When African workers rioted in southern Italy earlier this month, the news was accompanied by the cold observation that they took care of the Italians' kids and picked their crops. To a Californian, that sure sounded familiar.
For decades, Mexican immigrants, very often illegal, have performed the same tasks here.
Having come to trust and admire individuals performing those tasks, for their toughness, steadfastness, love and loyalty to their families and amazing ability to weather personal tragedy, I have developed great sympathy for the immigrants.
I had the same reaction to the story of the Africans in Italy, while I read no such sympathy from the Italians themselves who have an international reputation for racial bias coming from soccer fans and players extending through to one of their principal political parties.
Now, take another incident right around the same time as the Africans rioted in Italy.
A Muslim Somali immigrant in Denmark wielding a knife and an axe attempted to murder one of the cartoonists involved in drawing the Danish cartoons years ago that included depictions of the Muslim prophet. The cartoonist, a grandfather, was home with his grand-daughter and was saved by a reinforced bathroom door and a panic button linked to the local police station.
Such an attack deserves only condemnation from a civil society.
Drawing the contrast, obvious on its face, is more subtle if you look at the short arc of immigration in Denmark. First the Muslim Turks came to work and were generally accepted, if not embraced, by the ideologically liberal but personally tradition-bound Danes.
Then came Muslim immigrants mostly from the Middle East some of whom carry within them a religious fanaticism that burns like an unquenchable fire.
"The Danes have a very close connection to the US," wrote Malene, a Danish woman. "And the same when it comes to Muslims. Both the Americans and the Danes are very much hated in the Arab world."
Drawing the distinction between the Turkish immigrants and the more recent Muslim immigrants, she said, "The problems we are dealing with today originate from the fanatic Muslims. A small number who are unfortunately growing."
But in a manner typical of the Danes, she recognized the ambiguity of, on the one hand, understanding the source of hatred towards the West, and on the hand, seeing that it has become mutual and apparently irreconcilable.
She laid part of the conflict on the creation of the Israeli state after World War II.
"Second, we have to admit to ourselves that the way many Arab countries have been treated by Western world has established a long-standing and fierce hatred. They have brutally been overrun time after time and now we don´t understand why they hate us so much and won´t behave like us."
"Difficult, I think. Very difficult," she said in conclusion. "And very scary too. Because we hate them just the same way, because we are scared of them and what they might do to us. So how do we come to peace. I don´t know. I fear we cannot."
A simple solution would be to say, much as the French do, that immigrants must accept the basic tenets of the culture in the nation where they reside. The French legislature is now pursuing a measure that would outlaw the wearing of a full veil in public buildings as a disregard of a woman's identity.
But that is sure not the way in California where our culture is an ever-changing mix that very much includes the clothes, music, language and buying habits of different immigrant groups. Within that apparent embrace of diversity, however, the U.S. jails ten times more people per capita than the European nations.
One reason I am writing these columns is to explore the enormous topic of the conflict between the Muslim and Western cultures, as it has boiled down in the microcosm of the small, socially liberal nation of Denmark, but also as it has then spread to other nations in Europe and indeed as it is directly tied to two, ongoing wars by the United States.
And the search through the topic goes forward in the face of fear that there is no peace to be found. While the waters of cataclysm are building.
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