Fighting at the table: Conflict as successful integration
**This episode is Part 4 of the Us & Them: Diversity, Division, and a World of Difference series of talks. It originally aired June 29, 2017.
Sociologist Aladin El-Mafaalani sees anti-immigrant cries to build walls, and hate-fuelled politics counter-intuitively: a sign that integration is working. Conflict, he argues in his talk delivered in Berlin, is the necessary consequence of new arrivals at a metaphoric dinner table. The more people taking their place at the table, the more jostling and arguments there inevitably will be.
While conflict can of course lead to violence, or even war, conflict in and of itself is neutral. It's simply a necessary stage of maturing societies. And those which have no conflict tend to be top-down authoritarian states which coerce their populations into obedience. He admits that he does have friends who love walls.
But — he adds wryly — "they're archaeologists."
Open societies, closed minds
"Open societies and liberal democracies are no longer merely ideas: they have become reality. And this reality appears to create problems. We have come to understand what liberalism and globalisation mean: we see the effects before our very eyes, and many people — an increasing number of people — do not like what they see. The idea was apparently more attractive when it was merely a theory, when it existed only on paper. But as this ideal has become reality, people are having more problems with it. And for this reason, we see the growth of anti-liberal movements wherever the open society has become a reality. It may seems strange, but I think that the problem is actually openness itself. Or, in other words: the problems we're facing are simply the side-effects of a very successful development."
Successful integration means more tension
"When integration, inclusion or equal opportunities are successfully implemented, they do not lead to a society which is more harmonious, or free from conflict. On the contrary. The central effect of successful integration is actually a higher potential for conflicts. In every case, more people will be sitting at the table and they all want a piece of the pie. Remember this image of the table: more people are sitting at the table and want a piece of the pie. How is this supposed to lead to fewer conflicts? This idea is either naive and romantic, in the sense of multicultural optimism. Or it is hegemonic, in the sense of expecting minorities to assimilate. Reality, however, looks different."
We're all at the dinner table
"I always describe the general integration process like this: first generation migrants usually sit on the floor, while the established citizens sit at the table. At this stage, the migrants are happy just to be there. But the second generation sits at the table and they also want a piece of the pie. This is how successful integration leads to a higher potential for conflict. More people sitting at the table means that more people would also like a nice place at the table and a piece of the pie. And the third generation, the grandchildren of migrants, don't just want a piece of the pie — they also want to have a say in what is ordered: which pie is coming to the table. And the potential for conflict continues to grow, because the next step is to decide which recipe is used. That's what open societies promise. And since a liberal immigration country has a new first generation every year, as well as a new second and third generation, the situation continues to grow in complexity. It will remain full of conflicts."
When racism spikes
"People often assume that racism increases when integration is unsuccessful, and decreases when integration is successful. This would give racism an indirect justification. But — you guessed it — I have to disillusion you regarding this expectation. Imagine once again that image of the table, at which more and more people are sitting. If more people are sitting at the table, is racism automatically supposed to decrease? It is not plausible that successful integration automatically reduces racism. Sure, racism often focuses on the idea that a constructed group is not equal to one's own. That is true. But racism becomes especially extreme when it is directed against a group which is strong or becoming stronger."
Social conflict is necessary
"Conflicts are very, very important. Conflicts are energy — energy for development, for improvement and for progress. This energy can be something wonderful. However, energy can also take the form of a bomb. So conflicts are actually something which in and of themselves are neutral. It all depends on how one deals with them. Conflicts which are managed in a constructive way can bring about wonderful things. Destructive ways of dealing with conflicts can lead to disaster. Wars are the result of conflict. But so are democracy, human rights, environmental protection, humanism, the social welfare state, the concept of an open society and liberalism. All of these things were fought for, and they were always preceded by social conflicts. The constructive management of conflicts leads to social progress, to social innovation."
Paul Kennedy's Berlin Diary
The relatively new Canadian Embassy in Berlin was built on what was once a dotted line. That line was utterly imaginary, although it could often become dangerously and sometimes even deadly real. It marked the border between East and West Berlin. When I was a boy, that imaginary line seemed more important than most international boundaries, even though it didn't run between different countries, but through a single city.
The line divided Leipziger Platz, which is where our new embassy is now situated. We call the city just Berlin, now — as it always had been called before August 13, 1961, when a very real 'wall' was built on top of the imaginary line. The Wall — Die Mauer — created two new cities: East Berlin and West Berlin. It also created a temporal boundary. For twenty-eight years and ninety-six days, in other words for much of my young life, there were two Berlins — one east, and one west. During all that time the rest of world lived in limbo, as opposing sides fought something that everybody agreed to call the Cold War. East was east, and west was West, and the twain was never supposed to meet.
Aladin El-Mafaalani delivered his US & THEM lecture at the Canadian Embassy. I can't imagine a more perfect place, or a better person to talk about diversity. Some of the things he said in his lecture rekindled in me the faint but sadly almost forgotten hope that the kinds of 'walls' that once ran right through Leipziger Platz will someday, somehow become extinct.
"Conflicts are very, very important," said Aladin El-Mafaalani. "Conflicts are energy — energy for development, for improvement and for progress. This energy can be something wonderful…. Wars are the result of conflict. But so are democracy, human rights, environmental protection, humanism, the social welfare state, the concept of an open society and liberalism. All of these things were fought for, and they were always preceded by social conflicts. The constructive management of conflicts leads to social progress, to social innovation." READ MORE...
Us and Them: Diversity, Division, and a World of Difference is a five-part series featuring talks presented in South Africa, Israel, India, Germany, and Canada — all countries dealing with the reality of a diverse population. The series is produced by CBC IDEAS in partnership with The Laurier Institution.
**This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey, Greg Kelly and Paul Kennedy. Video by James Cooper.