“For when they see the people swarm into the streets, and daily wet to the skin with rain; and yet cannot persuade them to go out of the rain, they do keep themselves within their houses, seeing they cannot remedy the folly of the people”.
Sir Thomas More, 1478-1535
Alphen, Netherlands. 14 February. There are two places European politicians should never go; Nostalgia and Utopia. Last week a survey of European public opinion published by the British think-tank Chatham House revealed a deep and dangerous gulf between Europe’s peoples and its liberal elites over Muslim immigration. The gulf is so profound that there are geopolitical as well as societal implications. The survey also implies that far from rejecting President Trump’s temporary travel ban on seven majority Muslim countries to the US, a majority of Europeans not only agree with it, but would like to see a stricter version of the ban imposed in Europe.
The survey: ten thousand people in ten European countries were asked to respond to the statement; “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”. The respondents were then asked to what extent do they agree or disagree with this statement. 55% agreed with the statement across all ten countries, 20% disagreed, whilst 25% neither agreed nor disagreed. In Poland 71% agreed with the statement, whilst in Austria 65% also agreed, along with 53% in Germany, 51% in Italy, and 47% in the UK. In other words, across Europe some 80% of Europeans want migration from Muslim countries either stopped, have concerns about such migrations, or have not formed a view. The latter must be idiots.
What are the geopolitical implications? Uncomfortable though it may be the survey suggests that the strategies of Al Qaeda and Islamic State may be in part succeeding. The call for a blanket ban on all Muslims into Europe implied by this survey suggests that huge numbers of Europeans see Muslims as some form of Fifth Column or Trojan horse; a kind of reverse Crusade (which runs deep in European culture). Such mass popular mistrust will certainly makes it harder for European states to co-operate with vital Muslim-majority states, such as Turkey and the Gulf States, and could fuel a reaction, particularly in the Middle East. Any such loss of co-operation in the campaign against terrorism can only benefit the terrorists. After all, Europe is engaged with its partners in what is a systemic struggle between the state and the anti-state across much of the Middle East, North Africa and south, central Asia.
Such mistrust also stymies strategy and makes it harder to sustain the kind of long-term European investment in support of state reform across the Islamic world, or the ability of Europeans to offer burgeoning populations either an alternative to the extremist narrative, or to seeking sanctuary in Europe. Muslim society is in many ways as diverse as Western society and many of the people fleeing the Middle East to Europe are fleeing what is in effect a civil war within Islam. The less Europe partners states in the Muslim world the more people will likely seek to come to Europe.
There are also geopolitical implications within Europe itself. The survey reveals the extent of the divide that exists between Western Europe and much of the rest of Europe over this issue. Mass, irregular immigration over the past three years into Europe has in effect destroyed Schengenland. It also has laid bare enormous divisions within the EU, as many member-states simply refuse to share the burdens Germany, Greece and Italy are having to bear. The failure of Brussels to deal with the influx has effectively stopped Project Europe in its tracks.
However, it is perhaps at the popular-political level where the damage to European security and stability might be most telling. Any regular reader of this blog will know I have long had my concerns about a liberal European elite who for years pretended there was no link between mass immigration from socially-conservative countries, Muslim and non-Muslim, and threats to European social cohesion. This survey seems to reveal is that a majority of European citizens have finally lost faith in the willingness, and indeed the ability, of liberal elites to act in what they see as the citizen-interest over this issue. Rightly or wrongly, a large number of Europeans think the people they elect are lost in a globalist fantasy which the former suspect leads the latter to place a higher priority on the well-being of the ‘other’…except when it is election time. Whatever the cause there is now a yawning political and policy gap between elites and huge numbers of European citizens. And, it is precisely into that gap that the populists have stepped.
But, here’s the rub; the survey does not show the distinction between those with legitimate concerns about the threat posed by mass immigration to their security, those worried by cultural friction that includes Islam but is not exclusively focused on it, and plain old-fashioned Islamophobia. One only has to look at Europe’s recent past to see how quickly hatred is spawned, as evidenced by the age old anti-Semitism that sadly seems again to be raising its very ugly head.
At the start of this blog I suggested that there are two places politicians should never take liberal democracies; Nostalgia and Utopia. In the absence of any policy grip the debate is too often driven on the political Right by Nostalgist populists who imply that only a firm policy on mass migration can return Europe to a mono-cultural past. Those days are gone. The political Left is locked into a Utopian, multicultural fantasy, partly in the belief mass migration can help to destroy the patriotism/nationalism they despise. Far from ending the politics of identity their vacuous internationalist creed, which is pretty much confined to European intellectuals and their fellow travellers, they are fuelling it.
In such circumstances policy must be both realistic and balanced and built on the simple premise we start from where we are. Neither Nostalgists nor Utopians offer any way forward. What is needed is a return to sound policy and a sense of proportion if elites are to vitally regain the trust of their own peoples over Muslim, or indeed all forms of mass immigration. Indeed, it is precisely the sense such migration is out of control, that the sheer scale is a threat in and of itself, and that there is no system in place to either deal with it, or protect citizens from the undoubted dark side of it, that is fuelling mistrust.
Europe certainly does face a security threat from uncontrolled migration, as I wrote a couple of years ago in Lebanon on the Rhine. However, when researching my latest book The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (Routledge 2017), which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced (especially the Kindle version), the hard reality was plain to see; Europe must come to terms with high-levels of immigration. In such circumstances policy, and it is the absence of a meaningful policy that is exacerbating the challenge, demands that Europe’s leaders collectively develop systems that can better integrate incomers into European society, and far better control and regulate migration, be it from Muslim countries or elsewhere. Laissez-faire multiculturalism simply does not work.
Regular readers of this blog know how I despise political correctness because of its toxic effect on hard analysis and the formation of policy. Equally, I also despise racism, discrimination and prejudice because it destroys individuals and ignores their strengths. To my mind this survey does not suggest for a moment that all Europeans are racists or all Muslims are terrorists. However, it does highlight the strategic challenge Europe faces over mass Muslim migration, and how acutely sensitive much of Europe has again become to Islam. History runs deep in all of us.
One final thought; in my travels around the world, occasionally to some of the world’s most dangerous places, the one true division I have come to see, and one in which I really do still believe in, is the one between good people and bad people, and, oh yes, idiots.
One reason why I bother to write these blogs is to avoid becoming a citizen of either Nostalgia or Utopia.