“Donald Trump calls Angela Merkel ‘insane’ for allowing Syrian refugees into Germany”, Oct.2015
Germany’s recent open-arms approach to refugees, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is a dramatic development, for Germany and hence Europe.
Many on the Right, in Germany and elsewhere, think she is mad.
But it’s unlikely this approach was off the cuff. Yes there are risks and yes there will be transitional problems and costs but it can also be seen as an historic opportunity, cf Merkel’s New Year’s Eve address to her nation, eg “Merkel Urges Germans to See Migrants as ‘an Opportunity,’ Not a Threat”, Robert Mackey, New York Times 31 December 2015.
Thus Merkel’s stance is not just charitable, but based on perceived long term self interest for Germany. She sees an historic opportunity for a major country which now faces a systemic demographic problem, like no growth and an ageing distribution profile.
Obviously there is a risk the recent influx will have been infiltrated by radical Islamists. But this is a transitional issue, requiring appropriate security measures.
The bigger ongoing longer term issue will be the challenges of integrating around a million refugees.
But Germany has experience with refugees, and population shock. Its population currently includes over 16 million (ie over 20%) who are first or second generation foreigners, including about 7 million foreign residents (mainly Turkish). Further back, after 9th November 1989 they had to cope with the reunification of East and West Germany, joining 16 million and 64 million. And immediately after WW2 over 10 million Germans were shunted west / northwest back into Germany, mainly from Poland and Czechoslovakia.
And taking a million today is not a bad round number. It will take time and careful accommodative Government action but it is a large enough number to make a difference in aggregate, for a country with a current population of around 80 million, but not so big as to make the transitional costs of integration too high.
Second, the recent refugee influx will fit well because it is relatively young, including a significant number of children. Being younger will make it easier to overcome the language problem. Also the refugees are, self evidently, relatively enterprising and resourceful, prepared to risk the difficult long journey northwest to Europe.
Third, the main challenge in effectively integrating the influx will be likely be culture and, yes, religion.
Which takes us to the nature of radical Islamism, embarked for two decades now in a terror assault on the West. Notwithstanding well publicised fears in the West, there is a strong case this violent fanaticism is not inherent in Islam, and rather relates to the complex total MidEast situation, including the West’s long term episodic interaction with the region. Thus end of the day, and notwithstanding significant current minority sympathy among Muslims for Islamism, there are grounds for thinking that, longer term, a clear majority of Muslims outside the MidEast, in Europe and Asia, favour peaceful co-existence with those outside their faith.
Most average people from whatever religious or political context do not favour terroristic violence of whatever stripe as part of their daily fare. They mostly prefer a quieter life, focussed on family and work, as well as whatever religious activity fits.
So perhaps here there is a trap for the Islamic fanatics, the radical dreamers of a new Caliphate? Instead, such dreams for West Europe can backfire, because the wealthier and freer regions like West Europe will have strong meaningful appeal to many Muslim refugees, not just for food and shelter, and for economic opportunity, but importantly too for the much freer religious and political atmosphere offered, especially longer term, especially for the now young children when they grow up, and have their own children. A straw in the wind may be recent reports of a not insignificant number of Muslims in Europe converting to Christianity.
Contemplating these issues, one might find relevant insight in Mary Beard’s new history of old Rome (“SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome”, Profile, 606 pp). Ancient Rome’s singularly disproportionate and diverse impact on affairs then remains never far from attention today, whether for its dissolute emperors or pet dogs cast in volcanic stone at Pompeii. But Professor Beard reminds us that, notwithstanding the violence, Rome’s major achievement, and the reason it was so successful in expanding, was not military proficiency or aqueducts but ideas, its “inclusiveness”. Rome grew not just by conquest but by then treating constructively with the losers: you join the team and work for us (particularly as soldiers) then you share in the growing pie, ultimately as “citizens”. As Tacitus wrote in Agricola: the Romans, ‘they make a desolation and call it peace’. This radical notion, applying even to many slaves, was missed by the clever Greeks.
In probing the future there is sometimes a temptation to project trends, as if they are immutable. As if there will be no countervailing response. And also to misread lessons from history.
And also to get it dead wrong, like the fall of the Wall. There are big surprises out there and they’re not all bad. Maybe Germany has another brewing here.