Friday, September 4

The European migrant crisis: a way forward

I am not writing here to debate the pros and cons of Germany-led encouragement of taking in more migrants: this argument is too murky to have one correct answer. Truth may not be, is often not, unique or universal. There are opinions of all shades: fear or panic among peoples of Europe, further fuelled by extremist right-wing hooligans and their groups and parties that harbour them; and those immature ones who jump onto a picture of a dead child and then demand unconditional opening up of borders and try to bring about a European Spring. In the world of digital media, mass hysteria is easy to generate: not just for a lynching which was traditional, but also for welcoming a new family. Some of the same people who are so enthusiastic for "adopting" a migrant family will not be very kind to another idea of a societal system, though, which they would call as patriarchally patronising. It is all very good and easy to be the humane human when faced with stories of hardship and poverty, but all that often vanishes in more comfortable circumstances, when the migrant you welcomed thinks that girls should not go to school. In modern, educated world, "integration" is usually one-way: to the values of what is thought of as progressive, to whatever is considered as an inviolable human right. So even if a few millions of migrants live in Germany, the result will be a shored-up German-ness: school won't teach you migration histories and lessons, until at least half a century later, when the world's problems will have moved on; in school, you will learn the Prussian empire and the rest, even if you come from Kosovo or the Swat valley. All arguments will be centred on taxpayers: after all, integration is willed by the taxpayers and is done accordingly. It is not the shepherds of the Swat who are paying to keep you free in a school.

And so, I am writing here just to try to understand what could happen with these mass migrations in terms of changes in history, and what Europe could do to alleviate some of the potential consequences that seem concerning. At the same time, this is a time when no one could really predict anything: European and world history is changing at a great pace, but the ramifications are hard to anticipate in their plenitude. Maybe, a hundred years on, hindsight will give better answers.

Parts of Continental Europe, such as the Nordic countries, have traditionally been very homogeneous (and even homogenous) regions. Even southern or eastern Europe, though a bit more diverse, have a dominant Christian, mostly Catholic or Orthodox Christian, past. In the past few decades, this uniformity has already been disturbed quite a lot, especially in the metropolises such as Paris or Milan. The oil politics and rising labour costs (a consequence of Europe's probably failed socialist system of social security) led to the need for cheap labour: France used Algerians and other North Africans, Germany used the Turkish and Eastern Europeans, and so on. In the past decade and a half, Sweden has welcomed many refugees, including many Tamils from Sri Lanka (a wiser investment than the North Africans in terms of returns they would get, because of the differing skill levels). At the same time, none of the mainland European countries has been very open to entry of highly skilled workers, with particular reticence from countries such as France, where nationalism survives very strongly in the form of pride felt over the French Revolution of 1789. This is now changing of course: in the past five years, Europe has woken up to the fact that it has to concede that US continues to reign and Asia is fast catching up with the US and leaving Europe much behind. Ageing populations have led to ever increasing labour costs, and heavy spending on welfare as well as information services such as museums lead to an augmenting expenditure front. (Yes, cities like Paris or Florence earn a lot precisely because of those galleries and museums, but such is not the case for many other regions. The debate as far as incoming tourism is concerned is ages old: high numbers at low margins [i.e., Europe with a cheap cost of living, and hence more tourists and visitors, but hence less profit per customer to the service provider], or low numbers at high margins?)

Increasing migration is breaking up this. While I personally believe that it is any human's right to go wherever he or she pleases without constraints or barriers, such a belief is caught up in the current Westphalian model, an idea whose terror is exacerbated by the ill-advised social security systems, funded through taxpayers, of many European countries. For those who do not understand social security, it is simple enough to understand: keep a man poor and hungry, so that when he falls sick, the doctor can treat him for free. (There are variants of this socialist system, of course: for example, in France, keep a man poor and hungry, so that when someone else falls sick, the doctor can treat him for free; after all, the other man is also being kept poor and hungry for you. A socialist system is much worse than the capitalist system, wherein you eat and drink as you earn, but you do have to pay to the doctor as well. It is however, at least, much better than a consumerist system, where the neighbour is having deer venison, and so you get credit to eat it as well even if you don't earn to afford to eat it: and then you also pay for the doctor after being unable to digest that fine piece of meat.) Europe has unfortunately followed this socialist model of things, something that is now coming to haunt it. For, why do migrants prefer Europe? A key answer is social security: unemployment benefits or allowances, medical cover, provision of minimum wages, etc. The profile of migrants and a country will determine now what will the net effect be: if a country requires cheap labour, then it is good to have some unskilled and semi-skilled immigrants, even if one needs to take into account the social security costs. If a country requires skilled labour, which also leads to large long-term benefits in general (the US is a classic example), then it is good to have skilled migrants (however, the current crisis seems to feature these in much lower numbers). But it is not that simple: such a matching is not possible, and anyway migrants do not come in predefined proportions. Also, they bring wives, give birth to children and later on call relatives to stay: the network spreads. Add to that another religion, another culture: and the fear of losing one's traditions starts preying on people's minds. A foregone conclusion is rise in hooliganism and appeal of right-wing extremist parties, and in its own cycle, later on, the reemergence of socialist parties. Oscillating between the two, with even faster spins spurred on by Facebook and Twitter, the whole screwing-up process sets itself into motion at a dizzying pace.

But now that the migrants are there and are going to be there, what can Europe do? For me, in education lies all the answer. That does not mean asking the migrants to speak German at home, as a Christian party in Germany wanted to. That means something completely opposite: meet migrants halfway, rather than expecting them to "integrate." Change your education curricula to reflect the challenges thrown by globalisation: migration into Europe or any other seemingly attractive region is now inevitable, given how much the world has globalised, and such movements will only intensify in the future. From hunter-gatherers, we became sedentary; now, we again become foragers of a different sort. (We have even many selves now, and maybe in twenty years, our virtual self can deal with some fun in another place than our real self, who may enjoy of course the virtual self's pleasures in real or deferred time, as per choice. But let's not distract ourselves here.) To oppose entry of mass numbers may be a viable point in some countries, but only for now and not for ever: only because they may be unprepared, but not because they have the right to write down some place's culture and religion and beliefs in stone. People have always moved, and will. And hence it is important to teach but also to learn: to give leadership roles to those who come, to change school and university curricula so as to reflect new histories (so that the new arrivals can connect with it) and languages, and to talk a common language of humanity rather than language of country, continent, religion or gender. An other must not be othered, by patronising or teaching him or her the 'European' or the 'socialist' values: maybe, it's also time to have a look again at some of those values. Nothing should be inscribed in stone, including the universal declarations of human rights. Nothing should be left unquestioned.

Some core European pet projects, such as the Schengen zone, will come under pressure now. However, abandoning them will also make Europe very uncompetitive: at this juncture of world affairs and a not very confidence-inspiring euro, Europe can hardly afford to do so. However, not everyone can live in Sweden or West Germany: I assume that after a certain threshold, migrants themselves will look to other areas. Border controls could of course be reestablished, but that would be a dangerous step also in political terms: a borderless Europe has been envisaged to avoid another world war emanating from this continent. If left to fester in isolation behind passports, fences and wooden officers, smaller countries of Europe may give dangerous power in the hands of disgruntled, profiteering elements. And yet, if such an argument holds for Europe, then why not for the world? The best way to demolish your adversary is to understand him or her: because then he or she is not the adversary anymore. The best way to demolish Islamist terrorism, often cited as one of the fears by those who oppose migration, is to understand—and not patronise—who think your values as suspect. No one owns the truth, mostly—neither they, nor you.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home