Of the crop of potential presidential candidates in 2016, few can speak more directly to the twin issues of immigration and assimilation than Gov. Bobby Jindal.
He made headlines last week with an ill-advised endorsement of the notion that European countries are losing control of Muslim-dominated parts of their cities. The urban legend of the “no-go zones” got a lot of attention, and a presidential candidate loves the headlines; the truth is a lot more textured, because most cities with immigrants and social problems, of immigrants or the native-born, have bad neighborhoods. That’s not a sign of insurrection.
Texture is sometimes hard for the grenade-thrower to express.
What Jindal’s comments to the Henry Jackson Society in London focused upon was twofold. His principal goal was to reiterate the dangers of radical Islamic terrorists and his clarion call for Islamic leaders to use their moral authority against lunatic jihadists. This is not the same thing as frantic claims that Muslims are today a state-within-a-state in England and France.
The government of Prime Minister David Cameron also has called on Muslim leaders for moral leadership, particularly to the young recruited by the jihadists. Jindal’s call on this is a useful contribution to a complex question.
Secondly, though, he talked about assimilation — and here Jindal has more to contribute. Here he ought to be able to command attention for a positive message.
To rant — and that’s not far removed from Jindal’s tone in London — about Muslim immigrants and ignore history is not statesmanship. There is a story behind every immigrant group, from the Africans enslaved and brought here, to Irish and other Europeans driven here by famine, to Central American immigrants faced with violence today in unstable countries.
In each case, assimilation into American society was the work of generations; white Protestants — Jindal is Catholic — once saw the “Roman” religion as a threat to society and other such nonsense.
Jindal’s personal story is a constructive one. His family came here for advanced education for his mother at LSU; his parents and their sons have made the American dream a reality in their lives.
“There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our heritage,” Jindal said. “But we’re Americans, and the reason we came here is because we knew this was a special place, a unique place. What worries me is we have second-, third-, fourth-generation immigrants who now identify themselves in another country or in their own cultural group. They either want to change our culture or set up their own culture.”
Here is the authentic voice of the politician, making broad assertions untethered from a lot of study of the facts on the ground. Most social scientists would say the forces of assimilation are alive and well in American society, just as they were in the Jindal home on Kenilworth Boulevard in Baton Rouge, and dwelling on the exceptions can easily devolve into fear-mongering.
Yet if culture is a tough issue to tackle, it is a reality that ought to be dealt with. The governor need not have looked toward France and England to see troubled neighborhoods that, in their own way, are disconnected from the American dream; such communities languish within walking distance of the Governor’s Mansion. As Jindal reflects on the complications of social isolation — and its resulting pathologies — perhaps he should first see what he can do to address those challenges here in Louisiana.