Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
-“The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus in 1883,
on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty
We have heard of wars and rumors of wars since biblical times, and Matthew tells us that we should not be troubled as all these things must come to pass. This adage remains true today.
One of the biggest stories in the past few years has been the exploding refugee crisis. In 2014 the UN had counted 51.2 million worldwide refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people within their own countries. That’s more than the population of Spain. And the numbers are going in the wrong direction.
This is the result of a world in turmoil. We have known non-stop war for the last 15 years; there are high school students who in their lives have never known peace. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been raging on since the disastrous first term of U.S. President George W. Bush, more recent conflicts such as Syria has generated even more chaos, with over 9 million refugees and internally displaced people in that conflict alone. That’s almost half of the 2012 population of 22 million. 5,000 Syrians are forced to flee their country every day, spilling over to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who between the three of them currently host around 6 million refugees.
More people are displaced from northern Iraq as ISIS and Sunni rebels persecute their enemies in that country. The brutal military rule in Egypt has displaced many. A war rages in Libya between 3 different governments all claiming power.
Interestingly, the world seemed to be a more stable place with the old dictators of yesteryear, Hussein, Al-Assad, Mubarak and Gaddafi. In particular, Gaddafi’s Libya acted as Europe’s Coast Guard, ebbing up a flood of refugees from Africans fleeing civil wars and dire economic prospects. But the West, in some delusion about spreading democracy or some short-sighted selfish pursuit of capturing resources, has lit the developing world on fire. Now the premonitions of France’s Chirac and Villepin on the eve of the Iraq War have come to pass: destabilization in Africa and the Middle East have led to millions of people fleeing across Europe’s borders.
The easy answer to stopping the refugee crisis would be to stop promoting policies that create refugees. Stop regime change and nation-building, stop the drone wars, stop propping up oppressive regimes with phony humanitarian and foreign aid. Stop war crimes against civilians: over half a million Iraqi children starved to death due to wide-ranging sanctions against medicine, medical equipment, and even pencils to stop educating the public; in the invasion of Iraq, sewage treatment and water reserves were targeted to inflict maximal hardship on civillians. Trade with people. Stop the interest groups that keep the developing world starving and fighting for crumbs: e.g. Monsanto pushing GMOs in the third world and lobbying governments to crack down on family farms that get around their “patented” seeds, domestic food subsidies to farmers that prevent Africa from exporting crops from its fertile soils.
Of course, these are non-issues in Western society and there is bipartisan agreement that we ought to continue meddling in and destabilizing the Third World. The benefits (happy, profitable multi-national corporations with leagues of employees, potential voters, and lobbying money) are visible, close and concentrated; the victims (refugees, victims of civil wars and famine) are abstract, far away and dispersed.
So instead of discussing causes and social ills, we discuss effects and symptoms. So long as we accept this curse of making refugees, the debate in the West has centered on whether we accept them or reject them and send them home.
Western public opinion is increasingly growing hostile towards immigrants and refugees. The political elites like Obama, Cameron and Merkel that took a more welcoming stance towards immigration have faced the wrath of wary voters who are looking to upend the status quo with rising stars like Trump, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, and France’s Marine Le Pen. One of 2015’s best selling books was Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, which imagines France in 2022 ruled over by an elected Islamic party, proliferating veiled women in the streets and Islamic curriculum in classrooms. For the first time since anyone can remember, the immigration issue is at center stage of the political scene.
The fear of immigrants and refugees should be understood in the context of some parallel phenomena being experienced by the West: terrorist attacks by Muslims and people of Arab origin; collapsing birth rates of native populations; and economic stagnation.
Western citizens don’t know it, but their governments have been busy abroad waging war, destabilizing countries, and torturing, displacing, and killing local peoples with little means to defend themselves. In asymmetric war, rebels will launch surprise attacks and will aim to sway the public opinion of their adversaries, which means bringing the war to them and targeting their civilians. This is what intelligence operatives call “blowback”. The terrorists work to heighten tensions even more by leaving behind passports after their attacks showing that they passed into Europe with refugees.
This tension between locals and foreigners exacerbates relations and creates more social tension and isolation, leading to a downward spiral of disaffected, unemployed youth who wrongly throw their lives away in a violent cause. Add to this terror threat the plethora of media reports of crimes, rapes, and killings committed by immigrants and refugee, and it is easy to see why locals buy into a narrative where they worry for their lives.
Local populations are not only concerned about their security, but are concerned about losing their cultural identity to changing demographics. Many European countries have birth rates well below that needed to sustain their populations, with countries like Germany and Portugal among the lowest in the world that will lose more than 10% of their populations in coming decades at current rates. This not only imperils the pension systems, unfunded liabilities, and entire economies with a glut of Baby Boomers approaching retirement age. Their cultural identity is also sure to change as locals fail to reproduce and immigrants are having children well above the 2.1 children per mother ratio to sustain population growth. Muammar Gaddafi struck fear in the heart of Europeans when he said “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquest—will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.”
Finally, the classic grievance against immigrants: they are taking our jobs. Economies in Europe and North America are still reeling since the 2007 economic crash with record numbers of people on food stamps, unemployed and underemployed. The underlying problems in the banking sector and the cycle of booms and busts generated by easy money remain unsolved and we are all sitting like ducks waiting for the next economic recession to start. It is a tough sell to say that we can put millions of refugees to work when millions of people already on the ground remain unemployed and live in poverty.
I am sympathetic to some of these arguments. It is also interesting to note that some elites promote open border policies for different reasons; DCLeaks exposed last week that leftist billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundation has called the refugee crisis the “new normal” that presents them with new opportunities and George Soros himself successfully lobbied Barack Obama to accept more Syrian refugees. It is also undeniable that some of history’s worst regimes have forced or encouraged integration as a tool to divide and weaken local populations; Murray Rothbard has written “as the Soviet Union collapsed, it became clear that ethnic Russians has been encouraged to flood into Estonia and Latvia in order to destroy the cultures and languages of these people.”
But all in all, I think both sides need to cool down. We should not be troubled by hearing of wars and rumors of wars. Photos of dead children washed up on beaches do not assuage the sometimes valid concerns of local populations with strained economies and generous welfare states; reporting every rape committed by immigrants do not show the full story of what the host country is receiving. It is a mixed bag, but it need not lead to the destruction of a country. Poor immigrants have given us societies of unrivaled prosperity in their times like the United States of the 19th century or independent Geneva welcoming persecuted protestants in centuries past. Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant.
We should first work to undo the conditions that lead to huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Then we ought to show mercy on the huddled few, garnering honest mutual respect and together put to work our God-given talents. Violence, mistrust and propaganda does not help in this regard. We need each other in order to advance forwards, all of us alone on this big blue rock exposed to nature and her hardships, taking the best of each of us, stronger as a whole than the sum of the individual parts.