"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
I have been interested in questions of migration, identity and society for a long time. Probably this is due in part to my own background (Dutch mother, Guinean father), the fact that we moved around a lot when younger, the debates that took place in the Netherlands when we moved there in my mid-teens, my overall interest in politics and international relations, etc. While when I was young this was more of a struggle – at some points I felt I had to choose between being Dutch or Guinean, European or African, black or white – I now no longer have that. (At least not at a conscience level – not sure about the sub conscience). However, I do find the theme and issues around them fascinating to explore and thing about, both at the level of the individual and societies.
Aware of my own cosmopolitan, liberal and internationalist bias (see my background, working in development and for the EU, etc…) I particular enjoy reading ‘opposing’ arguments. Having studied political science, I do feel that the conservative tradition in all its various shapes and forms is critical to understanding how the world works and should work. Questions of identity and migration, the role of tradition and religion, etc., cannot simply be approached from a liberal or internationalist position. Not only would our analysis likely be wrong but we would also not comprehend the positions taken by others.
In my own work I’ve also been confronted by the balance of positions with regards to migration. IOM has a voluntary return program for migrants, and in the Belgium office for which I worked (as is the case for many ‘European’ offices of IOM) this was the core business of the office (both regarding budget and staff). How ‘voluntary’ these returns are can be questioned as can the safety and economic perspectives of the returnees in their countries of origin. At the same time surely the recipient countries can decide who gets asylum and who doesn’t? (And as a corollary to this: once they’ve decided they do not want someone on their territory be assured that that person leaves?)
While working for DG NEAR my tasks focused on the implementation of the cooperation foreseen in the EU-Turkey refugee deal. While the work and the projects I was involved in were fairly non-controversial (hospitals, schools, NGO projects, etc.) it was unmistakably part of a deal to reduce the number of migrants / refugees arriving to Europe. But once again: surely this is a legitimate position to take?
At the same time, we can all understand the drive people feel to better their lives or that of their children. In my case, my father went to France to study and then returned to Guinea with his wife and children. It is clear that by studying in France my father very much improved his perspectives in life. It is a similar drive that pushes Syrians (who may be physically safe in Turkey, but feel they have limited perspectives in a camp there) or middle-class Africans to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Few of those arriving in Europe are refugees in the classical / limited sense of the word and have not passed through another (safe) country. Moreover, as the irregular pathway to Europe is expensive, it’s also not necessarily those with the greatest needs that necessarily make it. Yet even if all this is the case, we can still ask the question regarding the ‘absorption capacity’ of host countries. (And layer in the discussion of compatibility of Islam with Western values and the discussion becomes even more complex.)
All of this by way of introduction to say that I recently read Douglas Murray’s, “The Strange Death of Europe” in the hope that it would be a good conservative perspective on the current debates on migration. Having read several good Dutch books on the matter, I was hoping to have a good European (or at least UK) perspective on the topic. Unfortunately, I was sadly disappointed.
I have a long list of complaints, but I will highlight a few example / extreme cases. To begin with, there are some factual errors. For example, on the EU-Turkey deal, on page 85, he states that, “In return for a payment from the EU to the Turkish government of six billion Euros as well as visa-free travel across Europe for many Turks, the number of migrants coming into Europe had lessened considerably.” It should be noted that more than a year since the deal Turks still don’t have visa-free travel and that no payment was made to the Turkish government for six billion Euros. (3 billion was engaged in projects, mostly implemented by European NGO’s, European financial institutions, and international agencies.) While this is still an understandable error or confusion, there are even worse mistakes.
While discussing the case of Ms. Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands, on page 155, he states that, “… based on untrue claims made by a television station, the Minister of Immigration and Integration of Hirsi Ali’s own party, the VVD, withdrew her citizenship.” This is not true and easily verifiable. First of all, Ms. Hirsi Ali admitted the claims in the tv report that she had lied on her asylum application when she submitted it in the Netherlands (namely about her name and the fact that she had lived 12 years in Kenya – she had claimed to have come straight from Somalia – and had not mentioned that she had spent several days in Germany before arrival in the Netherlands). Secondly, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s Dutch citizenship was never withdrawn (the Minister in charge had started an investigation and procedure to do so, but it was suspended). While one may argue that the Netherlands should have protected and valued Ms. Hirsi Ali more and better, it does not strengthen the author’s arguments to make these kinds of errors.
The book is good in its analysis of the lack of policies between the 1950’s and up to the 1990’s in Europe on questions of migration and integration but there is a certain lack of structure in the argumentation that makes it hard to draw conclusions. Unfortunately, the author focuses very much on problems with Islamic migrants in his argumentation, so sometimes it’s not clear if his position is about migration itself or the position and integration (or lack of) of Muslims. In the Netherlands we have had periods of Indonesian, Balkan and Afro-Caribbean migrants and their descendants and it would be interesting to contrast how that has gone and is perceived with that of Muslims from Turkey, Morocco and / or Pakistan. The limited attention he spends on Eastern European migration(in both absolute and comparative perspectives) is a similar miss, and this lack of structure runs through the book.
Another example of this is are the arguments around liberal values (e.g. tolerance of gays, Jews, women) and (presumably Muslim) migrants. He mentions a range of examples of rapes and sexual violence, but never provides macro statistics. So even if instinctively we feel there may indeed be a specific problem with regards to this the argument of the author remains a bit anecdotal. It is similar in the chapter, “A Tyranny of Guilt”, where he gives a range of examples of politicians being apologetic about things (colonialism, slavery, racism, etc.) and that somehow this represents a ‘European guilty condition’. Even the argument that some Ancient Greek writings were passed on to us via Arabic somehow is an argument to show the ‘European guilty condition’… I find it badly argued. Of course, there are some – mostly historic- things that some Europeans show regret about. But is the position of say, the Turkish government regarding the Armenian genocide, somehow better? And while some people are (maybe) driven by this ‘guilt’, isn’t it a bit simple to reduce Europe’s asylum policies to this?
The most important chapter is, “What might have been”. After almost 300 pages complaining about what politicians have done, one expects that finally here there will be suggestions. Here, however, we are very much let down and at times descend into the comical. On page 296, “The first way would have been to go right back to the basics of the problem: principally the question of who Europe is for. Those who believe it is for the world have never explained why this process should be one way: why Europeans going anywhere else in the world is colonialism whereas the rest of the world coming to Europe is just and fair.” This is simply ludicrous as an argument. With the exception of some ‘no borders’ fringe organizations no one thinks this and definitely not the main conservative, socio-democratic and liberal parties that have dominated European politics. That is why other than rich tourists or via the asylum system it is essentially impossible to legally enter Europe.
He then goes on page 297, “Europe is the home of the European peoples, and we are entitled to be home-centric as much as the Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Japanese and all other peoples are… It is not in Europe’s power to ‘solve’ the situation in Syria. Much less is it within our gift to simultaneously raise living standards in sub-Saharan Africa, solve all world conflicts, protect liberal rights universally and rectify all problems of political corruption across the world.” This too is another straw dog fallacy – no one, at least not main stream and with influence is claiming either of those points…
When he goes on to suggest policies, starting on page 298, he proposes the hosting of refugees in the region from where they come, the processing of asylum claims outside Europe, improved deportation / departure of those who are not allowed to remain in Europe and proper vetting. Again, no one would argue with any of those points. Aside from the fact that most refugees are in regions bordering their country of origin, efforts like the EU-Turkey deal mentioned earlier are exactly for that. There is nothing original or that hasn’t been worked on by all mainstream politicians since the 1990’s.
The author then loses himself in some silly points that are not necessary. On page 303 he states that, “The move from Jean-Marie Le Pen to his daughter Marine Le Pen, for instance, is clearly a move of significance.” Is that so? Why? He doesn’t spend a line explaining why this is the case while it is clearly debatable. On page 306 he goes into a rambling section with regards to Western culture and Christianity which really makes no sense, to end with the conclusion, “To re-inject our own culture with some sense of a deeper purpose need not be a proselytizing mission, but simply an aspiration of which we should be aware.” What?
The current debate on migration, whether in Europe, in the US, or anywhere around the world is complex. I wanted to go further into it (including reviewing a book by Paul Scheffer and presenting some of my own perspectives), but as this post is already long, I’ll stop here for now
Niamey, Niger, 03.03.2018
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.