Blood or Treasure

Europe will pay the cost for hosting refugees — but what currency will they pay it in?

Syrian refugees strike in front of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 3 September 2015. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The official total for Middle Eastern and African migrants to Europe so far this year is over 227,000 and the actual number is likely higher. Whether European governments count them as migrants or refugees is irrelevant — they are people, they have fled their homes, and they are seeking a better life in Europe. Given the state of their native countries, it is likely they will stay in Europe — and others will continue to follow — for the foreseeable future.

Europe has at best a mixed track record when it comes to welcoming and integrating Islamic immigrants into their societies.

Some European countries have come to that pragmatic realization — Germany comes to mind — while others like Hungary and Denmark have taken the opposite tack and paid for anti-immigration billboards in Syria and Lebanon aimed at the native population. Setting aside the ludicrous idea that people fleeing their homes ahead of ISIS’ bloodthirsty shock-troops or Assad’s barrel-bomb-dropping helicopters would be deterred by a billboard warning them to stay in place, Denmark and Hungary’s approach to primarily Islamic migrants is not just morally dubious — it is also dangerous.

To understand why, it is necessary to understand two things: first, the historical problems European countries have had integrating Muslim immigrants and secondly, the roots of contemporary Islamic extremism.

Europe has at best a mixed track record when it comes to welcoming and integrating Islamic immigrants into their societies. Even when generally progressive Western European states like France and the United Kingdom allow displaced people to stay, a lack of economic opportunity, pronounced cultural differences, a lack of birthright citizenship, and a time lag between arrival and granting of “indefinite leave to remain” status often combine to make immigrants feel less like welcomed refugees and more like trespassers. The rise of nativist parties on the right ranging from France’s National Front to the United Kingdom’s UKIP does not help. The European right — much like its American counterpart — misses no opportunity to tell migrants they are neither welcomed nor wanted. Is it any wonder that many migrants to the West ultimately end up in enclaves rife with unemployment, crime, and violence?

This situation would be bad enough, but it is made far worse by growing radicalism in the Muslim world.

This cultural isolation, real or perceived, leads to self segregation on the part of migrants and their families and a population of disaffected, disenfranchised, and often unemployed youth. Many in this younger population can only barely remember — if at all — their native countries, and still others may have actually been born in Europe. Still, though, they are strangers where they live.

This situation would be bad enough, but it is made far worse by growing radicalism in the Muslim world.

There are a variety of causes put forward to explain the meteoric rise — over the course of a single generation — of radical interpretations of Islamic law and history. Bernard Lewis in What Went Wrong? sees it as another in a string of Muslim responses to Western military and economic hegemony. Ali Allawi in The Crisis of Islamic Civilization sees the Wahabi Salfism of Al Qaeda as the unfortunate response to capitalism and secularism and calls for a more esoteric Sufi response instead. Still others in both the Middle East and West see the popularity of groups like ISIS in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Iraq as a response to corrupt, inefficient governments that marginalize large swaths of the population.

Whatever the reason, the fact is, Muslim youth today are more vulnerable to the lure of jihadi extremists than they have in the past. This is particularly true for Sunnis, who have ISIS and Al Qaeda to look to, but the Shia Hezbollah has an international following as well.

So what is Europe to do with the the fact that Muslim youth often feel adrift and unwelcome in their adoptive European homes and the unfortunate trend of rising radicalism?

This is where Europe must decide how it will pay the bill for the refugees — in treasure or blood.

This will not be cheap nor easy given the state of budget and unemployment across the continent.

Europe can make the expensive decision now to welcome migrants with open arms and open checkbooks by upgrading their refugee centers, increasing school programs aimed at migrant children, creating or improving social programs with an eye towards cultural integration, and providing job training to their newest source of labor. This will not be cheap nor easy given the state of budget and unemployment across the continent. National and party leaders will have to lead their constituencies to the idea that, while fiscally difficult, spending money to welcome the migrants with the idea of integration and permanent settlement is better than the alternative.

And that alternative is to continue down the current path — the path that tries to discourage immigration, that paints people fleeing violence and famine as “economic migrants” rather than refugees, and that only reluctantly integrates — if at all — those that do manage to gain permanent or semi-permanent residence. This approach may be cheaper in the short term, but saving treasure now will result in a blood payment later. Failure to successfully integrate this current wave of migration will result in a group of youth in Europe singularly susceptible to jihadi charms — culturally isolated in an alien land, with little opportunity, and nursing resentment for the very land they live in.

Spending money now will save Europe the pain and expense of another Charlie Hebdo attack, more TGV gunmen, and 7/7 bombings.

Pay now, or pay later.


David Dixon is a former active duty Armor officer who now serves in the South Carolina Army National Guard. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Army, The South Carolina National Guard, the DoD, or the U.S. Government.


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