Leaders Must Take Arguments Against Immigration Seriously

Immigration from especially Muslim countries will make Europe less homogenous and less liberal.

Asylum seekers sleep at a train station in Budapest, Hungary, September 4
Asylum seekers sleep at a train station in Budapest, Hungary, September 4 (Rebecca Harms)

The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle makes much the same point as this website did last month: that it’s not prejudiced to question the entry of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into Europe but only prudent to wonder if the effect on European society might not be altogether negative.

Garfinkle makes the argument more elegantly.

“Wanting one’s own community to be a certain way is not aggressively or actively prejudicial against others,” he writes, “any more than declining to give money to a beggar on a city street is morally equivalent to hitting him in the head with a crowbar.”

It is simply preferring the constituency of a high-social trust society from which, social science suggests, many good things come: widespread security, prosperity and a propensity toward generosity being prominent among them.

The Atlantic Sentinel similarly argued that the more diverse a society, the less trust there is between citizens. Most multiethnic states have either authoritarian tendencies or see the dominant ethnicity lording over the others. That’s not the way it should be but it often is. Policymakers must take that reality into account if they want to preserve what’s good about Western society and slowly nudge it into a more multicultural direction.

Many European leaders take the opposite approach, browbeating their voters to accept high immigration and what Garfinkle describes as the “mindless homogenization of humankind” by dismissing any criticism as xenophobic.

This website has warned that such an attitude can only exacerbate the continent’s culture war between an internationalist and globalized elite that lives outside the neighborhoods that must actually cope with immigrants and a more traditional, less mobile majority that was perfectly comfortable living in a homogeneous society.

This website has also warned that if nominally conservative leaders like Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, think any and all worries about the influx of asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries is Islamophobic, they will end up radicalizing otherwise decent people and give them no choice but to vote for parties on the far right — many of which happen to sympathize with or are even financed by that great protector of European civilization, Vladimir Putin.

Germany, for all its efforts to accommodate as many as 800,000 immigrants this year at an estimated cost of €10 billion, has warned that it might not be able to bear the strain. Merkel insists other European countries must share the burden. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said that attitudes toward newcomers could change dramatically if local governments are forced to choose “between caring for refugees and renovating a school or financing a swimming pool.”

Garfinkle can hardly bring himself to blame the Germans for their welcoming attitude and hysterical rejection of anything that reeks of nationalism, given how that turned out to be rabidly illiberal at one point in their history.

“But it is nonetheless an error of moral reasoning,” he argues.

Asylum seekers distort the moral choice with the intensity of their need, and their innocence, but the point is that what we see in Western Europe is not a case of what is moral versus what is base but two kinds of rights, incommensurate as they are, clashing. This basic truth seems to have gone missing in Germany lately and, unfortunately, its expression in Hungary comes from a man who is toxic morally and opportunistic as well and so gives that side of the argument a very bad name.

Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigration policy is repugnant. It involves putting people on trains to Germany and pretending Hungary doesn’t have a problem while it’s building a fence on its Serbian border to keep people out.

Moreover, his nationalist party is using the migrant crisis as an excuse to enact a series of draconian measures, from making it easier for soldiers to use force and enabling police to conduct searches without warrants to enlisting telecom companies in the collection of bulk phone data.

Orbán, not coincidentally, is an admirer of Putin’s and has said he wants to turn Hungary into an “illiberal democracy.”

But he’s not the only hope of the nativist right.

Britain’s The Spectator reports that in France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who is staging a comeback, has said his country may need to pull out of the Schengen visa-free treaty and argues that immigration quotas, as proposed by the European Commission, would aggravate the crisis if they only attract more asylum seekers. “Immigrants have to adapt to France and not vice versa” is his version of the multicultural society.

In France, which has a strong secular tradition and an increasingly respectable nationalist right led by Marine Le Pen, such views are rapidly becoming mainstream.

So too in Austria. Although Social Democrat chancellor Werner Faymann criticized Hungary’s policy on Saturday, going so far as to liken its treatment of asylum seekers to the Nazis’ deportation of Jews to concentration camps, his own government has threatened to take legal action against the European Commission if it insists on enforcing a quota system.

Slovakia has said it will only admit Christian refugees and anti-Islam parties are the biggest in the polls in the Netherlands and Sweden. The Moroccan-born Labor Party mayor of Rotterdam said earlier this year, after Islamists attacked the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris and killed twelve, that Muslims should adapt to Europe’s values or pack their bags and move to the Middle East. “Go away if you can’t find your place in the Netherlands,” he said.

Polls show immigrants and their descendants are slow to integrate. Majorities of European Muslims don’t agree that men and women are equal, are intolerant of gays and other minorities and worryingly high figures of especially young Muslim men sympathize with fanatical and murderous organizations like Hamas and the self-declared Islamic State. Hundreds even make the journey to Iraq to Syria in order to wage jihad there.

Most Europeans mean well and want to open their doors to refugees. But many aren’t fleeing from depravation or violence, rather they seek to escape poverty and lack of opportunity. This applies to virtually all the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from the Balkans, a migration flow that is almost entirely overlooked in the English-speaking media.

The United Nations refugee agency estimates that of those entering Europe from across the Mediterranean, 72 percent are men. Just 13 percent are women and 15 percent children. Half, the vast majority, come from Syria. Around four million Syrians are believed to have fled their homeland since the civil war there began. Africans, from countries such as Eritrea and Nigeria, make up around a fifth of the total.

Europe cannot turn a blind eye to refugees. But it also can’t ignore the social and political impact that the influx of so many from such a different culture will have — whatever the motives of those coming in. Europe will become more heterogeneous. Specifically, it will become more Islamic. And if those Muslims already living in Europe are any indication, that will also mean the continent becomes less liberal.

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