Posted on September 1, 2021

Afghans in America: A Potentially Severe Culture Clash

Jason Richwine, Center for Immigration Studies, August 27, 2021

As the Biden administration contemplates bringing tens of thousands (or maybe even hundreds of thousands) of Afghan migrants into the U.S., the president should remember that our capacity to assimilate newcomers is limited. Look no further than Somalis in Minneapolis or Hmong in Wausau for examples of immigrant groups who have not blended into the social fabric, even with decades of time to do so.

Refugees from developing countries are especially likely to present assimilation challenges. Unlike immigrants who arrive through selective channels, such as skill-based visas, refugees can have personal values and outlooks more typical of their compatriots back home. This would be especially true of refugees from Afghanistan if, as expected, the Biden administration resettles not only battlefield interpreters, but also Afghans with weaker claims of American loyalties, such as local drivers hired by media companies. {snip}


{snip} To examine issues specific to Muslim countries in the developing world, we can turn to the Pew Research Center’s global survey of Muslims, which was conducted between 2008 and 2012 and included Afghanistan. {snip}

Responses given by Afghans were among the most extreme in Pew’s survey. For example, on the question of making Sharia the law of the land, Afghanistan at 99 percent outpaced second-place Iraq by eight percentage points. In addition, only Pakistan (89 percent) was more amenable to stoning adulterers than Afghanistan (85 percent). And although Afghanistan’s support for suicide bombings may seem relatively low at 39 percent, it was second only to the Palestinian territories at 40 percent.

Needless to say, Afghans generally have very different cultural preferences than Americans, and conflict is likely if refugees were to arrive here in large numbers. Culture clashes can manifest in many ways, such as residential segregation, persistent socioeconomic disparities, proliferation of foreign languages, and a whole series of smaller alterations to the daily life of a community. The most severe manifestation, however, would be disproportionate crime committed by the incoming group.

On that point, Cheryl Benard’s 2017 article in the National Interest is informative. Dr. Benard is a leading scholar of political Islam who has worked on refugee resettlement issues in Europe. (She is also married to Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.) In the article, Benard laments the rash of sexual assaults committed by Afghan men in Europe:


We lack systematic data on crime rates by nationality in Europe, but there are indications that Benard’s anecdotes do reflect reality. If we combine an Austrian crime report from 2018 with Austrian census data, it appears that Afghans’ overall crime rate is seven times higher than the rate of Austrians, and Afghans commit rape at an astonishing 22 times the Austrian rate.

Estimates from other countries also show higher Afghan crime rates, although the gaps are smaller. For example, a Danish government report showed that Afghans had an overall crime rate 73 percent greater than the national average in 2019 after controlling for age and sex differences. (Many Afghan refugees in Europe are young men.) A study using German data found Afghan crime rates to be 4.5 times higher than the German rate before an adjustment for age and sex, and twice as high after the adjustment.

In her article for the National Interest, Benard considered several theories as to why crime is so high among certain young Afghan men. She finds one theory most compelling, and it is ominous. Put simply, a significant subset of Afghans reject Western culture entirely. {snip}