Posted by Judy K. Warner on March 18, 2010
Refugee Resettlement Watch has been interested in diversity from the beginning — we have a long page devoted to it with articles and commentary copied out, and linked in most cases. We post on it from time to time because diversity is an ideology that governs a great deal of what goes on in the United States. That is, the idea that multiculturalism and diversity of race, nationality and gender are the rightful goals of public policy in areas such as education, the workplace, the military, residency, and . . . you can think of dozens more areas.
We’ve often commented on the difficulties some refugees have getting along in the United States because their culture is so different. Ann has recently posted on the Burmese in Fort Wayne and Iraqi refugees in general. I don’t know if the resettlement agencies — the volags — are oblivious to the problem or if they understand it and like the idea of fomenting discord and showing up Americans as “racists” for objecting to the destruction of their communities. I think it’s clearer in the case of the media reports on refugees, most of which are remarkably similar in their cheerfulness and their obliviousness to problems.
Rod Dreher has a piece in USA Today that addresses this media phenomenon well, called Studying voodoo isn’t a judgment. The subtitle, “Journalists should deal with religion respectfully, of course. But that doesn’t mean dismissing the tough questions,” summarizes it well. He begins by talking about the way the media, in reporting on Haiti, either ignore voodoo or act as if criticizing it is taboo. Here’s his first paragraph:
Did you hear about the Protestant minister who said that Haiti “has been in bondage to the devil for four generations”? No, it wasn’t Pat Robertson but Chavannes Jeune, a popular Evangelical pastor in Haiti who has long crusaded to cleanse his nation of what he believes is an ancestral voodoo curse. It turns out that more than a few Haitians agree with Jeune and Robertson that their nation’s crushing problems are caused by, yes, voodoo.
How does voodoo cause these problems? It’s logical, when it’s explained:
[On a blog], there’s a fascinating piece by Wesleyan University religion professor Elizabeth McAlister touching on how the voodoo worldview affects Haiti’s cultural and political economy. She writes that the widespread belief that events happen because of secret pacts with gods and spirits perpetuates “the idea that real, causal power operates in a hidden realm, and that invisible powers explain material conditions and events.” Though McAlister is largely sympathetic to voodoo practitioners, she acknowledges that any effective attempt to relieve and rebuild Haiti will contend with that social reality.
So if your religion tells you that your actions have no effect, because everything is caused by forces beyond your knowledge or control, do you think that might have a real-world consequence? Like, maybe, not making much effort?
But this kind of analysis is out of line, according to the New York Times.
In a recent New York Times column, religion reporter Samuel G. Freedman rightly lamented the way the American news media have largely ignored voodoo in their Haiti earthquake reporting. But he also chided media commentators (including me) for speculating about voodoo as a harmful cultural force. Freedman quoted academics who praised the Haitian folk religion, and who complained about the ignorance and supposed racism of voodoo skeptics.
This, alas, is all too typical of American media’s religion coverage. We journalists ignore or downplay the role religion plays in the everyday life, or we take a naive viewpoint toward exotic religions practiced by people unlike us.
And Dreher makes the connection that jumps out at me, and would jump out at any sensible person who is not wearing PC blinders:
For years, I’ve watched this instinct show itself in the way most in the mainstream media cover Islam in America. Reporters are eager to find positive stories and often allergic to stories that might, in their minds, give aid and comfort to rednecks, right-wingers and other so-called undesirables. Once I attended a news meeting in which an editor angrily declined to look into substantive evidence that local Muslim institutions were teaching Islamic radicalism to youth by barking, “What about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson?! We never write about their radicalism!”
This instinct accounts for much of the reporting we criticize here at RRW. It has disastrous consequences in some cases — the example Dreher gives in the above paragraph, and the failure of most of the media to report honestly on problems with Somalis wherever they settle. It was probably such an unwillingness to criticize an “exotic” culture and religion that kept reporters from learning about the radicalization of Somali young men in Minneapolis, until they actually went off to join al-Shabab in Somalia and actively joined the jihad. And it has prevented local reporters, with a few honorable exceptions, from delving into the problems Somalis and other groups cause in the towns where they settle. As Rod Dreher says, of the example he gives above,
As if the Christian televangelists were comparable to Osama bin Laden. As if they were even relevant. The story — an important one — never was written. In that case, an editor who knew little about religion interpreted religious data through a partisan culture-war lens. He chose by omission not to give the newspaper’s readers a picture of the world as it is, but rather of the world as he wishes it were.
What a putdown of other cultures and religions this attitude is. They are used simply as weapons in the culture war, not taken seriously as systems of thought that form the worldview of actual people. As Dreher puts it:
… time and time again I’ve seen journalists who fail to get the dictum set down by the indispensable media criticism blog GetReligion.org: “It’s impossible for journalists to understand how things work in the real world if they do not take religion seriously.”
Here’s why. In his influential 1948 book Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver identified a person’s “metaphysical dream of the world” — that is, the way the world works at its most basic level — as the foundation of one’s thoughts and conduct. This is the realm of religion — or of no religion at all, because scientific materialism offers its own particular view of the structure of reality.
And his conclusion is exactly right:
A world in which most people believe that reality is governed by the occult caprice of the gods will be a very different place than a world in which people believe events can be explained according to either a Christian or a scientific materialist metaphysic. It’s as legitimate to ask what role voodoo plays in Haiti’s fathomless social troubles as it is to ask the same question about fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East, conservative Christianity in the Bible Belt, or militant atheism in the land of academia. And it’s as necessary.
But if we really paid attention to religious beliefs and how they affect worldview, and by extension, customs, actions and goals, we would have to consider things that are very difficult for those whose religion is multiculturalism — that every culture is as worthy as every other. These things are difficult even for those of us who are simply tolerant of differences and don’t mind having a multiplicity of cultures in our country. The biggest question is: Are there some systems of thought that make it impossible for adherents to live peacably and productively as Americans?
And if so, do people with such a system of thought change when they get here, or do they present a danger to us? If not a danger, are they so disruptive that they should not be here? In the case of jihadists the answer to the second question is obvious: they should not be here, and if someone here adopts that system of thought — radical Islam, not necessarily Islam — he needs to be watched. In other cases, such as the Burmese, maybe the questions are: What must we do to assure assimilation to the extent that they can live here without cultural conflict? Do we need to limit numbers to avoid disruption? Should we go back to the system Ann often advocates: returning to the refugee model of individual or church sponsors for each family?
Many immigrants who come here with worldviews that are not compatible change over time. Being American is not a religion, but it it traditionally has meant a way of thinking that is strange to much of the world: Taking responsibility for one’s actions, relying on one’s efforts rather than on the government, and living by the rule of law, not raw power, for example. Many immigrants come here because of that way of thinking and the opportunity it brings, wanting to better themselves by their own efforts. Others might come here for other reasons, but adopt it as they live among Americans. I don’t have figures at hand, but I believe that Haitians have been fairly successful here, for example, once they’ve left their toxic environment. Now, with the welfare state, other immigrants come for other reasons. And refugees come here because they are, supposedly, seeking refuge, though many also welcome the opportunity America offers.
But we have a right to discriminate among those who want to come here, and looking at religion and how that forms worldview and actions is a legitimate thing to do. And we have the right to put our own ways above others’ and to insist that people follow a minimum level of behavior. Behavior, not thought; this isn’t about thought control. Yet we have found that some ways of thinking are not compatible with living here peaceably. Such as the belief that America is the Great Satan that needs to be destroyed. Or that the goal of life is to impose Sharia law on America.
Thanks to Rod Dreher for helping me formulate these thoughts with his provocative article.