Anyway, Benedict said something that has two sides: welcoming the immigrants vs. border control, openness to other cultures vs. integration into the new community. It seems to me the BBC chose to stress the second pair, which relate to social order, rather than the first, “nicer” pair. And that’s no better than stressing “let’s all welcome the immigrant”.

    As you say, Mollie, the pope presents a nuanced position. I don’t see that the BBC reflected that nuance.

  • kristy

    This is a story that lets us see that the situation has so many shades of gray, and that a person (or organization or religion) who has actually studied the issue cannot ethically or honestly take a simple either/or stance. Unfortunately, the current state of our information culture insists that the only story is an ‘either/or’ story, and anything more than a 3 second soundbite doesn’t register.

  • joye

    @Deacon Bresnahan: Where did you read that? I was just reading about this story because I love names, and the number one name is Oliver:

    “As in previous years, the name Mohammed, which ranked 16th, would take top place among boys if all possible spellings were aggregated. But as a spokesman for the Official for National Statistics pointed out, this is potentially misleading if no other names are similarly combined: there were still more Olivers than Mohammeds if you count the 511 Ollies, 127 Oliviers, 124 Ollys, 16 Ollis and 9 Olis born in 2009. The merging of Harry with Henry and Jack with John would produce similar disruptions to the list.”

    I seriously don’t think that the Holy Father intended for people to have to name their children according to the language of the area. If that was so, my own ancestors were wrong to call their first generation of children Johann, Heinrich, and Anna Maria. They should have been using “John, Henry, and Anne Mary” instead? I don’t think so. I’m thinking about many different names for my own children, all of them saints name. Should I cross off such names as Gianna, Marie-Rose, and Maximilian, simply because those are not the English forms of those names?

    It all gets back to my first point: how are we defining integration?

    I do see failures of integration in some areas. The way that many Western expatriates live is textbook failure to integrate. I lived in Taiwan, and I lived, in my opinion, an “integrated” life–I spoke the language, I made Taiwanese friends, I shopped at Taiwanese stores, and I celebrated Taiwanese holidays, and of course I obeyed Taiwanese laws. But in the expat enclaves of Tianmu, it is perfectly possible to not speak a word of Chinese and live quite happily, to send your child to an “international school” where they learn in English, to associate only with other expats, etc etc.

    I see the same situation among various Chinese groups in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, actually.

    Complaining about people using names from their original languages is like spilling boiling hot coffee on yourself, and getting upset because your shirt is going to stain. That’s a cosmetic issue, not where the damage is being done.

  • Passing By

    joye -

    Here are some media reference to “Mohammed” being the most popular boys name in Britain right now. It’s actually been growing in popularity over the past few years, as the hits will show.

    I would suggest that anyone interested in immigration and social integration would not do badly to study the experience of immigrants into the United States over the past two hundred years. In fact, I’m not sure any immigrants had a decent welcome since the Plymouth Colony was helped out by the Native Americans. And half of the colonists died from disease anyway.

    If nothing else, go watch West Side Story. :-)

  • joye

    @Passing By: …yes, and the article I linked to, and quoted, specifically addressed that, by saying it was misleading because if you combine different spellings and versions of Oliver, it would outrank all the different spellings and versions of Mohammed.

    I suggest anyone interested in names and a reality check thereof start with this article on Baby Name Wizard regarding the utter sea change in the naming habits of the United States (and most other Western countries). When you crunch the numbers, it becomes absolutely fascinating. And it’s increasing rapidly. Jacob may be the number one name this past year in the US, but even though it was only the number 5 name in the 90s, there were more Jacobs born per year in the 90s. Every single year the stats are tallied, in fact, the top ten names take up a smaller and smaller proportion of the babies born in a year.

    “Back in the 1950s, “normal” really was the norm. The top 25 boy’s names and the top 50 girl’s names accounted for half of babies born… Today, you have to include 134 boy’s names to reach the midpoint of babies, and a whopping 320 names for girls.”

    When you bring in an group that has such a profound preference for a name as the Muslim preference for Mohammed and its variants, that is going to really shake up this new name landscape, all out of proportion to the number of babies born to Muslims, simply because “popular” isn’t as popular as it used to be, among English names!

    This is really getting off track from the original post, but these articles about Muhammed being “the number one name” are really “how to lie with statistics 101″. They do things for Muhammed that they’re not doing with any other name, and they leave out the extremely pertinent fact that such a staggering percentage of boys born to Muslims are named Mohammed. No other name, in any other religion, has that kind of penetration nowadays. “John” in its heyday couldn’t even compare, and John is far, far, far from its heyday.

    This amazing chart tells the story. For the vast majority of that chart, John is in the top ten boys’ names; it doesn’t leave the top ten until the 90s. Yet just check out that steep fall for yourself. I repeat myself: no name today is anywhere NEAR as popular as John was in 1880.

    There’s a whole lot of religious ghosts regarding names, and some of the articles on names could certainly use their own GetReligion treatment. The intriguing thing is that, according to naming statistics, in the United States, the more conservative an area, the MORE likely they are to use untraditional names: a blog post about this phenomenon. The Baby Name Wizard’s Name Mapper really shows this clearly, since it allows you to see what states have what names.

    Anyway, tl;dr, it does make me irritated to see such a fascinating and nuanced overall baby naming scene reduced to “Wah wah wah the Muslims are outbreeding us oh noooooooo”.

  • Passing By

    joye -

    Sorry I didn’t read the quote from the Guardian carefully. First, I see “Guardian” and shut down (my bad – not everything they write is propaganda), and second, I think the topic is stupid. But then, my work environment is largely African-American with really interesting names and my parish is a mix of Hispanic cultures (actually, we’ve just added a Croatian Mass, but the given names are fairly “English”).

    What is interesting is the hysterical dismissal of any “anti-Muslim” concerns, as though the various terror threats weren’t religiously based. Culturally/politically too, of course, since most come out of the Middle Eastern region.

    As I posted above, I tend to view the current difficulties in terms of the various immigrations that preceded it. Technological advances make a difference, of course. When the Irish came, they didn’t have airplanes to fly into buildings or automatic weapons to kill soldiers. They did bring their Catholic Faith, which led to the Know Nothing Riots and at least 22 deaths.

    In this case, I think journalism is simply aping one particular segment of the culture because of a simple fact: the people running the media today were formed in the Civil Rights era of the 60s. Corollary to that, I suppose, would be that younger journalists were formed by that generation, perhaps weaned on tales of the good old days when the good guys won, justice prevailed, and history practically wrote itself. Hence, every issue regarding people not white Anglo-saxon (protestant?) tends to look like racism and condemned as such. There is almost always some truth to that, of course, but also some aspects that aren’t true.

  • joye

    @Passing By: What, exactly, do Muslim terror threats have to do with baby names, or indeed, with anything I wrote? I have reread it, and I have yet to see anything “hysterical” in it, nor indeed any mention of any terrorism at all.

    The more time I spend in comment boxes, the more I get the impression that people aren’t responding to each other, but rather to what they assume the other person believes. Passing By straight up admits that he didn’t “carefully” read the Guardian quote, probably because as Mark Shea likes to joke “it came from a ritually impure source.” But it’s ok, because the topic is stupid! You can tell because he then continues for three more paragraphs, none of which address anything I actually wrote.

    I must say that saying the “Catholic faith… led to the Know Nothing riots and at least 22 deaths”, the Know Nothing riots of Louisville in which paid thugs killed at least 22 Catholics, is like saying “her failure to bring her husband a sandwich led to him throwing her down the stairs.” It is a little bit divorced from reality, is what I’m saying.

    @Mollie: See, all you needed to get the comments section churning was to make some kind of explicit reference to Muslim immigration. As soon as one was made in the comments, bingo!

  • http://augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com/ Irenicum

    Mollie, thanks so much for the hat tip. And I appreciate the kind words from you and from the others at the end of the previous thread. I’ve found that the Catholic Church has regularly been at the forefront of this discussion is a more nuanced way than almost any other group, religious or secular. Part of that, of course, is because they are truly a world religion that has stretched back millenia, and that has allowed them to process these difficult interactions so as to see the complexity more clearly.

    Because immigration and religion and sense of identity are so intertwined among both the “in” and the “out” groups, it seems almost inevitable that there’s going to be tension and conflict between them. Reporting, let alone analyzing this, is arduous to say the least. And sadly in our sound bite culture, that’s just not “sexy” enough for the news cycle. But it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed and disseminated nonetheless.

    There was a time in a galaxy long ago and far far away that long form reporting and analysis was commonplace on these types of stories. But I’m afraid that the technological revolution and its resultant ADHD media mindset has rendered that kind of journalism nearly extinct. That’s one reason why I read Get Religion, Religion Nerd, Religion Dispatches, etc. on a regular basis is because the main media centers do such an inadequate job, whether on the political left or the right.

    But in any case, I look forward to reading the Pope’s words on this issue. I’m not Roman Catholic (I’m Presbyterian OPC), but as I said above, the RCC is regularly one of the few voices out there dealing with this with any sense of nuance. Thanks for the link Mollie.

  • Passing By


    My #9 was more in the way of response to the deacon rather than to you. I was saying that I think linking baby names to terrorism is stupid, which is not entirely fair to his comment, either. Partly, of course, my dilemma stems from actually living in the midst of several disparate cultures, which somehow get along.

    As you say, assuming you understand what people say is a common problem. For example, you claim that I dismiss The Guardian “probably” because I find it “ritually impure”. I’m impressed: I was only dismissive, while you were dismissive and clever (though the line was borrowed from Mark Shea, I’ll give you the points for context). However, I clearly said I dismiss it because what I’ve read in it is generally biased – “propaganda” was the word I used. I stand by that assessment, but (as I said), that doesn’t excuse my sloppiness in overlooking your citation of it.

    The rest of my comment was about journalism, not about your comment #8.

    One thing: you did clearly misread my comment about the Know-Nothings. The connection was: The Irish brought their faith to the U.S. and met organized opposition (a political party, actually, and violence) , and the Muslims (mostly Middle Eastern) brought their faith to the U.S. and met organized opposition, though less intense than the Irish met. The comparison isn’t perfect, but does serve my purpose of trying to situate the current situation in the larger American history.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I only brought up the Mohammed name story (in the Guardian) to point up the direction things are proceeding in Britain and how native British not having children is part of the problem.
    Germany is also running into problems. For 40 years its fertility rate has been below replacement levels and is projected to remain so for the next 40 years. During that time Germany will lose 12 million of its 82 million people. (And huge numbers of the children born will NOT be of German Christian stock.) Its median age will rise 8 years to 53 and 40% of all Germans will be over 60.
    So, without German Christian people willing to give birth to German Christian children Angela Merkels problem is fairly insoluble–Germany is biologically self-destructing. At some point Germany will have to surrender to the inevitable and allow millions of people from other countries into their land to do the work that needs to be done if the elderly are to have even a modicum of civilized old age.
    Only Albania and Iceland in all Europe has at least given birth to enough children to replace themselves.
    In the 1960′s and 1970′s “Christian Europe” decided to ignore–even trash–the prophetic witness of the Catholic Church on this issue. So now their countries are faced with a cultural extinction of their own making–not a making caused by the immigrants who are only filling a vaccumm created by Christian Europeans for whom owning a summer home in the Alps is more important than putting up with the cost and hassle of raising children for the future.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    … Immigration is an issue people feel very strongly about. It is hard to discuss it as just a point to cover.

    Beyond this, what language was the Pope speaking in. If it was anything other than English I would distrust American journalistic reports on it. If it was in English i would distrust reports on it from the past, since there has never been a Pope who had English as their mother tongue, with the Possible exception of I think it was Adrian V, but that was well over 700 years ago.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    The fact that the BBC totally forgot to mention that Pope Benedict spoke of the universal right to emigrate and the fact that we are a family of peoples as humans.

    Without any mention to these facts they seem to be trying to say “Bendict XVI is now supporting regulation of immigrants like what Sarkozy did to the Roma even though the Vatican criticised it”. However with the nuance added by the actual mention of the unity of the human family this become a different story.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Folks, I wasn’t complaining so much as being self-critical. I hate it when journalists get uppity about force-feeding news to the consumers when the consumers don’t actually want it.

    But yes, we do have to stay on topic!