Absorptive Capacity: Four Rationales for Limiting Immigrant Entry

In response to my very recent blog on “Darkness,” one reader criticized me for my extremely negative picture of Donald Trump. He also criticized me for my use of the term “black.” He wrote “History has many faces of black, including pitch black, jet black, coal black, and dark black. Man made a dreadful noun of ‘black’ when it defined dark skinned Africans as ‘black’ people.”

I will leave Trump out for the moment and focus on the claim that man made a dreadful noun of ‘black.’ There is a radical difference between the noun ‘black’ and making ‘black’ into a dreadful noun by using black to stir up dread. The dread does not attach to the noun but to its use. I will not offer a defence of my use of black for black is indeed beautiful. Instead, I refer to a 2007 book, Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom. It was written first as a PhD thesis under my supervision at York University just before I retired in 2003. The thesis became this book that won the prestigious John Porter award from the Canadian Sociological Association for the best scholarly book published in the discipline in Canada that year. I recommend the book.

Just by way of introduction, Cecil Foster, the author, was born in Barbados and is a Canadian novelist, essayist, journalist and scholar. He is one of Canada’s leading public intellectuals writing and speaking about Canada’s experience with multiculturalism. He has written 5 novels as well as other scholarly books, his latest on the role of the black porters employed by Canadian railway companies and how they helped transform Canada into what it is today. Cecil is now a professor at the University of Buffalo and chairs its Department of Transnational Studies. “We see our department as the university’s gateway for students eager to explore connections across boundaries of all kinds: across national borders, continents and oceans; across lines of social identity; across time; between humanity and the natural environment; across the disciplines; between theory and practice; and between research and social engagement.”

I use this as an introduction to this morning’s blog because immigration of those who are different – whether black, Sikh, Chinese, or Vietnamese, Jew or Muslim – has been opposed under the general rubric that a country’s absorptive capacity is the reason for limiting the entry for certain groups of new immigrants and/or refugees. However, there are at least four different definitions of absorptive capacity and the consequent reasons for putting limits on intake. Two have to do almost entirely with the character of the immigrant/refugee. Another two have to do with the limitations of the host country where the immigrants and refugees want to stay

The first brands a certain class of immigrants/refugees as Other, as Others who are generally lesser, as Others who are dangerous and a threat to the society into which they are seeking entry. The absorptive capacity of a country is limited because these immigrants/refugees are perceived as posing a threat to the culture, well-being and stability of the receiving country. It is the core reason why Donald Trump opposed Muslim immigrant/refugees and migrants from Mexico and Central America. I have written a critique of that position in an earlier blog on “Locusts.” Trump’s nativist demagoguery, though relatively brief, was on full display in his State of the Union address last evening.

There is a second meaning of “absorptive capacity’ which puts the problem squarely on those seeking entry. It was brought to my attention by another reader of my blog in a response yesterday, who also berated me for my preoccupation with Donald Trump, this time, not because I mis-characterize him so much but because my attention was considered excessive and a waste of my time. That reader introduced me to a German writer for Die Welt, Henryk Broder, who also happens to be Jewish.

The reader brought to my attention a 4 February 2019 article that I had already read in Tablet by Clemens Heni entitled, “Why is Germany’s best-known Jewish journalist giving speeches to its holocaust-downplaying, far-right party?” The article can be found here criticizing Henryk Broder for his speech to the far-right neo-Nazi party in Germany, AfD:


When I first read Heni’s piece, I took the criticism at face value.  But my reader also sent me her translation of the speech Broder gave. I have included it at the end of the blog. It is hilarious and a brilliant piece satirizing the very neo-Nazis he was addressing. Heni totally misrepresented Broder’s position and what he stood for. The speech was definitely not an intellectual embrace of the AfD.

However, when I concurred with that critique of Heni, I was asked to listen to another of Broder’s speeches which he delivered at the Danish Parliament Christiansborg at a conference on “The Danish Mohammad Cartoon Crisis in Retrospect” on 26 September 2015 put on by the Free Press Association to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Muhammad drawings.


I listened to the speech. What a contrast with the one that Heni criticized! The opening line was funny, but the rest was not.

The speech brought out a very different side of Broder, his critique of Angela Merkel for allowing one million refugees to enter Germany. He claimed that they were almost all Muslim. Though most were, very many were Christian and Yazidis and most were not even from the Middle East. The speech was serious and not intended to be funny. Small errors however, then count more. Essentially, Broder argued that allowing the entry of one million Muslim Syrian refugees into Germany was a calamity from which Germany would be unable to recover. He deplored the appeasement approach to the threat of Islamicization and insisted that the refugees could not be absorbed, not only because of the problems of finding housing, food and teachers, but because there was a clash of values, a clash of civilizations, that the policy of multiculturalism tried to cover up.

The refugees had no experience with rights as part of their culture, he argued. The history of the Scottish enlightenment, of German philosophy, the French Revolution, Italian pasta and Danish design were foreign to them. There was a historical spirit to Europe with which they did not and could not identify. Broder was simply calling a spade a spade, he said, seemingly totally unaware of the transformation of the expression from referring to speaking the unvarnished truth without embellishment to a reference to African-Americans in the 1920s as “spades.” In answer to a question from the floor, he insisted that the policy was a product of self-flagellation and false guilt towards the plight of the Third World.

Below are some extracts from that speech:

After his opening joke about his casual dress to improve the reputation of Germany, he said that the gathering was intended to “mourn the passing of our peninsula” with 500 million Europeans as an outcrop of Asia. The spirit of Europe, he insisted, “did not perish overnight.” Not physically, but “mentally, culturally and in terms of self-esteem.” “Europe has committed suicide.” The villains? Those who promoted peace, love, tolerance and multiculturalism.

The fortress of education, culture and science that Europe had been was allowed to be breached by Broder’s leftist and liberal German friends in the name of women’s rights, gay rights but, most significantly, great sensitivity to Muslim culture. Germans were to use speech responsibly. Self-restraint was necessary to make social peace. These were the new imperatives that acted to restrict rights according to Broder, a self-declared proud fundamentalist of the Enlightenment.

When Angela Merkel was asked what she intends to do to protect Germany from Islamicization, a perfectly simple question in Broder’s view, she responded that if someone is afraid of Islamicization, they should read Holy Scripture. According to Broder’s critique, Merkel was praised for her courage and influence. But Broder charged Merkel and other German leaders with appeasement and pre-emptive surrender. Unlike Viktor Orbán of Hungary, with whose position he explicitly identified, Broder saw no hope beyond the horizon in the face of a million “mostly young Muslim males unable to restrain themselves.” The actual number who arrived was 890,000. They would be followed, Broder argued, by perhaps one million more in 2016. In fact, the numbers dropped back to one-quarter of that projection. In the last month of 2015, the number had eased. Further, though the increase from one quarter million to 890,000 was claimed to be largely made up of Syrian refugees, in fact only about one of three came from war-torn Syria directly or indirectly. In fact, Albanian and Kosovars made up the top two groups. Broder perhaps would not care. They were Muslims even if they were European Muslims.

Broder mocked Obama’s “Yes we can,” and Merkel for saying, “Wir schaffen das” or “We can do this.” He rebuked Merkel for her “Willkommenskultur,” or welcome culture. One thing Broder said that we know for sure: “The unrestricted influx of Refugees with no experience of democracy, human rights, women’s rights and the rule of law will change Germany beyond recognition. And not only Germany. Europe will not survive this test of endurance.” He claimed that Europe was unsalvageable and blamed its self-destruction on Brussels bureaucrats whose avarice and arrogance blocked their perception of reality. They were accused of being masters of fraud and deception. Europe was now a house of cards failing apart and immigrants/refugees bore a considerable responsibility for that fact. Broder insisted that, “We cannot cope with millions of refugees coming from different cultures.”

The problem of refugees was not that they were rapists and killers or that they were lesser beings and alien threats. Broder is no Donald Trump. However, he does adhere to the clash of civilizations ideology and that these refugees could not be integrated into Europe. I do not know whether he is aware that the same reasons were offered for keeping Jews out of Canada before 1948.

There are two other schools that use the limits of absorptive capacity as a reason for limiting the intake of immigrants/refugees. Both point to limitations of the receiving society, which the nativists and culture clash ideologies also cite, but more as asides. Politics and socio-economics of the receiving side become primary for these two versions of absorptive capacity.

David Frum belongs to the political school for limiting the entry of immigrants and refugees into the U.S., not because there is anything inherently wrong with the immigrants and refugees themselves, but there is a problem when the numbers become too great and they threaten the American polity. They do so in several ways, according to David. First, a bleeding heart, like Barack Obama, in order to delay the deportation of Dreamers, protected them by executive order when he could not get an agreement with Congress. This set a terrible precedent for Donald Trump.

David Frum offered a large number of quotes to demonstrate that Republicans not too long ago argued for protecting Dreamers and not deporting them. (Trumpocracy 34-36) What the party elite did not recognize, and Donald Trump alone did, was, “that their voters did not share the donors’ and pundits’ policy consensus.” (36) As a result, traditional Republicans lost control of the party to Trump.

David Frum is not anti-immigrant. When he was only nineteen, he was singularly responsible for organizing the most private sponsorships of Indochinese refugees through the synagogue to which he belonged compared to any other – fifty sponsorships. Further, it was at a time when the majority of Canadians opposed the intake of 60,000 Indochinese refugees. It took courageous leadership by all political parties in Canada, particularly the Tories at the time, to confront that resistance, to refuse to give in to the nativism and racism and fear of competition from these newcomers from a very different culture.

However, for David Frum, what was brave instead of prudent in 1979 for Canadian politicians, was imprudent for Republicans who in their blindness failed to see the rise of a dangerous populist like Donald Trump who truly threatened the fabric of institutions and political culture and values of America. In the name of political prudence, Frum argued for caution and limits.

I, and a great deal of research, would suggest that this is the real appeasement; the damage is not only done to all those refugees who are not allowed entry, but to the values that Western democracies do and should aspire to realize. Canada, because of its private sponsorship program, has the advantage of having built a grass roots significant constituency that can and does lobby for pro-refugee policies. Unfortunately, the pioneering of Canada has been copied only very recently by a few countries.

Finally, there is a fourth school with respect to absorptive capacity. The reference is foreshadowed by the other three, but the emphasis is not on the refugees but on the need to educate citizens that refugees are not a danger to their livelihoods, their political institutions and their fundamental values. That education takes time and puts limits on how many refugees can be admitted in any one year. My own research, however, suggests that the limit has never ever been approached. However, it is true that if multicultural policies are weak, if educational programs are lacking, if effective mechanisms for integration are not in place, then the possibility of an effective backlash is so much greater. The risk is even much greater when a political party decides to use the populist fears to build a constituency and a voting base to win an election.

However, contrary to Broder, I would argue that such appeals must be confronted with political cleverness as well as rational debate in public. I will end with telling a story I have told many times before. When in 1979 we were confronted with the National Citizens’ Coalition using a racist campaign to challenge the policy of admitting 50,000 Indochinese refugees, we launched Operation Intellectual Kneecapping and recruited enlightened Conservative donors to threaten the NCC with cutting off their donations if they continued their racist strident objections to the intake of Indochinese refugees. The NCC stopped their campaign. Contrary to Broder, the real appeasers are those who give in to nativist xenophobia or those who believe in the false doctrine of a clash of civilizations.


Henryk Broder’s talk at the AfD faction of the Bundestag

Jan 29, 2019, as documented [in a shortened version] by Die Welt on 31.01.2019

Translated by bea sara goll © 2019 [explanations in […] are of the translator.]

For the full talk in German, see:


Preliminary note: Before my speech, a photo was taken showing how Alice Weidel, leader of the AfD parliamentary group, embraced me. This image has been disseminated by the AfD in the social media. It would have been right to avoid the embrace. As a journalist you should keep a distance from politicians. There is, of course, no reason to draw any further conclusions from this embrace. I apologize and vow to be more careful at the next opportunity.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the invitation.

I have been to the Bundestag several times, most recently at a meeting of the Petitions Committee. But I have never spoken before a faction. My first choice would have been the Grüne. I would have even come here by bike or a rowboat. But the Grüne are not that far yet, that they would invite someone like me. First of all, I would have to start separating my waste, heating my home sparingly and using less water. I do not do that. I do not even believe that the climate change exists because there has not been a day in history when the climate has not changed. Climate change is as new as the eternal succession of winter, spring, summer and fall. What is new is that the climate has become the fetish of the enlightened, who believe neither in Jesus nor in Moses or Mohammed. The British writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the inventor of Father Brown, has already said the right thing: “Since people no longer believe in God, they do not believe in anything, they believe all sorts of nonsense.”

The worldwide hype surrounding a 16-year-old Swede, who considers herself a revenant by Jeanne d’Arc, has proved that again, just recently.

But this was just my attempt at an icebreaker to warm up. Back to the beginning. Just as I wonder why you invited me and not Richard David Precht, so ask yourself why I accepted the invitation.

The thing is very simple. They wanted to see if anyone who can write as good as I do could speak just as well-in the den or hell of brown spotted lions, in the snake pit of reaction, in the darkroom of history. And besides, you want to know if I’m really as likeable as I always seem when on TV.

Some of you may never have seen a real Jew in nature and are now waiting for the room to fill with the smell of garlic and sulfur.

I like doing stuff I’ve never done before. I recently went on a cruise for the first time in my life – and I liked it a lot. On my to-do list, which I would like to work off before my 75th birthday, are still: the visit to a swingers club, the journey to the center of the earth and a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway with Florian Silbereisen [cruise ship captain in a German soap opera] as my personal butler.

Although a visit to you was not on my list, I accepted the invitation anyway; when does a Jew already get the opportunity to perform in a room full of Nazis, neo-Nazis, crypto-Nazis and Para-Nazis?

Besides, I’m only doing what the Bundespresident has recently advised us to do. We should approach each other; get to know each other better, talk to each other in order to strengthen the cohesion of this society.

That’s exactly what I’m doing. I am a bridge builder, a reconciler; I advocate a colorful, open and tolerant society in which no one is marginalized. I judge people in my environment not by origin, skin color or religion, but by whether, in broad terms, they also accept opinions other than their own. I am tolerant to the limit of self-denial, but I do not want to be tolerant of a group of people: the intolerant ones, who make themselves the measure of all things and promise me either eternal life in paradise, if I follow them, or a box seat in hell, if I refuse them.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the introduction. Now follows the main part.

The idea was that we talk about Political Correctness, though nobody knows what the term really means. It is an empty box into which anyone can throw whatever he considers inappropriate, evil, insulting or dangerous, anything that could threaten “social peace”, and that – social peace – is something that is not something that serves peace but rather something that threatens the freedom of expression.

That we can no longer buy “Negro Kisses” and that the Sarotti Moor has been renamed “Sarotti – Magician of the Senses”, that I can live with. Worse, much worse, I find that in some Dutch supermarkets there is no longer any “Jodenkoeken” (Jewish cake), a specialty of short crust pastry, which was invented by a Jewish baker at the end of the 19th century. The “Jodenkoeken” are now called “Dutch cookies” and are exported under this name all the way to China. That may be politically correct, but I shall call it a cultural expropriation. I want my Jodenkoeken back!

In Germany, this magnificent product is not sold, which probably has to do with the name. It would have to be renamed, politically correctly, in “Jewish men and women’s Cake,” and that would be a great laugh then.

But even that is just a petitesse on the edge of the PC field. What I find unspeakable and intolerable, on the other hand, is a statement by Cardinal Marx, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. He recently said in a discussion in Berlin that the term “Christian Occident” should not be used, because it is “exclusionary”. Even more annoying than the cardinal’s statement was that no one disagreed with him and nobody said what this statement is for: a preventive submission.

Now, as a Jew, it would not matter to me how a cardinal defines Europe and what semantic exercises he does to avoid being suspected of “marginalizing” anyone.

At first glance, such a statement may be seen as a sign of humility; in fact, the opposite is the case. It demonstrates conceit and hypocrisy. “Look how tolerant we are! We do not even claim our story for ourselves! ”

To exclude no one may be a noble idea. It just races past the reality. I have never been invited to a Eucharist celebration. Will I be marginalized? An application from me for a place in Jungle Camp was not even answered. A clear case of exclusion. And what about the many prelates, vicars, chaplains and deacons in the Catholic Church who did not make it to Cardinal? How must they suffer from exclusion? Not to mention the women, who have no chance of being accepted into the cardinals’ circle.

Even in nature there is always exclusion. A hamster has no choice, even though he would rather be traveling as a gazelle, one must feel sorry for all giraffes who dream of a life as dolphins, but we cannot help them.

Political correctness starts where reality ends, in the now over 70 gender options, in the rather funny assertion that man and woman are not biological facts, but “social constructs” that leave every man the choice, whether he or she wants to be a man or a woman or today this and tomorrow that.

Whereby it is scandalous that der Mensch [human being] is a masculine noun for whom there is no feminine counterpart.

While we sit here so nicely, a dozen doctoral theses are written about this problem and how you could overcome it.

To avoid misunderstandings, I want to say that I am not a principled opponent of political correctness, if it means that there are things that one should not do and should not propagate.

However, this space of what can be said and what can be done is subject to constant change. I think it is right and proper that homosexuality has been decriminalized and that marital rape has been reduced to a crime from having been a husband’s privilege. I think it is right and proper that child marriages should be banned, regardless of the cultural background of the families involved. I am in favor of judging the offense of “child molestation” more severely, in order to be able to follow such cases as that of the already mentioned Greta from Sweden, who was chosen by the climate coalition as the icon of their movement.

I think it is also correct that I – if I call someone an “anti-Semite” – must prove this accusation, which is not easy given the level of education or German judges, for whom the [6 million victims of the] Holocaust is the measure of things and everything under that number is considered mere administrative offense.

And if someone calls a politician he does not like a “Nazi slut”, then that would have to be proved and not rewarded by using the satire-card. There is still a considerable need for legal education here.

But it is not just laws that can be interpreted differently, of course, by what is called the “discretionary margin,” which in turn leads to verdicts that no “normal” thinking person can comprehend. It’s also about something that our PC-moderately unspoiled parents put into the words “That’s not done”. You do not put your feet on the table, you do not burp while eating, and you do not call the twelve worst years in German history “bird shit.” [The AfD lead, Gauland called Hitler and the Nazis just a piece of bird shit on the more than 1000 years of glorious German history at a congress of the AfD Junge Alternative].

This is a grave sin – not only from the point of view of the Nazi victims – the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, the resistance fighters, the deserters.. It must also be a no-go for any German who is not a Jew, not a Gypsy, not gay and has no relatives who were persecuted by the Nazis.
Ladies and gentlemen, I did not come here to give you a sermon or tell you what to do or not to do. I do not want to block you nor do I want to show you the way. Well, maybe a little.

I am here for two reasons. First, I am all for fair play. And dealing with your party is anything but fair. When your Bremen colleague Magnitz was beaten up – does anyone know how far the search for the perpetrators is now? – Although all have condemned the act, in some of the distancing was also noted that those who sow the wind, must expect to reap storm. Like women, who are blamed, and accused of some complicity when sexually molested because they wear too short skirts.

This is not possible; this is unworthy of a democracy that is based on the idea in the broadest sense that “wrong” attitudes and opinions, that is, deviating from the general consensus, are to be protected. The limits of that which is permitted, I have already pointed out, are established by the Criminal Code. The right to freedom of expression knows no “right” and no “wrong” opinions.

This also applies to tastelessness of all kinds, such as the SPD deputy Johannes Kahr’s lowering himself into the levels of his outhouse a few weeks ago in the course of a parliamentary debate. You remember. He advised you to look in the mirror so you can see how ugly you are. “Hatred makes you ugly!” He shouted to you with the innocence of a man who has no mirror at home himself.

I was speechless and waited, in vain, for an order call from the Speaker of Parliament. Of a similar quality was the contribution of an editor of the Hamburger Morgenpost, who let his imagination run wild: “In a fair world, one would have to withdraw the right to vote from AfD supporters. The same ways as you take away children’s toys when they behave badly.”
The question of how one recognizes AfD fans and how such a measure would be compatible with the rules of a free election was neither asked nor answered.

An isolated case, but a characteristic one.

Yesterday, one day after the Holocaust Remembrance Day, green radio MEP Michael Cramer was interviewed on Deutschlandfunk – on climate change and pollutants in the air. Cramer said, among other things: “That you have different positions, that’s part of it. There are people who deny the Holocaust. There are people who deny that particulate matter and CO2 and nitrogen oxides are harmful to health, that’s part of it. ”

I try to imagine what would happen in this country if one of you had said something like that. I would be among the first to attack you.

Some deny the Holocaust, the others the climate, which is not just an idiotic analogy. As already mentioned, one would have to speak of climate change deniers, more precisely: of people who doubt that there is a man-made climate change. Now I am waiting for climate denial to be punished as much as the denial of the Holocaust, and I look forward to the first trial of a Green People’s Court chaired by Michael Cramer.

Ladies and gentlemen. We live in a consensus democracy. That may not be bad, but I am convinced that it is not consensus but dissent that constitutes the essence of democracy, as we see it right now in England, where the Prime Minister is being cornered by her own party. What would be as unthinkable with us as the takeover of the Bundeswehr by the Salvation Army.
So today I am here to – as Anja Reschke [German journalist] would say – “set a signal” for fair dealings with the political opponent, in the spirit of our Bundespresident. And because as a responsible citizen of this republic, I do not allow myself to be prescribed where and when I am allowed to appear. Of course, I know that the AfD is a no-go area that should be dealt with on a large scale. More and more it becomes routine to start disputed opinions with the words: “I am not a supporter of the AfD, but …” But what?

The attitude to the AfD is a kind of political litmus test, as it was to my youth the attitude to the GDR. Whoever failed to refer to the GDR as the “so-called GDR” was considered a communist. My first and only summons to the political police I got before graduation. I had ordered some brochures somewhere in the GDR, which were intercepted on the way.

When a few days ago I told an old friend that I would be performing with you today, he made a face as if I had confessed to him that I make my living with drug trafficking. “You’re only instrumentalized,” he said. “Do not you know?”

Of course, I know it. And you know what? I do not care. Everyone exploits everyone today. The Bild does it to Helene Fischer, Helene Fischer to Florian Silbereisen, Florian Silbereisen to his dorky fans who are following him.

And me, I’m instrumentalized every day. As proof that there is again a Jewish life in Germany, Jewish communities, Jewish literary and musical days and more and more Jewish cafés and restaurants, one more instrumentalization does not matter.

You instrumentalize me, and I instrumentalize you. I try how far I can go. If there is no shitstorm, it is good, if there is one, it is even better.

And if you want to know now whether I intend to vote for you, all I can say is that it depends entirely on you. I am a picker. At the last general election, I gave my vote to the Animal Protection Party. If you want my vote, then you have to convince me. I think it is great that you affirm Israel’s right to exist, although that is a matter of course, we also do not discuss the right of existence of Belgium. But that’s not enough for me, I expect more. You would have to curb your enthusiasm for Russia and Putin, your US allergy, avoid ambiguities in German history, and give your members and voters clear wine that you are not a depot for contaminated German devotional items. It may cost you a few voters, but it should be worth it. Clarity before unity!

As with good wine, the same goes for political parties. A drop of butyric acid spoils the taste of the whole bottle.

I have long considered how to end this short speech. Dramatic or relaxed? With a good punch line or a bad joke? Maybe with the classic: I do not share your opinion, but I will always work for you to express them freely … That’s too worn out for me, and the source is unclear. It could be from Voltaire or Rosa Luxemburg.

So I make it short and painless: Thank you for the invitation. I hope I have not bored you. And I wish you the strength and the courage to question yourself.

Shalom everyone!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s