Funny thing about us humans. We persist in believing that we can have our cake and eat it, too -- notwithstanding the proof positive of an empty plate.
In its own complicated way, this also holds true for immigration, of course. (Have I mentioned previously that everything is connected to everything else and that this reality often involves religion? Repeatedly, actually.)
We delight in globalization’s immediate benefits -- cheaper foreign-made garments, instant international communications, exotic vacations that a generation ago middle-class travelers could only dream about, the transfer of capital across international borders to a degree previously impossible and more.
Yet we persist in ignoring that globalization is also a lure for those in the world’s poorest and most violent nations to seek a better life in the world’s wealthier and safer nations. They also want the good life that our globalized news and entertainment media have dangled before them.
We forget, or simply ignore, all this because as a specie we tend to prefer short-term material gains; quite frankly, the glitter blinds us. That is, until the day comes when we belatedly wake up and notice -- and then default into push-back mode -- that these globalized immigrants have different religious, social and political outlooks; that they speak foreign languages and have different skin colors, all of which are the stuff of massive demographic change.
This brings me to a recent New York Times business section piece that combined extensive graphics with solid reporting, a fast-growing online journalism trend.
The piece sought to explain the spreading trans-Atlantic backlash against the massive global movement of people over the last decades.
Here’s how The Times’ lede put the problem. This is long, but essential:
Immigration is reshaping societies around the globe. Barriers erected by wealthier nations have been unable to keep out those from the global South -- typically poor, and often desperate -- who come searching for work and a better life. While immigrants have often delivered economic benefits to the countries taking them in, they have also shaken the prevailing order and upended the politics of the industrialized world -- where the native-born often exaggerate both their numbers and their needs.
Donald J. Trump’s promise to build a wall to keep Mexicans and Central Americans from crossing the United States’ southern border was central to his successful campaign for the presidency. Antipathy toward immigrants is spreading through Europe, fueling Britons’ desire to leave the European Union, upending Italy’s political establishment and giving the populist Hungarian government of Viktor Orban a fourth term.
Fear of immigrants takes different forms. Immigration from the Middle East and North Africa has led to calls in Europe to prevent its so-called Islamization. In the United States, despite a long history of cultural, religious and ethnic mixing, several studies have concluded that alongside their anger over lost jobs and stagnant wages, many of the non-Hispanic white voters who tipped the presidency to Mr. Trump were motivated by fears that they were losing demographic ground to other groups.
While it is far from a consensus, on both sides of the Atlantic the proposition that immigration amounts to a large-scale threat is gaining ground on the right of the political spectrum.
I particularly liked how the piece emphasized the direct connection between the seemingly insatiable human desire for short-term economic gains, a trait that seems always to have problematic consequences, and media coverage of the immigration dilemma’s modern origins. Also, note the religion element in some of these debates.
Too often, as I stated above, we tend to forget the West’s contribution. Examples include Germany’s early welcoming of Turkish workers in the 1960s, and American industrial farming’s need for Hispanic migrant workers, also stretching back to the ‘60s.
The piece notes that the current immigration wave is unlikely to abate any time soon. Adding to the situation -- beside the increasing need for low-skilled workers in the better-educated wealthier North -- will be climate change.
Rising average temperatures are already pushing people from their homes in many middle-income countries, according to research by Cristina Cattaneo and Giovanni Peri, increasing migration from rural areas to urban centers and across borders to other nations. As warming continues in the coming decades, it will probably push people from agricultural areas to urban areas and from the global South to the richer global North.
For journalists, the section of the piece that might be most helpful -- if not eye opening -- is the portion dealing with perceptions about the numbers and make up of the immigrant waves.
How the story is covered, of course, has much to do with these politically charged perceptions.
A study based on surveys in the United States and a variety of European countries by the economists Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva found that people across the board vastly overstate their immigrant populations.
The overestimates are largest among particular groups: the least educated, workers in low-skill occupations with lots of immigrants, and those on the political right. They overstate the share of immigrants who are Muslim and understate the share of Christians. They underestimate immigrants’ education and overestimate both their poverty rate and their dependence on welfare. Almost a quarter of French respondents, as well as nearly one in five Swedes and about one in seven Americans, think the average immigrant gets twice as much government aid as native residents do. In no country is this true.
Please read the entire piece, including its superb graphics. Here’s that link again.
One last thing. I know some readers will be tempted to dismiss this article’s conclusions simply because it's from the anti-Trump, “fake news” New York Times.
If that includes you, I hope you’ll still read the story because, above all else, its subtext is the need to understand and report accurately on the global immigration saga -- clearly the greatest mass movement of humans since the Age of Exploration that transformed Africa, the Americas, Australia, and Europe itself. Obviously, this is going to affect news on the religion beat.
Let me know below why your conclusions differ.