The Immigration Crucible of Europe
Liberal Errors, Chauvinisms, and Temptations of Apartheid
Over the last three years, Europe has undergone dramatic socio-political transformations within its constituent countries and on the supranational level of the European Union (EU). Whereas mainstream constituencies in post-War Europe have focused on expanding the liberal project of the EU through political and economic integration, the last three years have seen numerous challenges against it and stress tests inadvertently applied to it. At the center of these shifts is the increasingly important bellwether issue of immigration. Intra-European immigration has always been contentious among nativist constituencies, but it is Muslim immigration that has made the issue salient among even liberal Europeans, whether centrist, center-left, or center-right.
The futures of the EU and of mainstream politics in its constituent countries are now tied to the complicated issue of immigration. On one hand, economists rightly insist that measured immigration remains an economic necessity for the advanced economies of Europe. On the other hand, concerns over uncontrolled immigration negatively affecting public resources, civic integration, security, and democratic consent are also legitimate and should not be judged as xenophobic ipso facto. Examinations of this issue are often tainted by partisan or ideological inflections. Thus, it is vital to consider the facts objectively to understand the troubled European present and to counter a potentially illiberal European future.
The Migrant Crisis and Liberal Naïveté
When popular political or media narratives refer to the “refugee” or “migrant” crisis, there has been the tendency to primordially equate it with the Syrian Civil War, which broke out in 2011. It is true that the initial wave of refugees and migrants into Europe were Syrians and that they remain the single largest national group of asylum seekers in Europe. However, it is important to maintain a broader perspective on the migrant issue since significant numbers of them come from as far afield as Afghanistan, sub-Saharan Africa, and even within Europe, most especially Kosovo and Albania. The migration from Africa has been fueled by war, ecological disaster, and the collapse of the Libyan State that has opened a plethora of smuggling routes. It is important to acknowledge all this because long-term solutions must involve internationalist engagement beyond just national border controls and resolving the Syrian Civil War.
Even with this acknowledgement, it remains broadly the case that the current immigration problem is politically framed in Europe in terms of Western identity, norms, and safety versus Islam and terrorism. It is true that most of the migrants are Muslim from Muslim-majority countries. Muslims and Muslim immigrants have long been a part of the modern European fabric since the mid-20th Century, but the large Muslim population influx understandably raises new questions about liberal public policy on both immigration and domestic management of security, diversity, and identity. Leaving aside for the moment the ideological aspects of European nativists, which have never changed, there are legitimate reasons why even mainstream European publics are questioning the liberal norms of establishment leaders.
The migrant crisis began in earnest in 2014, with over 280,000 migrants irregularly entering the EU by various means. This number represented well over a 250% increase compared to 2013. However, the most severe turning point on this issue came later in August 2015, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to suspend the Dublin Regulation. This EU law established that asylum seekers applying for protection under the both the EU Qualification Directive and the Geneva Convention would be entered into a continent-wide database and systematically placed in a member state, usually one that was the first point of entry for the seeker. Withstanding certain inefficiencies within the system, it was designed to prevent seekers being shuttled from country to country and from filing multiple applications between countries.
The suspension of the Dublin Regulation was thus accompanied by a declaration from Merkel that any asylum seeker who reached German soil could apply for asylum, even if they passed through multiple other EU countries first. In total, 2015 saw 1.2 million asylum applications in the EU, with just under half a million of those being filed within Germany following Merkel’s decision. Idealists considered this move as a great humanitarian gesture, while cynics considered it as a manipulative move by Merkel to gain cheap labor for the German economy. Either way, this proved to be a disastrous decision because it wholly incentivized unrestricted and unchecked migration through Europe. Security concerns, both general and particular with regards to the Muslim-majority world, were completely abrogated. This was in spite of German intelligence services having warned Merkel that an unchecked mass influx would mean importing anti-Semitism, Islamism, and ethno-national conflicts between migrant groups.
By incentivizing migrants to trek through Europe at all costs, Merkel created a Social Darwinistic nightmare in several ways. The disorganized and desperate stream of people hoping to take advantage of German policy included young and single men, family men, and women of varying family status. The haphazard nature of the influx has created abuse and exploitation that could have been avoided had Merkel not incentivized the trek. Contrary to popular belief, women have, on average, constituted half the migrant population and many solo men are actually husbands traveling ahead to apply for their families’ asylum. However, incentivizing these family men was also a mistake. Even conservative projections of migrant intake, and its subsequent burdens on public resources and state/civic apparatuses, are likely four or more times less than the real intake number if family asylum is properly taken into account.
With regards to the young and truly single men, sociological principle would deem such an influx as destructive for any society regardless of who those men are. However, it is worse in this context because these single Muslim men come from societies where social and sexual dysfunction is rampant. This is due to regressive cultural-religious norms that have prevented the normalization of gender equality and sexual openness. This has further prevented the formation of healthy sexual relationships, especially ones outside of marriage, which itself is dependent on economic prosperity that is lacking in much of the Muslim-majority world.
Cultural relativists tend to use the troubled histories of most civilizations to declare that all cultures are inherently the same and no claim may be made about differences in superiority. It is true that notions like superiority are always problematic, but it remains the case that some cultures have more pro-actively cultivated socio-political pluralism compared to others. Since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the West has moved in a forward trajectory towards pluralistic norms, while the Muslim-majority world, unfortunately, has moved in the opposite direction due to intellectual stagnation and the growth of totalitarian Islamist ideology. The ignorance or willful denial of this difference allowed European liberal leaders, Merkel chief among them, to assume that an uncontrolled influx from the Muslim-majority world would not bring serious problems beyond the usual growing pains associated with immigration.
Just months after Merkel’s suspension of Dublin, during New Year’s Eve 2015, women in cities across Germany were sexually assaulted by large groups of migrant Muslim men. In total, approximately 2,000 mostly migrant men assaulted 1,200 women in some form, from robbery to rape. Since then, increases in crime have been associated with the migrants, although migrants from North Africa, who are unlikely to be given asylum, have been far more likely to commit crime than migrants from Syria. One study in Germany indicated that within a year of arrival, only 0.5% of Syrians were suspected of crime compare to 40% of North Africans. That said such distinctions have been unimportant politically for Europeans understandably concerned about both criminality and social norms, like male-female interactions for example, being altered.
Furthermore, there have been problems related to anti-Semitism. Although “Old” European anti-Semitism never truly faded, “New” Muslim anti-Semitism, already a European problem and fueled further by the migrant influx, is now a genuine threat to Europe’s Jewish communities. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), anti-Semitism is fueled by anti-Israeli hatred combined with ignorance and active denial of the Holocaust. Only 38% of the population in MENA is aware of the Holocaust and only 8% is aware and believes it to be accurate history. It is especially troubling that some supposedly liberal figures, either out of embarrassment or ideology, have tried to excuse or contextualize Muslim anti-Semitic attacks and attitudes by claiming they are reactions to Israeli policies. Not only is this wholly offensive, but the converse would never be suggested about hate crimes against Muslims. A person attacking Muslims or a mosque would never be excused just because he claimed to be upset about, for example, global Islamism.
The growth of Islamist terrorism has also magnified fears about Muslims in Europe. Since 2014, there have been forty Islamist-related terrorist attacks throughout different European countries. The previously open Schengen Area now has numerous border controls, established in the wake of these attacks that have rendered open borders as impractical and dangerous. It is important to note that both migrants and native-born European citizens have committed these attacks. However, the common thread is Muslim identity and Islamist ideology, thus as a political issue, it once again becomes about both the migrants and European Muslims more broadly.
Islamic chauvinism, collectively in the form of the systematic sexual assaults, anti-Semitism, and militancy, is the first chauvinism affecting European politics and the issue of immigration. This chauvinism has directly given rise to the return and growth of the second chauvinism of concern: right-wing/far-right, illiberal European nativism that is often anti-Semitic and identitarian as well. This was not inevitable. Its rise owes to the delayed or denialist responses of mainstream liberal forces in Europe to the problems associated with the migrants and some native Muslim populations. These nativist forces now fill an electoral gap created by liberal establishments that have ignored or dismissed Europeans’ concerns over safety, public resources, and identity.
Electoral Retributions and Liberal Suicide
In many countries, newly invigorated illiberal factions have electorally decimated the center-left and subsumed the center-right. National circumstances matter, of course, but the immigration issue has only exacerbated other domestic frustrations. In June 2015, Denmark held Parliamentary elections. Although the leading party of the ruling coalition, the Social Democrats, increased their share of the vote, the incumbent coalition lost in favor of the conservative bloc that included the right-wing Danish People’s Party (DPP). The DPP became the second largest party in Parliament, gaining seats against its own partner, the center-right Venstre. The leader of the latter, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, became Prime Minister but is beholden to the DPP. Denmark will be discussed later as emblematic of Europe’s possibly institutionalized illiberal future.
In June 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) held its EU membership referendum, returning a result of 52% in favor of leaving the EU (Brexit). Granted, the UK has always been more Euroskeptic compared to other Western European nations. Its own Conservative Party has sat with the soft-skeptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the EU Parliament rather than the pro-European conservatives of the European People’s Party (EPP). That said it would be naïve to argue that concerns over the migrant crisis, and Merkel’s approach to it, did not have a bearing on the consequently narrow result in favor of Brexit.
In March 2017, the Netherlands held its Parliamentary elections. Observers feared that the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders would win the election, possibly making him the next Prime Minister. This was not the result, but the PVV did place second with 13.1% of the vote behind the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Rutte embraced hard-line stances on immigration in order to weaken the appeal of the PVV. The PVV is the largest opposition party in the States-General and Rutte’s coalition with Christian democrats and liberals barely holds a majority.
In April and May 2017, France held two-rounds of its Presidential election and, at first, braced for a possible nightmare scenario of a run-off between Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front (now National Rally) and Jean-Luc Melenchon of the left-wing Unbowed France. Many feared that Le Pen would be elected in such a scenario. Voters had grown disillusioned with establishment parties over security fears arising from numerous terrorist attacks. Fortunately, Emmanuel Macron, a former Socialist Party politician, founded a new, radically centrist movement known as En Marche! that appealed to disillusioned center-left and center-right voters concerned about terrorism. Macron defeated Le Pen in the run-off, but she still received a third of the vote. This is an immensely concerning result considering that the Front/Rally is neo-fascist, but its advocacy for cultural intervention, such as the burkini bans, are widely popular.
Germany has been the dominant state in the EU since the Great Recession, with stable leadership provided by Merkel, Chancellor since 2005, through the global slowdown and its aftermaths. Yet her decisions in 2015 left many Germans disillusioned and gravely concerned. In September 2017, Germany’s federal election thus provided a massive shock, because for the first time since World War II, a right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), entered the Parliament. It won 94 seats and 13% of the vote. Although performing exceptionally well in the Free State of Saxony, the AfD also won additional member seats in all of the German States. It is now the largest opposition party in the Parliament.
Most recently in Italy’s March 2018 election, the top parties were the Five Star Movement and the Northern League. Italy’s long history of political dysfunction played a role in the result, but it is no accident that both Five Star and the League are nationalistic, Euroskeptic parties that want to stop new immigration altogether in the current context. Italy has been a major point of entry for sea-based migrants entering Europe since 2013 and already the new coalition government, led by Five Star and the League, has turned away migrant-carrying ships.
There are other illiberal electoral reactions to immigration among Eastern European countries that are also worth considering. However, these are also intertwined with slow-growing illiberalisms that took root long before the migrant crisis. The growth and dominance of the PiS in Poland and Fidesz in Hungary would be the prime examples. That withstanding, throughout Europe, the unrealistic approaches and errors on immigration made by mainstream, liberal political leaders are threatening the very liberal and European projects they are champions of. These have mostly been unforced errors and amount to liberal suicide over the long-term.
As previously noted, Denmark has become an unexpectedly important case-study for what an institutionalized, illiberal European future may look like. In March 2018, the Danish Government presented 22 proposals of a new program that would target and regulate the residents of 25 low-income and mostly Muslim areas in Denmark. Most of the 22 proposals were subsequently approved by Parliament into law, while the remainder will be considered in the latter half of 2018. The stated goal is to enforce national values and integration. Although this is not an unreasonable mission for any government, many aspects of this particular program are disturbing. The word “ghetto” is actually used in statutes to describe these designated areas, a word that has a dark history due to the Holocaust in Europe.
Under the new laws, “ghetto children” from the age of one must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours each week for instruction in “Danish values.” If families do not comply with this mandate, they will no longer be eligible for receiving social welfare. Danish citizens who are not from the areas are not required to enroll in this preschool program. One proposal still being debated would give discretion to courts to double the punishments for some crimes if the perpetrators are from the areas. Courts would also be allowed to use employment status, income, educational attainment, previous convictions, and ethnic background to increase punishments. Another pending proposal would levy a four-year prison sentence on immigrant parents who compel their children to make long trips back to their ethnic country of origin. The Government has derisively described these as “re-education trips.” A proposal already rejected would have confined children to their residences after 8pm, with the sponsoring DPP having argued that ankle bracelets would facilitate enforcement.
The areas are used as evidence of willful and insidious separation from mainstream society, but the Government originally placed most of the residents in them. Furthermore, it would be sensible for a civic program to be universally implemented for all citizens, yet this program is a targeted one applying only to the residents of the areas. If integration and national security are the principal concerns, it is ironic that citizens who can afford to live outside the areas would be exempt, since a lot of Islamist terrorism actually stems from educated, middle-class families, born-Muslim and converted. On both ethical and pragmatic fronts, these initiatives are wrong and misguided, but they are likely to be modeled by other countries.
Balancing Ideals and Democratic Consent
The paths for liberal European leaders moving forward are not easy. To sustain liberal electoral viability, mainstream leaders must recognize and acknowledge their mistakes and adjust policies accordingly. These steps are not a zero-sum game. A false choice has often been presented in the public arena, one that juxtaposes the untenable status quo versus a nightmarish illiberal reality. The terrible irony of this juxtaposition is that carelessly maintaining the former will inevitably lead to the latter. There is a rational middle to be found, in which mainstream leaders take tough and honest, but also humane, stances towards the immigration and migrant issues so as to hold off the illiberal and right-wing forces that would take advantage of them.
Europe cannot help all refugees, nor should it try. The strain on public resources and the ability for state and civil society to properly integrate them requires limits on the influx. So, too, does the principle of democratic consent. There shall remain a significant portion of European publics that continue to turn against further immigration, especially Muslim immigration, and liberal leaders, per democratic principle, must honor this lest they risk electoral extinction. This is not about bigotry. There needs to be a principled separation between immigration and domestic policy. Being more stringent about entry and asylum acceptance has nothing to do with maintaining liberal domestic norms. Once again, ignoring the former will lead to an illiberal, democratic decay of the latter. Balancing ideals and democratic consent is the only way to keep liberal Europe from being undone by destructive forces from within and without.