Immigration made America strong – but it threatens to ruin Europe
By Christopher Caldwell, Author Of Reflections On The Revolution In Europe
Are Britain and Europe being swamped, overrun, defeated by a wave of mostly Muslim immigrants and their descendants? Or are Europe’s ethnic problems the figment of a febrile political imagination – something created by racism, dishonesty and manipulation by extremist parties such as the BNP? Those are not the only two possibilities, of course, although a lot of people behave as if they are.
Both sides will take lots of fodder for their arguments from a study released last week by the highly reliable Pew Forum On Religion And Public Life. According to the report, there are now 1.6billion Muslims, a quarter of the world’s population.
And they are distributed in surprising ways – there are more Muslims in Germany than in Lebanon, for example. Recent projections by the British Government show the population rising to 71 million within 20 years, due mainly to migration.
But Europe’s (and Britain’s) problems with Muslim migration are not mostly demographic. The Pew study shows the world’s Christian population is growing too, to 2.25 billion.
It is possible, though, to have grave problems with immigration that do not involve either the wipe-out of a culture or the disappearance of a population.
Europe opened the door to mass immigration in the Fifties and discovered – as the United States did before it – that it is impossible to open that door just a fraction. Immigration, though intended as a solution to a short-term labour crisis, has become, without anyone particularly wanting it to be, a permanent feature of the landscape.
One of the most amazing statistics in the history of European immigration is that the number of foreign residents in Germany rose steadily between 1971 and 2000 – from three million to about 7.5million – but the number of employed foreigners did not budge. It stayed rock-steady at around two million.
Multi-ethnic societies can be good societies. But the transition puts a strain on institutions, on trust in government, and on a sense of identity.
Not every society makes that transition successfully. In my book, Reflections On The Revolution In Europe, I tried to describe how this process is working – or, more often, not working.
Revolution is not too strong a word. It well describes what occurred in America between 1840 and 1925, when millions of Catholic immigrants arrived, transforming a largely Protestant society.
The need to accommodate them made the United States replace one kind of society with another. We may like the result, but it would have been absurd to expect those born into pre-immigrant 19th Century America to rejoice at the disruption.
However, the transition has given America an edge in the present era of mass migrations. That is not America’s only advantage, of course. The ‘tone’ of current US immigration is set by various Latin American cultures; that of European immigration is set by various Muslim cultures.
The cultural peculiarities of Latin-American immigrants generally appear to Americans as antiquated versions of their own.
Latinos speak a different (European) first language, the main language American schoolchildren study, and which immigrant families inevitably abandon for English by the second generation.
They also have less money, higher labour-force participation, more authoritarian family structures, lower divorce rates, more frequent church attendance, lousier diets and higher rates of military enlistment than native-born Americans. Sociologists compare them to early 20th Century Italian immigrants.
Mass Hispanic immigration can disrupt local habits and put strains on budgets – the impending bankruptcy of California is a cautionary tale – but it needs no fundamental reform of America’s culture or institutions. On balance, it may strengthen them.
Islam is different. Living with Muslim cultures requires larger adjustments, and they touch deeper, more essential parts of European culture.
This kind of change needs to be considered when we talk about the costs and benefits of immigration.
We tend to say immigrants and their descendants will bring us so much in tax revenue, and they’re going to cost us so much in schooling. But we also need to consider the cost paid in the form of institutional rearrangements and in rights.
Nowhere are these adjustments trickier than in questions of family, marriage, gender and sexuality. Protecting women’s rights when you’re dealing with a variety of cultures requires a lot more State interference than when there is rough agreement on the rules.
Traditional Islam is not compatible with modern European hedonism and feminism. Europeans perceive it as a threat that must be managed.
Of course, Christianity is just as much at odds with the world of disco. And not all Islam is traditional – Muslim cultures vary. But this variety creates as many problems as it solves.
Consider female circumcision, common in Muslim countries such as Somalia and Sudan. A study by a Dutch university found this mutilation is widespread among Europeans of East African descent.
So what does Sweden – which has a relaxed attitude towards sexuality but also a lot of female circumcision – do?
Nyamko Sabuni is the Burundian-born Swedish Minister for Integration and Gender Equality – her title alone gives an idea of how important a battleground feminism is in countries of heavy immigration.
She called for gynaecological inspections of all schoolgirls in Sweden – not just Muslims, since this would violate equal treatment, but all girls. This approach was rejected. But the fact it was even proposed at the highest levels of government is shocking.
Fifty years ago, if a politician had suggested parents should be required to subject their daughters to an intimate, government-monitored strip-search, the public would have reeled in horror.
We can applaud the seriousness of Ms Sabuni, but her suggestion revealed the strain on the country’s constitutional order in the face of immigration.
In the Nineties, Denmark lost control of its immigration policy almost completely.
One problem was a set of guidelines on asylum that overwhelmed the country’s bureaucracy. Another was marriage migration. The great majority of Danes of non-Western background married people from their ancestral countries, and the figure was even higher for those from Muslim countries.
This was seen as a threat as it made chain migration possible, where a spouse uses his or her newly acquired citizenship to bring in extended families. It also showed that many people who held Danish passports did not fully think of themselves as Danes.
Denmark had to act, but it was hard to do so in a way that would not be xenophobic.
In 2001 it passed a law called the Aliens Act. Citizens under the age of 24 who marry spouses from outside the European Union are not allowed, except in special cases, to reside permanently in the country.
So Denmark succeeded in stemming the implantation of Muslim culture on its territory – within five years only a third of foreign-background Danes were marrying abroad.
But there was a high price, and the price was paid by all citizens in rights. The right to live in your own country after marriage was no longer self-evident.
There has also been huge controversy in France over Muslim schoolgirls wearing traditional veils.
A government commission recommended banning ‘conspicuous religious symbols’ from schools and other institutions – not just headscarves but also large crosses. Again, the price of managing cultural diversity got paid in the form of rights.
These changes appear trivial, but add them up over the years and you have a different society.
So why aren’t they discussed more openly? During the US demographic revolution of a century ago, Americans showed a burning curiosity about the question ‘What kind of country is this turning us into?’ which they poured into books, pamphlets and public meetings.
Such conversations are harder under the prevailing European reticence. But if you can’t talk openly, people will lack information. People who lack information fear the worst. People who fear the worst act irresponsibly.
Discussing immigration and its consequences openly is not rude. It is necessary to lower the temperature of the debate.
• Reflections On The Revolution In Europe, by Christopher Caldwell, is published by Allen Lane priced £14.99.
Immigration made America strong – but it threatens to ruin Europe