America’s states are drifting apart over illegal immigration

As in so many areas:

Congressional dysfunction can cause chaos in America. Look at illegal immigration, where the law strands 10.5m unauthorised migrants in limbo, with little chance of deportation or the legal status that confers the right to work. In the absence of legislation, presidents oscillate wildly. Barack Obama sought to declare almost half of the unauthorised population exempt from deportation and eligible to work. Donald Trump turned the screws the other way, and tried deterring migrants by heartlessly separating parents from children. President Joe Biden is facing dissent from Democrats fearful of Republican attacks if, as planned, he ends a pandemic-response measure called Title 42 on May 23rd. This lets American border police expel asylum-seekers and other migrants on public-health grounds.

America’s federalist system wisely leaves much room to the states to act as laboratories. But state experimentation on immigration has gravitated to the extremes. In some Republican states the aim seems to be cruelty for its own sake. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, has suggested that the Supreme Court should reverse precedent and remove the obligation to educate illegal children, as if that would do anybody any good.

Democratic states, by contrast, have opted to spend money. They are expanding welfare benefits for their illicit residents. New York, which in 2019 began issuing driving licences to residents in the state illegally, set up a $2.1bn fund to provide unemployment benefits and pandemic relief. Three years ago California expanded Medicaid, the government health-insurance programme for the poor, to include young irregular residents. Its governor, Gavin Newsom, wishes to offer the programme to all, regardless of immigration status.

America is an outlier. In Europe and elsewhere access to benefits is limited to citizens or legal immigrants—who often have to wait for several years to be eligible. You would not expect Bavaria to sponsor Syrian migrants that the German interior ministry had turned away, or councils in London to offer housing benefits to adults who are in Britain illegally. It is Congress’s lack of will to deal with illegal immigration in America that explains the urge in California and New York to do something about their permanent shadow-class. Despite vigorous efforts, one-tenth of California’s non-elderly population lacks health insurance. Of that group, the illegal immigrants account for 40%.

Alas, these efforts are likely to be yet another stop-start measure. Because most federal laws ban spending on illegal residents, states must fund the expanded services without federal subsidies. At present, their budgets are swollen by a strong recovery and overgenerous federal funding during the pandemic. In a recession, when budgets are squeezed, such spending is likely to come under political attack. Democrats have long maintained, correctly, that unlawful immigrants by and large work hard and pay taxes, but receive few benefits. That line will be harder to sustain as these programmes grow—to the relish of the nativist right, who will deem their warnings vindicated.

Only Congress can sort out the confusion of half-built border walls, seesawing presidential decrees and contradictory state regimes. Immigration reform, with an orderly path to legal residency for those who pay taxes and do not commit crimes, was once a bipartisan pursuit. It has been forgotten amid the Trumpian takeover of the Republican Party. Some Democratic senators, like Bob Menendez and Catherine Cortez Masto, remain committed to the idea of trading a route to citizenship for stronger border security and faster immigration courts, which today are overwhelmed. The party’s left has turned instead to daydreaming about abolishing America’s immigration authority. The pity is that a labour shortage makes this an especially propitious time for mending the system.

Source: America’s states are drifting apart over illegal immigration

The invasion of Ukraine is making life difficult for right-wing populists

Reality dawns, hopefully marking a permanent shift:

It was the sort of crowd you might expect on Amsterdam’s Leidseplein, around the corner from the Bulldog Palace marijuana café. Several dozen demonstrators—awkward young men, middle-aged couples and ageing hippies—turned out on March 13th to support Forum for Democracy (fvd), a far-right populist party that thinks covid is a hoax and blames Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the West. A DJ played electronic dance music atop a trailer festooned with posters of Thierry Baudet, the fvd’s leader, a dandyish Eurosceptic with a phd in legal philosophy. The party has five seats in the Netherlands’ 150-seat parliament.

Soon Mr Baudet’s ally, Willem Engel, a dreadlocked salsa-dance instructor and covid-sceptic internet influencer, took the stage. “We cannot let ourselves get dragged into a war,” said Mr Engel, denouncing Dutch shipments of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine’s defenders. The media, he said, was whipping up hatred towards Russians just as the Nazis had towards Jews. (“Ach, the media”, tutted a woman in the crowd.)

Source: The invasion of Ukraine is making life difficult for right-wing populists

How America’s talent wars are reshaping business

In Canada, by contrast, immigration is relied upon to meet labour force requirements. One of the consequences, unforeseen or not, was reduced pressure to improve productivity and innovation:

Dcl logistics, like so many American firms, had a problem last year. Its business, fulfilling orders of goods sold online, faced surging demand. But competition for warehouse workers was fierce, wages were rising and staff turnover was high. So dcl made two changes. It bought robots to pick items off shelves and place them in boxes. And it reduced its reliance on part-time workers by hiring more full-time staff. “What we save in having temp employees, we lose in productivity,” explains Dave Tu, dcl’s president. Full-time payroll has doubled in the past year, to 280.Listen to this story

As American companies enter another year of uncertainty, the workforce has become bosses’ principal concern. Chief executives cite worker shortages as the greatest threat to their businesses in 2022, according to a survey by the Conference Board, a research organisation. On January 28th the Labour Department reported that firms had spent 4% more on wages and benefits in the fourth quarter, year on year, a rise not seen in 20 years. Paycheques of everyone from McDonald’s burger-flippers to Citi group bankers are growing fatter. This goes some way to explaining why profit margins in the s&p 500 index of large companies, which have defied gravity in the pandemic, are starting to decline. On February 2nd Meta spooked investors by reporting a dip in profits, due in part to a rise in employee-related costs as it moves from Facebook and its sister social networks into the virtual-reality metaverse.

At the same time, firms of all sizes and sectors are testing new ways to recruit, train and deploy staff. Some of these strategies will be temporary. Others may reshape American business.

The current jobs market looks extra ordinary by historical standards. December saw 10.9m job openings, up by more than 60% from December 2019. Just six workers were available for every ten open jobs (see chart 1). Predictably, many seem comfortable abandoning old positions to seek better ones. This is evident among those who clean bedsheets and stock shelves, as well as those building spreadsheets and selling stocks. In November 4.5m workers quit their jobs, a record. Even if rising wages and an ebbing pandemic lure some of them back to work, the fight for staff may endure.

For decades American firms slurped from a deepening pool of labour, as more women entered the workforce and globalisation greatly expanded the ranks of potential hires. That expansion has now mostly run its course, says Andrew Schwedel of Bain, a consultancy. Simultaneously, other trends have conspired to make the labour pool shallower than it might have been. Men continue to slump out of the job market: the share of men aged 25 to 54 either working or looking for work was 88% at the end of last year, down from 97% in the 1950s. Immigration, which plunged during Donald Trump’s nativist presidency, has sunk further, to less than a quarter of the level in 2016. And covid-19 may have prompted more than 2.4m baby boomers into early retirement, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

These trends will not reverse quickly. Boomers won’t sprint back to work en masse. With Republicans hostile to outsiders and Democrats squabbling over visas for skilled ones, a surge in immigration looks unlikely. Some men have returned to the workforce since the depths of the covid recession in 2020, but the male participation rate has plateaued below pre-pandemic levels. A tight labour market may persist.

But base pay is rising, too. Bank of America says it will raise its minimum wage to $25 by 2025. In September Walmart, America’s largest private employer, set its minimum wage at $12 an hour, below many states’ requirement of $13-14 but well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Amazon has lifted average wages in its warehouses to $18. The average hourly wage for production and nonsupervisory employees in December was 5.8% above the level a year earlier; compared with a 4.7% jump for all private-sector workers. Firms face pressure to lift them higher still. High inflation ensured that only workers in leisure and hospitality saw a real increase in hourly pay last year (see chart 2).

Raising compensation may not, on its own, be sufficient for companies to overcome the labour squeeze, however. This is where the other strategies come in, starting with changes to recruitment. To deal with the fact that, for some types of job, there simply are not enough qualified candidates to fill vacancies, many businesses are loosening hiring criteria previously deemed a prerequisite.

The share of job postings that list “no experience required” more than doubled from January 2020 to September 2021, reckons Burning Glass, an analytics firm. Easing rigid preconditions may be sensible, even without a labour shortage. A four-year degree, argues Joseph Fuller of Harvard Business School, is an unreliable guarantor of a worker’s worth. The Business Roundtable and the us Chamber of Commerce, two business groups, have urged companies to ease requirements that job applicants have a four-year university degree, advising them to value workers’ skills instead.

Another way to deal with a shortage of qualified staff is for firms to impart the qualifications themselves. In September, the most recent month for which Burning Glass has data, the share of job postings that offer training was more than 30% higher than in January 2020. New providers of training are proliferating, from university-run “bootcamps” to short-term programmes by specialists such as General Assembly and big employers themselves. Employers in Buffalo have hired General Assembly to run data-training schemes for local workers who are broadly able but who lack specific tech skills. Google, a technology giant, says it will consider workers who earn its online certificate in data analytics, for example, to be equivalent to a worker with a four-year degree.

Besides revamping recruitment and training, companies are modifying how their workers work. Some positions are objectively bad, with low pay, unpredictable scheduling and little opportunity for growth. Zeynep Ton of the mit Sloan School of Management contends that making low-wage jobs more appealing improves retention and productivity, which supports profits in the long term. As interesting as Walmart’s pay increases, she argues, are the retail behemoth’s management changes. Last year it said that two-thirds of the more than 565,000 hourly workers in its stores would work full time, up from about half in 2016. They would have predictable schedules week to week and more structured mentorship. Other companies may take note. Many of the complaints raised by labour organisers at Starbucks and Amazon have as much to do with safety and stress on the job as they do wages or benefits.

Companies that cannot find enough workers are trying to do with fewer of them. Sometimes that means trimming services. Many hotel chains, including Hilton, have made daily housekeeping optional. “We’ve been very thoughtful and cautious about what positions we fill,” Darren Woods, boss of ExxonMobil, told the oil giant’s investors on February 1st.

Increasingly, this also involves investments in automation. Orders of robots last year surpassed the pre-pandemic high in both volume and value, according to the Association for Advancing Automation. ups, a shipping firm, is boosting productivity with more automated bagging and labelling; new electronic tags will eliminate millions of manual scans each day.

New business models are pushing things along. Consider McEntire Produce in Columbia, South Carolina. Each year more than 45,000 tonnes of sliced lettuce, tomatoes and onions move through its factory. Workers pack them in bags, place bags in boxes and stack boxes on pallets destined for fast-food restaurants. McEntire has raised wages, but staff turnover remains high. Even as worker costs have climbed, the upfront expense of automation has sunk. So the firm plans to install new robots to box and stack. It will lease these from a new company called Formic, which offers robots at an hourly rate that is less than half the cost of a McEntire worker doing the same job. By 2025 McEntire wants to automate 60% of its volume, with robots handling the back-breaking work and workers performing tasks that require more skill. One new position, introduced in the past year, looks permanent: a manager whose sole job is to listen to and support staff so they do not quit. 

Both workers and employers are adapting. For the most part, they are doing so outside the construct of collective bargaining. Despite a flurry of activity—Starbucks baristas in Buffalo and Amazon workers in Alabama will hold union votes in February—unions remain weak. Last year 10.3% of American workers were unionised, matching the record low of 2019. Within the private sector, the unionisation rate is just 6.1%. Strikes and pickets will be a headache for some bosses. But it is quits that could cause them sleepless nights.

Pay as they go

Companies’ most straightforward tactic to deal with worker shortages is to raise pay. If firms are to part with cash, they prefer the inducements to be one-off rather than recurring and sticky, as with higher wages. That explains a proliferation of fat bonuses. Before the Christmas rush Amazon began offering workers a $3,000 sign-on sweetener. Compensation for lawyers at America’s top 50 firms rose by 16.5% last year, in part thanks to bonuses, according to a survey by Citigroup and Hildebrandt, a consultancy. In January Bank of America said it would give staff $1bn in restricted stock, which vests over time.

Source: How America’s talent wars are reshaping business

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 6 July Update, Economist Normality Index

The latest charts, compiled 6 July as overall rates in Canada continue to decline along with increased vaccinations (still largely first dose, Canadians fully vaccinated 36.6 percent, comparable to or higher than most EU countries). Steep upward trend as per Globe chart below suggests gap between USA and UK fully-vaccinated will continue to narrow.

Vaccinations: All Canadian provinces ahead of USA, China now ahead of Germany and other EU countries.

Trendline charts

Infections: No significant change

Deaths: No significant change.

Vaccinations: Captured above.


Infections: No relative change.

Deaths per million: No significant change.

Interesting integration of various data sources to develop a normality index (Canada is 63.4, slightly below the number for all countries, ranking 35, just ahead of UK):

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 many have wondered when the world will return to “normal”. But whether things will ever go back to the way they were is unclear: remote working looks set to continue, for example, and going to the movies may never be as popular as it used to be. 

The Economist has devised a “normalcy index” to track how behaviour has changed, and continues to change, because of the pandemic. Our index comprises eight indicators, split into three domains. The first grouping is transport and travel: public transport in big cities; the amount of traffic congestion in those same cities; and the number of international and domestic flights. The second looks at recreation and entertainment: how much time is spent outside the home; cinema box-office revenues (a proxy measure for cinema attendance); and attendance at professional sports events. The third is retailing and work: footfall in shops; and occupancy of offices (measured by workplace footfall in big cities). 

Our index covers 50 of the world’s largest economies that together account for 90% of global GDP and 76% of the world’s population. Our aggregate measure is the population-weighted average of each country’s score. The pre-pandemic level of activity is set at 100 for ease of comparison. The tracker is updated with new data once a week. 

Overall activity

The global normalcy index plummeted in March 2020 as many countries imposed draconian restrictions on their citizens. It fell to just 35 in April 2020, before improving gradually over the following months. Today it stands at 66, suggesting that the world has travelled roughly half of the way back to pre-pandemic life. Some indicators, such as traffic congestion and time spent outside, have recovered faster than others, particularly sports attendance and flights. The global average masks a lot of variation across countries. Click on the drop-down box to explore how behaviour has changed in each one.


Demographic skews in training data create algorithmic errors

Of note:

Algorithmic bias is often described as a thorny technical problem. Machine-learning models can respond to almost any pattern—including ones that reflect discrimination. Their designers can explicitly prevent such tools from consuming certain types of information, such as race or sex. Nonetheless, the use of related variables, like someone’s address, can still cause models to perpetuate disadvantage.

Ironing out all traces of bias is a daunting task. Yet despite the growing attention paid to this problem, some of the lowest-hanging fruit remains unpicked.

Every good model relies on training data that reflect what it seeks to predict. This can sometimes be a full population, such as everyone convicted of a given crime. But modellers often have to settle for non-random samples. For uses like facial recognition, models need enough cases from each demographic group to learn how to identify members accurately. And when making forecasts, like trying to predict successful hires from recorded job interviews, the proportions of each group in training data should resemble those in the population.

Many businesses compile private training data. However, the two largest public image archives, Google Open Images and ImageNet—which together have 725,000 pictures labelled by sex, and 27,000 that also record skin colour—are far from representative. In these collections, drawn from search engines and image-hosting sites, just 30-40% of photos are of women. Only 5% of skin colours are listed as “dark”.

Sex and race also sharply affect how people are depicted. Men are unusually likely to appear as skilled workers, whereas images of women disproportionately contain swimwear or undergarments. Machine-learning models regurgitate such patterns. One study trained an image-generation algorithm on ImageNet, and found that it completed pictures of young women’s faces with low-cut tops or bikinis.

Similarly, images with light skin often displayed professionals, such as cardiologists. Those with dark skin had higher shares of rappers, lower-class jobs like “washerwoman” and even generic “strangers”. Thanks to the Obamas, “president” and “first lady” were also overrepresented.

ImageNet is developing a tool to rebalance the demography of its photos. And private firms may use less biased archives. However, commercial products do show signs of skewed data. One study of three programs that identify sex in photos found far more errors for dark-skinned women than for light-skinned men.

Making image or video data more representative would not fix imbalances that reflect real-world gaps, such as the high number of dark-skinned basketball players. But for people trying to clear passport control, avoid police stops based on security cameras or break into industries run by white men, correcting exaggerated demographic disparities would surely help.■


Many Han Chinese don’t mind the gulag for their Uighur neighbours

Useful background and analysis:

The district of Erdaoqiao in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, looks very similar to many urban areas of China. Its streets are filled with luxury cars competing for space with frantic food-delivery scooters. Many buildings are new, built with steel, glass and cookie-cutter uniformity.

No visible evidence remains of the riots here in July 2009, the country’s bloodiest ethnic clashes in decades. They involved battles between Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim group indigenous to Xinjiang, and ethnic-Han Chinese who make up more than 90% of China’s population. The spark was a protest by Uighurs against the killing of two Uighur factory-workers by a mob in southern China. Of more than 200 people who were killed on the first day of the violence in Erdaoqiao and other areas of Urumqi, many were Han. Later, Han crowds gathered in the streets, hungry for revenge. The city stewed for days in a miasma of anger and fear.

Urumqi today is calm, but its ethnic contours remain distinct. Erdaoqiao is still known as a Uighur area. Its Uighur-run shops sell steaming bowls of noodles and stewed lamb, circular flatbreads, colourful bolts of fabric and religious articles. In other parts of the city, the residents are mainly Han people, who make up three-quarters of Urumqi’s population and dominate its economy. The city’s tallest building is a 229-metre office tower that belongs to a state bank based 2,000km to the east, in Beijing—a city that seems a world away from Xinjiang’s Uighur culture.

Urumqi is a Han bastion, but in Xinjiang as a whole there are about 10m Uighurs and around 9m Han people. They are divided not only by culture but also by geography. Han people mainly live in the north where Urumqi is located. Uighurs are concentrated in the much poorer south, in ancient oasis towns such as Kashgar and Hotan. Between north and south is the vast Taklimakan desert (see map).

To understand why officials in Xinjiang began building a gulag in 2016 in which they have incarcerated an estimated 1m people, mostly Uighurs, it is important to understand the nature of this ethnic divide. The riots in 2009 made Han people more suspicious of Uighurs. The government’s draconian reaction has made Uighurs more resentful. The prison camps, euphemistically known as vocational training centres, are evidence that this divide has become even more institutionalised. That suggests that the Uighurs’ suffering will last a very long time.

Uighurs are put in camps for such things as being overtly pious Muslims or too fond of their Uighur traditions. The authorities say this has helped curb terrorism. They say there were thousands of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang in the 15 years before the facilities were built, and none since. But the mass internment of Uighurs is certain to have increased their bitterness towards Xinjiang’s Han rulers.

The Economist: Why American Muslims lean leftwards for 2020

Not surprising:

BEFORE THE presidential election in 2000, George W. Bush was urged by an adviser to go after a category of voters who would love a business-friendly, socially-conservative message: Muslims. Mr Bush took the tip and it worked. In 2001, a survey of American Muslims (including those who cast no ballot or gave no clear answer) found that 42% reported voting for Mr Bush against 31% for his Democratic rival Al Gore. Among upwardly mobile Muslim immigrants, many of them professionals or entrepreneurs, the proportion voting Republican was much higher.

Now, however, with anti-Muslim sentiment ablaze among supporters of Donald Trump, and the president hardly discouraging it, that love-in is a distant memory. American Muslims are gaining political visibility, but only on the far left of the spectrum. Symptomatic of this shift is the election to the House of Representatives of two Muslim women (Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar) who along with two female colleagues, also left-wing Democrats, have been taunted by Mr Trump and his supporters.

A huge change in Muslim sentiment was clear in the 2004 presidential race and confirmed by the 2008 contest won by Barack Obama. By 2007 some 63% of American Muslims at least “leaned towards” the Democrats, against only 11% for the Republicans. These figures have not changed very much since, according to Pew Research, a pollster. Among Muslims who voted in the 2016 presidential race, only 8% said they opted for Mr Trump (who had declared that “Islam hates us”) and 78% for Hillary Clinton.

Campaigners for Muslim political engagement reckoned that more than 1m were registered to vote in 2016, and that last year’s congressional elections saw an uptick in Muslims going to the polls. Pew estimates that about 3.5m Muslims live in America. At around 1% of the country’s population as of 2015, they were more numerous than Hindus (0.7%) or Buddhists (0.7%) though well outnumbered by Jews (1.8%). But that picture is projected to change fast with the Muslim share doubling by mid-century.

The main reasons for the transformation in Muslim attitudes have been much analysed. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, there was a spate of hate crimes against followers of Islam and open antipathy towards Muslims emerged in a growing segment of the electorate. That put Muslim voters into a defensive frame of mind, and Democrats, with their embrace of cultural diversity, offered the safest haven. Another factor, though its importance is disputed, is that younger American Muslims have grown more liberal over cultural questions like gay rights, so they are less amenable to Republican-style “family values” arguments. As for African-American Muslims, they (like black Christians) have always been well to the left in their voting choices.

Still, to say that American Muslims have lurched from one end of the ideological spectrum to another would be an over-simplification. According to Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University, Muslims are not so much confirmed leftists as nomads, in search of anyone who will listen to them, and the only respectful attention they are getting is on the left. Even in that quarter, they have been feeling a bit unloved recently. At the convention on August 31st of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which calls itself the country’s biggest Muslim organisation, only two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination accepted invitations to speak: Senator Bernie Sanders and Julián Castro, a former housing secretary. Mr Sanders is also probably the most robust supporter of Palestinian rights in the primary field. As Mr Chouhoud puts it, this leaves Muslims “looking for a place they can feel wanted. Any politician who even talks to them will be appreciated.”

In this climate, Muslim Republicans are an endangered, though not extinct, species. One veteran of that cause is an Arizona-based doctor, Zuhdi Jasser. He has served as vice-chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan watchdog, as a Republican nominee. Although Mr Trump was not his preferred candidate, Dr Jasser declares himself “pleasantly surprised” by many of the Trump administration’s policies, and insists that “Muslim ban” is not an accurate way to describe the president’s drive to bar entry from five countries where Islam predominates.

Dr Jasser feels the “Muslim-equals-left” stereotype is partly the fault of his community’s self-appointed representatives, not so much the young firebrands as the community’s elderly godfathers. In his view, these veteran leaders have one big failing. They have never really distanced themselves from the global cause of Islamism, the notion that the only ideal form of governance is a Muslim one. (They are not, of course, proposing such a regime for America, but many have a record of endorsing political Islam elsewhere.) That soft spot for Islamism makes them particularly toxic in the eyes of mainstream American conservatives, leaving Muslims nowhere to go but left.

As he tours America addressing conservative groups, Dr Jasser finds them open to persuasion that the political doctrine of Islamism, which in his view can and must be separated from the spiritual teaching of Islam, is their real foe. He lays out the case that Islam as a set of metaphysical beliefs and ethical norms can flourish, in America and elswhere, under the principle of church-state separation which was dear to the Founding Fathers. Once that argument is made, his listeners are open to persuasion that decent American Muslims are allies against Islamism.

Whether or not they deserve to be dismissed as old-timers, America’s Muslim thought leaders, be they spiritual or political, are certainly divided. In ways that leave ordinary Muslim voters a bit baffled, they squabble among themselves, usually over events in distant lands. Arguments rage over the coup in Egypt in 2013, the failed coup in Turkey in 2016 and the civil war in Syria. At the core of many such disputes is a difference in attitudes to the global Muslim Brotherhood, as a standard-bearer of Islamism. In the words of H.A. Hellyer, an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment, “one of the fault-lines in the American Muslim intelligentsia is between those who see Islamism as the proper, basic norm of Muslim political life, and those who are philosophically opposed to it.”

Rank-and-file American Muslims may not have much time for philosophy but many will have felt some bewilderment in recent weeks as one of their most revered spiritual figures became embroiled in a row which has a domestic political dimension. Hamza Yusuf, a California-based greybeard, is often described as America’s most eminent scholar of Islam. In July he took a job, of sorts, with the Trump administration by joining a panel set up by the State Department to ponder the definition of human rights. Some said he was selling out to a Muslim-bashing administration; others that his warm relations with the United Arab Emirates, whose regime he calls tolerant, made him unqualified to pronounce on human rights. (The UAE is a declared foe of the Brotherhood, so views on that country are sensitive.) Mr Yusuf was already unpopular with left-wing co-religionists for saying after Mr Trump’s election that Muslims should accept his authority.

In recent days he has been much criticised for having spoken mockingly of the Syrian uprising that started in 2011. In a three-year-old video clip that suddenly went viral, he said the revolt had led to untold humiliation for Muslims. In a fresh video he apologised if his words had offended people who suffered under Syria’s regime.

Still, some advocates of a Muslim-Democratic coalition feel they can do fine without such prominent Muslims as Mr Yusuf. Despite the lack of interest shown by other Democrats, they took heart from Mr Sanders’s appearance at the ISNA convention and especially over one of his comments. He delighted Pakistani-Americans by saying he was “deeply concerned” about India’s “unacceptable” actions in Kashmir. That gave a hint of one foreign-policy issue which might loom rather large for south Asian voters in the 2020 race. Some Indian-Americans are impressed by Mr Trump’s friendship with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister; many Pakistani-Americans hope a Democratic runner will take the other side.

Shadi Hamid, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, says the deepening partnership between Muslims and Democrats was built not on foreign-policy questions but more on adversity: the alarm created by the white-nativist spirit which they see stalking the country. Certain tensions do exist, he says, between the social conservatism of some Muslims and the ever more secular ethos of the Democrats. But for now, such tensions are kept under control by a common feeling of being endangered. If the Trump era passes, the Democratic coalition’s internal strains might come to the fore, but until that happens, a sense of being under siege will keep it together. Generally, Muslim voters are saying: “however secular the Democrats might be, it is the Democrats who have our backs.”

Source: Why American Muslims lean leftwards for 2020

Unlikely new residents are reviving Australian country towns

A reminder of the contribution some lower skilled immigrants can make to rural communities and a caution regarding the limits of encouraging more high skilled immigrants to settle there:

First came the Burmese, then the Afghans and the Africans. Since 2016, 400-odd Yazidis have washed up in Wagga Wagga, a regional centre south-west of Sydney. Its primary school has had to hire interpreters to communicate with families (fully a fifth of its students are refugees). The local college teems with parents learning English and new trades. Doctors have had to brush up on illnesses rarely found in the area. Few locals seem fussed about the changes. And to those fresh out of war zones, “Wagga” is an idyll. “My children are safe,” says Ismail Darwesh, a Yazidi who fled Islamic State’s attempt to wipe out his people, a religious minority in Iraq and Syria. “Everything you want you can get here.”

The refugees have been sent to Wagga Wagga under a scheme which brings beneficiaries from foreign camps to rural Australia (most settle in urban areas). The hope is that they can offset the population decline that threatens many outback settlements with extinction, as birth rates fall and youngsters head for cities. Wagga Wagga’s Multicultural Council says the population is only growing thanks to the new arrivals. Immigrants are helping to stem shrinkage in another 150 localities.

The scheme helps big cities, too, by easing the pressure on roads, schools and hospitals there. Thousands of Iraqis and Syrians descended on Sydney’s western suburbs after extra visas were dished out to them in 2016 and 2017. Many have struggled to find work, and conservatives grumble about ghettoisation. A recent report from the Centre for Policy Development, a think-tank, found that just 17% of “humanitarian entrants” have jobs after 18 months in Australia. Yet remote towns are crying out for people to fill vacancies on farms, in abattoirs and to look after the elderly. The cost of living is lower than in Sydney or Melbourne and, for farmers like Mr Darwesh, a quiet life is appealing anyway.

To stay afloat, some outback towns have taken to recruiting migrants for themselves. A piggery in Pyramid Hill, in northern Victoria, started sponsoring workers from the Philippines a decade ago. They now make up a fifth of its 500-odd population, keeping not just the business afloat, but also the local school. Another town in the same state, Nhill, lured 160 Burmese refugees from Melbourne with jobs at a food company, adding perhaps A$40m ($28m) to its economy. A group of residents in Walla Walla, a dot in New South Wales, is now scouting for refugees from Sydney. “We have jobs, we have housing and we have education,” says Andrew Kotzur, who runs the local steelworks. “We just need more people to sustain them.”

Asylum-seekers and farm labourers make up a tiny portion of the immigrants pouring into Australia. The conservative coalition government is keen to rusticate others, too. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, has suggested that some of Australia’s 500,000 foreign students could be sent to regional universities. The population minister, Alan Tudge, added that visa restrictions and incentives could be used to push skilled migrants out of Melbourne and Sydney. Almost all the best-qualified arrivals settle in those two cities, but luring them out will not be easy. It is partly owing to migration that Sydney and Melbourne are thriving. Foreign accountants and it geeks choose them for well-paid work and swanky suburbs. Rob them of both, and far fewer would come to Oz at all.

Source: Unlikely new residents are reviving Australian country towns

How to understand Salafism in America: The Economist

Expect similar differences in Canada:

THE word “Salafism” is often used loosely, especially in continental Europe. When the relationship between Islam and jihadist violence is discussed in, say, France or Germany, the assumption is often made that the problem begins and ends with the Salafis—who put overwhelming emphasis on the first three generations of Muslims and who are thought to have professed the faith at its purest. This Franco-German sloppiness can be bewildering to Islam-watchers in Britain where Salafis have at times been encouraged to play a part in countering terrorism.

In fact, as anyone who studies the Salafi phenomenon quickly realises, things are far from simple. Scholars generally distinguish three strands of Salafism. First, there is the apolitical, quietist sort which favours intense conservatism in dress and personal life and eschews most kinds of involvement with the modern world. Then there are more activist Salafis who share the impatience of the Muslim Brotherhood to see the replacement of relatively secular governments in Islam’s heartland by religiously inspired regimes. They are not quite as energetic, or as pragmatic, as the Brotherhood’s members but they are influenced by Brotherhood thinking. And thirdly, there are jihadist Salafis who think the only appropriate response to the decadence of the modern era, and to a lack of zeal in the historically Muslim world, is violence. All three strains share a suspicion of democratic institutions that confer on fallible human beings an authority that, as they see things, should belong only to God.

In a new report, published under the Programme on Extremism at America’s George Washington University, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens shows that all three forms of Salafism have flourished, albeit with considerable ebbs and flows in their fortunes, on American soil in recent decades. He agrees that the distinction between the three forms of Salafism should be maintained, but also stresses they are not hermetically sealed categories, and that important individuals have moved between them.

Confusingly, the author notes, Salafist thinking (whose hallmarks include deep suspicion of the modern, secular world) has been disseminated by some people who do not themselves accept the label of Salafi. One such person is Muhammad Syed Adly, an influential imam based in South Carolina who urges Muslims to focus on Islamic education and avoid secular education and worldly politics. He has encouraged American Muslims to consider alternatives to regular public schools where their children might pick up liberal ideas about gender and sexuality.

As an example of quietist Salafism, Mr Meleagrou-Hitchens cites the Quran and Sunnah Society (QSS) which flourished across the United States both before and immediately after its formal incorporation in Ohio in 1995. Its back-to-basics message, driven home with tapes from Saudi clerics, appealed both to Arab students in America and to African-Americans who had embraced Islam in a spirit of black power and wanted to hew close to the faith’s fundamentals. As the author points out, Salafism’s utter rejection of secular institutions appealed to some African-Americans who felt the American system had nothing to offer them. Although the QSS eventually went into terminal decline, its legacies apparently include a contingent of American Muslims who are fiercely protective of Saudi Arabia and its clerics.

To show how jihadist Salafism can be generated on American soil, the report looks at some notorious individuals such as Ali al-Timimi (pictured), who was born in Washington, DC, spent part of his teens in Saudi Arabia and later returned to the United States where he gained a doctorate in computational biology. In 2005 he was jailed on ten charges including enlisting people to wage war against America and helping the Taliban. His case, according to the new report, “is a fascinating case study due to his steady progression across the wider American Salafi milieu: from student of the traditional quietist Saudi sheikhs…to an open promoter of Salafi jihadism.”

But of course, quietist Salafism doesn’t always lead in an extremist direction, as the author also stresses. As an example of that point, he cites a school of “post-Salafis” who “have contributed to the development of Americanised version of Salafism” that combines conservative theology with a constructive engagement with national and international issues.

In other words, American Salafism (for all its professed emphasis on simplicity) is irreducibly prolix. Given how many lives could depend on getting things right, it is worthwhile engaging with that complexity.

Source: How to understand Salafism in America

The many meanings of freedom: A new set of essays offers a sobering look at Islam and human-rights discourse

Interesting discussion piece on the interface and compatibility of Muslims with liberal democracy and human rights. Some of the same concerns he raises, of course, can be applied to more traditional or fundamentalist strains of all religions.

Try substituting the names of other religions for Islam and Muslims to see some common threads:

MOHAMMAD FADEL, an associate law professor at the University of Toronto, is one of North America’s most thoughtful commentators on the interface between Islam, liberal democracy and Western understandings of the rule of law. He has made an elaborate case for the possibility of Muslims, including theologically conservative ones, finding a comfortable place in a diverse, noisy liberal democracy where many value systems co-exist. He draws on the ideas of John Rawls, perhaps the greatest American political philosopher of the late 20th century, to show that “public reason” can serve as a kind of common denominator between citizens with utterly different world views.

So it is sobering to find that in a newly published set of essays on Islam and the Western understanding of human rights, Mr Fadel puts more emphasis on difference than compatibility. His contribution is the sharpest of the essays, published by the Atlantic Council, an influential think-tank based in Washington, DC, under the title “The Islamic Tradition and the Human Rights Discourse”.

Mr Fadel artfully uses a Western source to show that basic concepts like freedom and happiness have one meaning for a liberal humanist and another for a theist idealist who sees the purpose of human life as devotion to God. For somebody in the latter camp, an addicted gambler is anything but free; but to the secular liberal, that way of life could simply be one way of exercising formal freedom.

Islamic thought about the family, as Mr Fadel adds, is oriented not only to the short-term happiness of individuals, and also to other perceived desirables such as “a reasonably stable household that produces a new generation of Muslims.” So Muslim thinkers could not be expected to see religiously mixed marriages in the same light as a secular libertarian would. He concludes that:

It is impossible to expect a complete convergence between human rights norms and Islamic norms: human rights norms are almost entirely concerned with securing the autonomy of individuals to make choices for themselves, while Islam is about influencing individuals’ choices about how to live their lives.

Asked if he had become more downbeat about Muslim communities finding a place in Western societies, Mr Fadel told Erasmus that he believed more passionately than ever in the need for such co-existence. But it was an observable fact that in Western societies, that effort was growing harder. Arguments, for example over female attire and the raising of children, suggest that in many Western countries, “liberals don’t trust Muslims, and therefore want to regulate their lives more closely, and Muslims don’t trust liberal society, which means they are less likely to have confidence in a neutral, rules-based political system and more likely to focus on their own communal life,” he says.

All the contributors to the new volume are themselves Muslim, and they bring to the subject of human rights concepts and assumptions that would be unfamiliar to most non-Muslims. Perhaps the most upbeat note is struck by the volume’s editor, H.A. Hellyer, who argues that Islam must rediscover the virtue of “rejuvenation”—new thinking about old texts and concepts—which, contrary to what many people say, is “deeply held within the Islamic tradition”. The oft-repeated proposition that in Islam, the gates of ijtihad (theological reasoning) were slammed shut a millennium ago is simply false, in Mr Hellyer’s view.

Another contributor is Mustafa Ceric, the grand mufti emeritus of Sarajevo, who  makes a pointed rejoinder to Western critics of Islam. It takes the form of a riff on the word “dhimmitude”. Among contemporary Islamo-sceptics, that term has been used in two senses. It refers to the second-class but still protected status which traditional Muslim empires offered to non-Muslim, especially Christian and Jewish, subjects. Today’s sceptics also use the word to denounce Westerners who seem excessively deferential to Islam.

As Mr Ceric notes, the “dhimmi” status in Ottoman times did at least allow religious minorities to remain alive, as long as they were loyal and law-abiding. His co-religionists who suffered genocide in Bosnia did not benefit from any such concession. That is a fair point. But if we are to judge any religion (Islam, Christianity, even Buddhism) or secular creed (Marxism, nationalism, fascism) by the respect shown by its adherents for the right to life over the last couple of centuries, then none fares too well.

Source: The many meanings of freedomA new set of essays offers a sobering look at Islam and human-rights discourse