The ostrich and the owl: a bird’s-eye view of Europe
IN AFRICA, we sometimes used animals to say things on sensitive issues to avoid discussing the messenger instead of the message. So I shall use the ostrich and the owl to sketch the two most important positions on immigration and pluralism in Europe.
The view of things in Europe today, as the ostrich sees them, is bright. He sees an open market of 450 million people with an amazing potential. He sees a thriving economy and the free movement of people, goods, money and services. Immigration, to the ostrich, can only be viewed as an opportunity for an aging native population. Borders are better open than closed. Islam is a faith like Christianity, and Muslims shall adapt their religion to life in Europe.
According to the ostrich, very soon there shall be a European Islam, signs of which are already visible in the young women in tight jeans; high heels; black, sleeveless, tight tops and matching head scarves, all designed by Prada. This Prada Islam will replace the old rural one and function as a vaccine against the Wahhabi Islam of the Saudis.
The overrepresentation of migrants in all the wrong statistics -- such as unemployment, unfinished education and crime -- is to the ostrich merely a temporary affair. It’s a phase that all groups from underprivileged backgrounds go through, and it will be short, as long as there is economic growth.
According to the ostrich, the wealthy natives should stop whining about the backwardness of immigrants and concentrate on the benefits. The ostrich points to the nurses, nannies, construction workers, grocers, bag carriers, cleaners, factory workers and a host of other jobs natives won’t do but are necessary to keep the economy going.
The ostrich is not worried about the flow of migrants transforming the culture and society of Europe in any negative way. He sees only one thing as a setback: the xenophobia of native Europeans. If only the inherently racist white society could overcome its fear of what is alien, it would notice how migrants have improved the cuisine, the music, the arts and the economy of Europe.
Then there’s the owl, which is a night bird and gets, more often, a glimpse of the dark side of things. Europe is healthy and wealthy, but the owl worries that it may not be so wise.
The shadow side of the free movement of people, for instance, is the trade in women and children for the ruthless sex industry. Also, weapons go unnoticed from hand to hand, from country to country. Some of these weapons could be biological, chemical or worse.
The old owl sees how poor migrants are exploited by cruel employers who provide little or no pay and hire and fire the migrants at will. The owl can’t help but notice that even after the recent amnesty, Spain has an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants. Britain has roughly half a million. France, 200,000 to 400,000, if you trust the French. I think there are more. Germany has about 1 million.
The owl acknowledges unreservedly Europe’s aging populations, its decreasing population growth and its need for migrants -- but also sees that selection of migrants is not always based on who is useful for the economy.
The owl sees that Islam is not Christianity and that not all Muslims understand or want to share in any European future based on European values of freedom, tolerance and an attitude of live and let live.
The owl sadly looks on as poor kids are taught to view themselves as victims, and the society in which they live as the enemy. He can’t help but notice that Muslim migrants are receptive to the seduction of the Islamist movement. Even worse, there are now natives converting to this brand of totalitarianism.
Nor can the owl ignore the growth of the extreme right-wing movements and parties. He fears that the debate on pluralism in Europe will be hijacked by two uncompromising extremes: whites’ power fascism and Islamic fascism.
The owl thinks that the ostrich is right: We should always look on the bright side of life. But he also thinks we should be careful not to get delusional.
Foretelling the future can be fun for astrologists and crystal-ball gazers. For academics, it is not. If you get it right, you’re damned like Samuel Huntington. If you get it wrong, you’re called a certified idiot. So instead of predictions, we draw rough sketches of a best-case scenario and a worse-case scenario.
In a worst-case scenario, the warnings of the owl will not be heeded. The optimism of the ostrich will be abandoned. The monopoly of force that is now exclusive to states will be challenged by armed subgroups. European societies will be divided along ethnic and religious lines. The education system will not succeed in grooming the youth to believe in a shared past, let alone a shared future.
The European states will find themselves limiting civil liberties. Europeans will come to accept the de facto implementation of Sharia law in certain neighborhoods and even cities. The exploitation of the weak, women and children will be commonplace. Those who can afford to emigrate will do so.
Instead of an ever-growing union in Europe, future generations may witness an ever-disintegrating one.
In a best-case scenario, Europeans will heed the caution of the owl without losing the liveliness of the ostrich. This approach will be translated into a three-dimensional, comprehensive policy.
First, controlled or planned immigration. The European Union will introduce quotas such as those in the U.S., based on the selection of migrants who are beneficial to the economy. The current system in most European countries is designed to attract the highest number of people with truly heartbreaking stories, not the highest number of people who are willing and able to adapt to the European society.
Second, an intervention, sometimes proactive, in Europe’s neighboring states or in failed states with conditions that force people to migrate in large numbers. This plan will consist of aid, trade, diplomatic pressure and military intervention, if necessary. That’s taboo in Europe at the moment. Right now, the EU selects the countries it wants to aid based on lists provided by the World Bank or the United Nations. The criteria for aid are based on such vague notions as the 100 poorest countries or countries with good governance or some other goody-goody sounding reason. That should change.
Finally, in a best-case scenario, the EU will implement an assimilation program guided by the lessons learned from our failed attempts at multiculturalism. It will acknowledge that the basic tenets of Islam are a major obstacle to integration. In practice, Muslims will continue to enjoy religious freedom, as long as exercising that precious right does not infringe upon the freedoms of others, including daughters and wives.
In a best-case scenario, EU policymakers will invest in girls and women, protect them from violence and punish those who try to limit their freedoms. Those policymakers will reform the welfare state; regulations pertaining to the hiring and firing of employees will be made more flexible, making it easier for migrants to enter the labor market.
The combined vision of the ostrich and the owl is indeed possible in Europe, but it requires a great deal of willpower, leadership and, above all, the recognition that tolerating oppressive cultures and encouraging more mass migration from Islamic countries often hurts precisely the people we seek to help.
A misguided vision brought Europe to its current predicament; an idealistic vision convinced of the inherent superiority of enlightened values over the values of oppressive cultures, a vision steeped in individual rights, the rule of law and the equality of men and women can help guide Europe out of it.
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