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Does Europe Need to Be More American?

Europe, the cradle of the nation-state, wasn’t “founded” as a place for poor, tired and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. So might it take lessons from Uncle Sam on welcoming immigrants?

After the French race riots in 2005, Abdelkarim Carrasco, a Muslim leader in Spain, gave a resonant warning in a much-reprinted article from the Associated Press. “Either Europe develops and supports the idea of a mixed culture, or Europe has no future,” he said. “Europe has to learn from what the United States has done. It is a country that has taken in people from all over the world.”

Really? Does Europe need to learn from America?

Since 2001, we in the West have grown so used to referring to “the West” as a cultural monolith it can be hard to remember the profound differences between America and poor Old Europe. And a new season of intolerance against Muslim immigrants has left the impression that some Europeans would rather not take lessons from the U.S.

EUROPEAN DISPATCHMichael Scott Moore complements his standing feature in Miller-McCune magazine with frequent posts on the policy challenges and solutions popping up on the other side of the pond.

Michael Scott Moore complements his standing feature in Miller-McCune magazine with frequent posts on the policy challenges and solutions popping up on the other side of the pond.

Thilo Sarrazin, a German banker and member of the center-left Social Democrats (though maybe not for long), fired a warning flare of his own this summer about the future of Europe in a now-notorious book, Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab — roughly, “Germany Does Itself In.” Sarrazin makes the familiar argument that a Muslim tide will overwhelm Europe if current breeding trends continue, since immigrants have big families while the natives abstain, but he also he says Muslim immigration in particular will make German society “dumber."

“I came to a very astonishing conclusion, and this is important,” Mr. Sarrazin told The New York Times. “Immigrants from non-Islamic countries show no statistical difference to the German population at all. On the other hand, immigrants from Muslim countries pose much greater problems. Their language skills, academic skills and professional skills are much below average.”

The conclusion sounds inflammatory to Germans, who shy away from making public remarks against foreigners. Statistically he may be right about language and professional skills, but Sarrazin doesn’t bother sketching any mitigating circumstances. The controversy he’s kicked up — similar to America’s Bell Curve controversy in the ’90s — has made Sarrazin a figure of hate as well as a best-selling author.

The uproar surprised Sarrazin, who stands by everything in his book, at least in newspaper interviews. But his publisher will release a new edition with a handful of corrections; one full sentence declaring that Islamic immigrants are a “genetic minus” for Germany will be removed, and other lines will be softened.

Still, Sarrazin may have a point. Why should Europe take immigrants at all?

The nation-state was invented here, with next to zero rhetoric about diversity and equal rights. America without immigrants would be un-American (or maybe native American), but there’s no way to argue that Germany would be less “German” without Muslims.

Nonetheless, guest-worker schemes, relative wealth in Europe since World War II, freedom to travel inside the European Union, and of course welfare benefits have all made Europe a modern land of opportunity like the United States. Sarrazin, and his legion of fans — his book has sold more than a million copies — have yet to adjust.

So Europe doesn’t need to learn American-style tolerance. But it would bring vital oxygen to Old World societies if Europe did. German-born Turkish students who spend a year in the U.S. are regularly astounded that so few Americans quiz them on their racial backgrounds on the basis of (choose one) their brown skin, swarthy eyebrows or Middle Eastern eyes. The margin of “otherness,” as social scientists like to call it, is different in Europe.

Sarrazin does suggest a brake on welfare for new immigrants, because European welfare is so generous. It’s not a bad idea. He recommends a 10-year moratorium; but even a five-year ban on welfare payments would get rid of the perennial class-war argument that poor immigrants come to Europe “to get on the dole.” Those who do will think twice. Those who don’t will just have to deal with equally perennial accusations of “stealing our jobs.”

If it all sounds like old hat to Americans, it is. Anti-immigrant fervor has the same smell everywhere. Sarrazin soft-pedals the fact that Germany invited a rural underclass of Turkish workers in the ’60s who could have been out of place in Ankara or Istanbul. They might underachieve in Germany, just like the kids of working-class Mexicans who move to the U.S. might “underachieve.” But Germany’s Muslim population amounts to 4 million or 5 million people, out of 82 million, or about 5.4 percent of the total. It has grown, but it’s sheer populism to argue that immigrants pose a major cultural threat. If Germany is growing dumber, it’s not the Muslims’ fault.