If America opens its borders without restrictions, more than half the world's population will come here. It is America's capitalist system that is still a dream come true to many who are happy to leave their stagnant, dysfunctional economies, burdened with both class envy and the redistribution by government bureaucrats of hard-earned money. Many immigrants risked their lives to trade their substandard, government-run health insurance for life in America, where hard work is rewarded with a better standard of living for most of its people than anywhere ever before.
Immigrants in America today are faced with a dilemma: they are being told that they must deny their appreciation of the capitalist system that brought them here in the first place. Their children are taught to reject their parents' experience of hard work to get ahead and regard their parents as victims of discrimination and abuse. They are rewarded for complaining and for rejecting free enterprise, self-reliance, assimilation and all the American values that made this country the envy of the world. They are told to look at the half empty glass and are encouraged to throw out their freedoms for food stamps. They are told to hate white people, and those who do not are shamed as traitors to their race.
Today in America, every national origin and race is encouraged to find a minority group to belong to. We are encouraged to get into a system of tribalism that turns us into factions with an "us against them" mentality, something we have suffered from in the Middle East.
In Egypt, we suffered under socialism and the government's empty promises of equality through seizing wealth from the rich to give to the poor. We ended up with terrible unintended consequences; the rich did get poorer but the poor also got poorer: nobody won. The culture of envy and punishing the rich never brought equality or improved conditions for the poor. The great thing about America is that the poor do not have to stay poor and the rich can lose their wealth if they invest it unwisely. What immigrants see is the high rate of mobility between classes.
Americans are left uninformed by their media on how the rest of the world lives. Try watching "House Hunters International," where Americans can see for themselves that homes and apartments around the world are both unaffordable to the general public and often unlivable by American standards.
A wonderful, hard working Hispanic family, after years in which the mother worked as a cleaning lady and the father a construction worker, saw all their children graduated from college without ever paying a cent for their education, and now all with wonderful jobs. The children of that family are now are speaking of discrimination, how California was part of Mexico and how it is only fair to redistribute wealth. This was the lesson they learned in college.
It should take just one visit to the Middle East to understand what America is all about. Every American teenager should get a chance to travel and live in a third world country. Some countries might provide government health insurance, but health insurance is a piece of paper; it does not mean good health care. Many countries that provide government health care have high unemployment, terrible shortages of food and apartments and lack many other luxuries Americans take for granted. In America today, politicians are moving in the same direction, possibly deliberately, for votes: high unemployment, less home ownership and more government interference in our lives from cradle to grave.
America is heading towards a society similar to where we immigrants came from, where the government turns into the keeper of a human zoo where we all live in cages waiting for government to throw food at us every day. But even the government will not be able to sustain the zoo expenses. The U.S. government is on its way to becoming the nightmare totalitarian system from which we immigrants tried to escape.
Left on their own, immigrants are grateful to work hard and enjoy the American system, but soon after we are here, we are told by the popular culture that we are victims, must act like ones and we must not accept what America can offer. America wanted more from us when it came time to vote. We are told that the system is rigged and that "whites", who welcomed us in the millions for centuries, are bigoted and racists. Many immigrants go along with the anti-American propaganda for the sake of approval and benefits. Immigrants are now told to hold on to their old culture, religion, traditional clothes, customs, language, and even some of the brutal, archaic laws and customs that many of us came here to escape from in the first place. The media and "conventional wisdom" now tell us that America is no better than the oppressive systems from which we fled.
When I first moved here, no Muslim women wore the Islamic garb and you could hardly tell on the streets who was Muslim and who was not. Later many Muslims found power in banding together, going back to Islamic garb and crying victimization. When I privately once asked a Muslim professor why she started wearing the Islamic head covering in America, she answered in a whisper, "The ethnic look is powerful in America!"
Let us preserve the great American capitalist system for our children and grandchildren and for future immigrants escaping third world tyrannies. Capitalism, like everything in life, is not perfect, but it is the best, natural and fairest system so far. Let us not fall into a culture of envy and tribalism; let us not kill the dream of unlimited opportunity.
It is crushing to see an American leader telling his people that he will bring them "redistribution of wealth" under the guise of "fairness." This kind of political talk is more suited for Haiti or Egypt, but never America.
America's citizens and its enthusiastic immigrants are pressured into a destructive culture of envy and empty government promises. Even the quality of free public education sank lower. As former teachers union head Albert Shanker allegedly said, "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children." We have allowed the quality of our lives to turn into a game of chess in the hands of a reckless mainstream media and politicians who want to monopolize the economy. As the economist Milton Friedman said, "Has anyone ever seen a monopoly that works in the best interests of the consumer?"
America must resist the seduction of dependency on big government. It would be a tragedy for both America and the rest of the world, if we turn away from the values that made America great. The world looks up to us because we represent hope to the majority of young people around the world. We must continue to inspire counties to become more like us and not us more like them. Right now, we are moving in the wrong direction.
Even though in Egypt I had a good job as a journalist and a well-to-do family with connections to the leaders of the Egyptian government, I could never have been financially independent, buy a car or rent an apartment on my own without family help. America was my outlet to freedom, economic self-reliance and escape from being surrounded by misery, injustice and poverty. I knew that if I worked hard, in America I would achieve success, and I did.
It is hard to explain to Americans how extraordinary it felt to enjoy the simple things Americans take for granted: the satisfaction of looking at a check after a hard day's work, the ease of getting and decorating an apartment or buying a car, and dreaming of a bright future I knew could be achieved. Or how easy it is in America to do business, drive around, buy and sell whatever one needs without having to bribe, beg or threaten a lazy government worker who could not care less. Americans rarely hear about the daily difficulties faced by people in the outside world for even small comforts.
It felt remarkable to blend into American culture while preserving the fun and best traditions from my culture, which my American friends said they loved. It was so unusual to see a smile from a perfect stranger on the street, and hear "Do you need any help?" in a store. Many Americans have no idea that such little daily acts of pleasant interaction are uniquely American, rarely seen around the world. To the new immigrant, shopping is a pleasure -- and affordable. I never envied "the rich" in America, and looked forward to achieving my own American dream – I, and many other immigrants, have done just that.
Americans would do so much better if they learn to resist the temptations of socialism, and of government trying to be our parent, guardian and dictator. The long lines of humanity waiting at American embassies around the world to immigrate to this country should become our inspiration to preserve the American capitalist system. It is why we immigrants moved here in the first place.
Nonie Darwish is the author of "The Devil We Don't Know", and president of FormerMuslimsUnited.org