8.  “Culture” and Migration


The “culture” of a social group can be seen as being its mental or personality essence, its character – which is largely anchored in territorial and social conditions – both variable. 

What should be considered by migrants and by the migrant-receiving societies?

Should their culture be maintained or evolve?



© H. Schwab

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o   Culture:  The sum or combination of a society’s values, emotional responses –also in language, behavior patterns, religion, art expression, even dress code.


o   Territorial:  Connected with, defined by, or merely related to a specific geographic area and natural setting. 


o   Social:  Aspects describing the character of total human society – or of an increasing number of fragments of human society – as, for example, by shared ethical priorities or moral values, religion, political structure, behavior, language, even dress code.





Can the mental essence of a society or nation be called its “culture” (as defined above)?

How does a “culture” originate, how is it anchored, and how does it possibly vary with time?

Most importantly, should a society’s culture be maintained or intentionally changed, even deleted – or replaced by another one – as by migration?

Human emotionality is strongly attached to the culture of its own social group – and it might also be valued (or rejected) by a wider range of surrounding humanity – sometimes even more so than by its own members who have to live within its confines.

What is the implication of the increasing migrations on Earth – as caused now by violent disorders in the Middle East or will be caused even more so by increasing Global Warming?

What should migrants and migrant-receiving societies consider?


A society’s culture originates through natural evolution from external conditions and the society’s capabilities, including those of its leaders.  A society with a certain “culture” may, subsequently, be influenced in selecting a migration route by preferences provided by its “culture”.  Migrating fishermen will look for different areas to settle from migrating cattle herders – or traders.

A culture is maintained by a variety of internal conditions, but it also evolves under external influences (climate change, new domestic animals, available irrigation and new crops, approaching hostile tribes, opening of new trade routes).  Cultural evolution also depends upon the society’s internal development (as of its political/hierarchical structure and leadership or developing religions with their hierarchies, priorities, or obsessions). 

Some developments are possibly related to a society’s inherent gifts and capabilities or to their limitations.


Is the anchor of a group’s or a nation’s culture to be found in its natural and civic environment or territory – or is it merely provided by social cohesion and shared values, thoughts, religion, and behavior?

The territory people live in (whether steppe, fertile land, forest, or jungle) necessarily forms their way of life and often their esthetic or moral values – whether they are farmers, herders, hunters, or plundering invaders (see Pima versus Apache Indians in prehistoric Arizona).


It is an interesting phenomenon of nature that many people feel a deep connection to the geographic area where they grew up.  This phenomenon of “nostalgia” (which also relates to many other connections with a person’s earlier life) provokes deep emotions and, possibly, sadness.  It proves the territorial anchor of some emotions.

Nostalgia or similar emotions also apply to the society one once was part of in earlier life, the family, the village or some other association.  This proves the social anchor of some emotions.


The social position individual people retain in a structured society largely forms their way of life, whether as lowly servants of a nobility or equals in a democracy, whether with racially and character-based equals or in a diverse society (as in New York City) – or in one dominated by one group of a specifically different culture (as the Native Indians in all of America under white rule, the Tibetans and Uigur under Han Chinese rule, and others).

Do the dominating Han Chinese living in Lhasa, Tibet, have a different culture from the aboriginal Tibetans still living there?  What happens to the culture of the Tibetans or the immigrating Chinese when the latter migrate in large numbers to Tibet?

Do the Jews living in the Western world have a different culture from their “host” countries, letting them wish to have, and possibly live in, “their own” country, Israel?  What happened to the culture of some Western cities (such as Berlin) when large numbers of Jews migrated there after 1800 AD from Eastern Poland, and what happened to the Jewish culture of that group when they did? 


Examples of cultural change or stability:


One can distinguish three different periods of Tibetan cultural history.

The early Tibetans had an aristocratic structure.  Their leaders lived in castles on mountain tops, some still visible.  Aggressive wars led to a large expansion of Tibetan territory, to the mountain ranges at the edge of the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts. 

 The following period was characterized by the dominance of the Buddhist religion, their spiritual leaders (the Dalai and Panchen Lamas) and monasteries.  The common people merely served to feed those monasteries and the remaining city communities around them.  The Potala Palace was built.  The Dalai Lama is still widely venerated among traditional Tibetans.

The Chinese invasion of Tibet, beginning in 1950, led to the dominance of the Chinese administration in Lhasa and, more so, to a large influx of Chinese settlers.  Today, Lhasa looks like a Chinese city – with Chinese stores, restaurants, and hotels.  Chinese farmers brought superior agricultural methods (plastic covered rows of planting with better sun exposure, leading to extended growing seasons for more valuable plants) and occupied much of the country around the cities (mainly Lhasa) and along the Tsangpo River valley (the starting segment of the Brahmaputra River of India).  Chinese immigrants are not found in the arid areas to the north, except where large mines extract Tibet’s natural resources with all-Chinese labor, the resulting wealth being transferred to China. 

All Tibetan children now have to attend school – opening their minds to the future!

The author met some traditional Tibetans still herding Yaks in the steppe and some young, modern Tibetans who went to college in central China and lead a modern life as tour guides for Western tourists in Lhasa.  Which ones lead a better life?

Is today’s Tibet still an expression of Tibetan culture?  If not, why not?



Upper Amazonas region

Small settlements of natives living in their own aboriginal “culture” still exist in remote areas of the upper Amazon jungle.  They are self-sufficient:  they live without electricity and with minimal medical support.

When oil is found in their territory, some are being uprooted.  At best, an oil company may build them modern cottages and provide some income in an originating oil drilling and pumping cluster of buildings, as in the structure of a small town – the transplanted people then presenting the lowest level of society there – the young native men may get jobs and can buy motorcycles – and can invite the girls to dance in a bar at night.

Are they continuing or can they ever continue their Amazonas “culture” there?


The Jewish people and Israel

In Israel, there are orthodox, even ultra-orthodox, groups living on one side and practically Western, modern Jews living in Tel Aviv – both content to live in their own Jewish state – and to raise their children to be at home there.

By now, more than 100,000 young Israelis (some sources give figures as high as 200,000) have emigrated to Berlin, Germany, and are happily living there.  Why?  Only to find jobs – or also for reasons of life-style (“culture”)?  Do they maintain their Jewish “culture”?



Various waves of refugees have reached Germany in modern history.  Starting about 1680, a large wave of the protestant Huguenots was driven out of France (a total of about 500,000 individuals left) and moved to all parts of the world (some settled in upstate New York).  In Germany, this led to the formation by 1800 of more than 25 communities in the area of Brandenburg alone.  Their skills, diligence, and rich culture brought favorable development to their host countries – where, in those days, the elite spoke French.   

The industrialization of the 19th century attracted many Poles to Germany, possibly former farmers, now as factory workers, specifically also to Berlin, where one could formerly find many Polish family names.

The growth of Berlin in the 19th century and the "emancipation” of Jews from social discrimination, having been granted equal civil rights there in 1812, attracted many Jewish immigrants, most from Poland.  Their exceptional success in business, law, medicine, and the arts greatly enriched the newly liberal Berlin, which, thereby, became a modern cultural center of Germany.

Now. it is the new wave of migrants from Syria and other parts of the Islamic world or from Africa that moves into Germany – bringing with them the very different Islamic culture.

Do these immigrants find a “German” culture?  More specifically, is there a Bavarian “culture” in such beautiful small towns along the Alps as Garmisch, Mittenwald, Oberammergau, Prien and others?

Some local benevolent activists in the very small town of Mittenwald have applied to receive at least 40 Islamic migrants to settle with them in their small town!

Would that change Mittenwald – especially if the newcomers want to continue living in their own “culture”, want their own mosque to be built there, and the women always to be dressed with veils – while the young men wish to be fully accepted and find well-paying, modern jobs?

 Meanwhile, other citizens of Mittenwald want to maintain their “culture”!  How can they do that?  Activists describe this vision of a historic town as merely a “Disney Land” in a changing modern world – at best attracting tourists taking pictures and buying souvenirs.

Is the question of culture – its territorial and social anchors – at the core of the migration problem in Germany, Sweden, and other European countries?  Hungary has closed its borders and others indicate they will follow.


The Vatican State – a political unit of Europe after all – has declared its intention to accept two (2) migrant families!  One was specifically selected to be Christian and has arrived already; the other has not been selected yet, as the Pope proclaimed.  It is doubtful that this second family could be Islamic – or Nigerian.  Why this selectivity?  One should ask the Pope whether this could be a model for other countries?




The Problem of the presently large Islamic and African migration to the West:

The present migration through Europe, mostly directed toward Germany and Sweden, brings migrants mainly from four geographic and cultural areas:  Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and central Africa (the area stretching from Ghana to Eritrea).

There is only limited experience with the results of their resettlement in their new host-countries in the West.  There is, however, one common experience.  Generally, the arriving migrants are directed by their new host country to live together in groups in suitable accommodations (but not necessarily in the better parts of towns).  This meets with the desire of the arriving migrants, who are more at ease when settling in the new environment together with members of their own culture – thereby forming “ghettos” – as can already be found in certain suburbs of large Western cities.  This leads to slower or no cultural adaptation of the immigrants and to conservation of as much as possible of their original culture – it also leads to less economic success! 

Attending Islamic mosques – as are often found already in host countries for new immigrants as established by former Muslim immigrations, such as the Turks – further delays cultural adaptation – and has lately been abused in a dangerous way by radical Islamic groups attempting to radicalize the newcomers.  

The mixing of cultures takes place for the young in the schools and for adults at their place of work, once they find a job.  But a challenging exposure occurs every time they walk out of their new homes along public streets, shops, or public spaces.

This mixing of cultures becomes a matter of concern when the number of new migrants becomes large and the migrants’ percentage of the overall population becomes significant.

If the immigrant children perform at a lower level in school, thus becoming an extra burden on teachers and distracting teachers from the children already there, the parents of the latter may begin to consider sending their children to private schools – thus leading to a form of segregation – first of the schools, then of society.

Ideally, the migrants would make the sacrifice initially of not living together in groups and, thereby, expediting their adaptation to their new society, possibly enhancing their acceptance.

Especially critical is the young-adult phase for immigrants – not only for young men, but also for young women, who may find or miss approaches to self-development and success.  The problems are similar to those found in the poor inner cities in the United States, those with high unemployment, when those cities lost their industry.  The problems then extend from gang formation to drug addiction, to drug dealing and petty crime, and occasionally to violence and serious crime – all leading to incarceration – which, in turn, leads to further problems in job search – and to more crime.  This gives the young men of certain backgrounds a bad reputation, which increases discrimination and other problems, as well as prejudice, also against the well-behaved young men among them.

The adult phase of immigrants brings specific problems of cultural adaptation.  In many immigrant communities, it is still expected that the father rules the family, at best as a benevolent monarch – while the children now grow up in their host country with much more freedom.  If those fathers had good jobs or a small business in the country of origin and find only low-level poorly paying jobs in their new host country, their ego suffers – and, consequently, their standing in their own family and in the community.  Reactions can extend from withdrawal to overreaction in attempted family control.  Sometimes, the religious community or any other form of social coherence within the cultural group can lend support.

In these situations, mullahs or other Muslim religious leaders find fertile ground for extreme ideologies, as so amply demonstrated by all the recent ISIS attacks on the West.  In the host countries, the “do-gooders”, who so willingly brought in many immigrants, should also be responsible for their subsequent settlement and, mainly, adaptation to their new country – a process that may take several years!

It would be interesting to ask all migrants upon arriving in Western Europe a few basic questions:

·         Do you intend to maintain your own culture in the following areas?

o   Religion

o   Language spoken at home

o   Dress code (including veiling of women)

·         Would you consider adapting to your new host country

o   In language spoken at home

o   Dress code (no more veiling of women)

·         Would you consider joining a Christian or other congregation – or stay religiously unconnected?

·         Could you consider adopting Western names for you and your family, at least as first names?


They should then be settled according to their answers.  If the answers to the first group of questions are affirmative, they should not be settled in small villages with a strong historic culture in their new host country, but could still do well in big cities (like Berlin).



On the positive side:

It has been observed that many children learn a new language within a year when they are in “total immersion”.  Many Syrians are of high intelligence.  Consequently, many Syrian children may, within a year, do quite well in school in their new host country – if properly supported by their parents or volunteers and encouraged by the general setting in society.

The young-adult phase of immigrant children can also be a positive one for them and their community. It helps if they are not always set aside and described as the “foreigners”, but consistently as just people like us.  It would help considerably if they could be called by and accept an additional first name as typical for their surroundings (whether in Germany, Sweden, or somewhere else).  If their parents were of middle-class standing in their home country, it would be better if they could be settled in middle-class neighborhoods – with less problems like gangs or actual resentment of high performance in school or at work.  It might be found that many such immigrant youngsters do very well in school and in early job performance.  Immigrants from India are an example in the United States.   

Many adult immigrants may consider the possibility of starting their own enterprise.  This might take the form initially of a small eating place, a store, specialty manufacturing, or a services, such as medical care for the elderly or also in government at some level.


All of the above speaks for the following to let large-scale immigration succeed:

o   Immigration works better if a large portion of the immigrants are willing to totally adapt to their new host country (see above questions)

o   Adaptation works better if the immigrants are not settled in large or any concentration in locations where their number would become a significant proportion of the native population

o   Long-term adaptation works better if the parents in immigrant families strongly support their children’s success in the new environment – in school and in job training

o   Those citizens of new host countries, who at first strongly supported the acceptance of immigrants, must feel responsible for the support of their adaptation process over several years.


The return of large numbers of immigrants to their country of origin, once peace returns there, cannot be expected – as shown in the case of Algerians who came to France.  The older adults among the immigrants, sometimes feeling strong “nostalgia”, may want to return.  Their children, however, once past middle school, are by then fully used to life in their new host country and have all their friends there; they see a return to their country of origin as a descent and strongly prefer remaining where they are.  Ultimately, the parents will stay where their children then settle down.  This must be realized by the immigration-receiving country in determining the number of immigrants it wants to accept within any period of time, how to settle them, and how much effort to put into their adaptation – possibly also in selecting immigrants depending on their willingness to adapt (see above questions) – as the Vatican, the Pope himself, has done when initially accepting only one Christian family.


The United States culture, first native Indian, was then formed by European immigrants (plus a few black slaves with their own special gifts of culture in the Southern States).  This was changed under the John F. Kennedy administration (1961/63).  His family was considered somewhat as outsiders, coming from Ireland and as Catholics in American politics (then still WASP=White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant dominated), letting JFK take the side of the “other” would-be immigrants, not sufficiently represented yet, in his opinion.  He abolished the existing strictly traditional European immigration quotas and opened immigration, specifically to Non-Europeans, even with a lottery for those that could otherwise not enter.  In 2016 or 2017 already, the European-based part of the American population will, for the first time, have been reduced to less than 50 %, as it does in California already!  

Should the whole world become like a very large multi-cultural New York City?  Is “multi-culti” the ideal human society of the future, world-wide, everything else derided as Disneyland? 

Let us not lose the wonderful old national cultures of Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and other European countries (or of other countries world-wide).  These cultures have grown over centuries through already enough years of trouble.  In their best years, these cultures enriched human society in a colorful way in the sciences, philosophy, religious thought, the various arts, and more – in sum, by their various national characters!

What does that mean to modern migration???




Some observations about inherent problems with Islam in the West:

The Quran (or Koran or Qur’an) contains the transcription of 114 Visions (presented in separate chapters called Suras) that Muhammad had from time to time, starting in the year 609 CE (of the Christian era) until 632 CE, that is over 23 years.  Muhammad’s life went through dramatic changes during this time and the demands on his leadership varied accordingly – from forming an initial group of followers in the “pagan” city of Mecca to becoming the leader and having to reorganize the smaller city of Medina ruled by conflicting noble families, to leading warfare in several directions with varying success, soon leading to the conquest of Mecca.  Finally, a large expansion of the dominance of his Muslim world occurred, extending throughout the Middle East.

It is reasonable to assume that many inspirations presented in the various Suras are reflections of the immediate problems Muhammad faced at the time of their respective vision.  Consequently, they should be interpreted and applied according to such context at that time.  If individual verses of some Suras are taken out of context, those sayings of the Quran can become incomprehensible and, possibly, quite dangerous!

(In the following comments verse numbers differ by one (1) depending on the particular translation or publication of the Qur’an.)

For example, the (somewhat rambling) Sura 4 (Al Nisa), in Verses 89 to 92, present the famous (or infamous) rule regarding “apostates”.  These verses demand that any individual, who once was a Muslim and leaves that religious community, must be killed immediately by all faithful Muslims.  This was originally pronounced during times of severe military conflict with the non-Muslim world and corresponds to the Western military rules to kill “deserters” in times of war, which was still applied as recently as WWII by both sides of the conflict.  Therefore, this Muslim verse should be applied only in this narrowest military sense, if at all!

In another example, the long and war-oriented Surah 8 (AL-ANFAL), in Verse 12/13, demands that “unbelievers” be “cut above their necks and their finger-tips be cut off” – thereby leading to a most cruel threat from all Muslims against all non-believers!

Surah 9 (AL_TAUBA), Verse 4/5, demands the pursuit, ambush, and killing of “idolaters” (similar to what some early Biblical statements do) – thereby denying any freedom of religion!

Surah 33 (AL-AHZAB), the Verses 60/61-62, demand that those who stir up trouble or revolt in the cities (including reform?) shall be caught and hacked into pieces – thereby denying any freedom of speech!

In other words, either a clarification of at least these six (6) verses of the Qur’an has to occur and their application specifically restricted to the context in which they were perceived – or all Muslims must clearly distance themselves from such verses (and publicly abrogate the validity of these verses for them) before they can be admitted to any Western country and granted residence there!  This demand must be specifically applied to all mullahs and their preaching anywhere in the West!

Theologically, the best approach could be that a convention of all Muslim groups (Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and many others) would declare the historic importance of the above mentioned Suras and verses in their time, but their not being applicable to our times any longer.  When so many Muslim families migrate to settle in the midst of non-Muslim populations, in order to find a better life there, they cannot be held to struggle with and fight the “non-believers” any longer.  All Muslims in the world should be admonished to put the main characteristics of Allah into the center of their faith, to be merciful and beneficent, in an always tolerant and peaceful manner!

In other words, the introductory verses of most Suras deserve greatest emphasis, where Allah is repeatedly presented or described as essentially “merciful and beneficent”.  This is in perfect harmony with Christian and, in general, Western ideals!  The Muslim world should put these sayings into the center of their faith, subordinating all other saying to those!


    (For more detail see the essay “Islam, the Muslim World and the West” on the website www.schwab-writings.com in the section on “Politics and History”.)




History-Politics/8. CultureMigration  12-10-15“