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It was inevitable that Europe’s refugee crisis would get tied up in Holocaust symbols. This time the policies of eastern Europeans, not Germans, evoke analogies. Since World War II ended, Germany’s liberal media has competed with US counterparts like the New York Times in the contest of who is more against the Holocaust. The German side lately has been getting a sportsmanlike pat on the back from the US for championing a multicultural worldview diametrically opposite from the country’s old nationalist ideology.
Winston Churchill was understandably cross with the Germans in 1943 when he said they’re “either at your throats or at your feet.” A less intemperate wording in today’s climate might have suggested they often overdo it in wanting to be either feared or loved. The last two could be summed up as “respected.” Many of its neighbors at the moment would like to see a more measured balance in trying to achieve this.
When the Czechs used “indelible markers” to put “identification numbers” on the hands of a couple of hundred among the recent hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers arriving in Europe from various Muslim lands, the image of Auschwitz was recalled. Quoting prominent Jews in Europe and the US who raised the Holocaust analogy, the Times reporter suggested the images “may reveal a deeper truth about Europe,” that resistance to “immigration and diversity” was at odds with “virtues of human rights.” The Czechs, struggling to comply with EU rules and keep tab on the sudden influx, quickly ceased the practice.
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, long demonized in western media for his rightist politics, was faulted this time for essentially upholding EU rules. He initially attempted to control the EU’s external border and register the tens of thousands of refugees who already broke through the border. Germans, leading the criticism, have taken in the most refugees and expect at least 800,000 this year. Germans are bitter about the lack of EU solidarity in sharing the burden. Yet, they insisted the Hungarians free the refugees to continue on to Germany, where all Syrians, the bulk of the refugees, have been declared welcome. Their enticing statements and actions will massively increase the refugee “invasion,” including those wanting to leave their safe but less comfortable refuge in Turkey and Arab lands. Orban like many others must be secretly wonder what the Germans have been putting in their beer lately.
The core issue that Germany’s politically correct establishment avoids mentioning when scolding others for conveniently forgetting their refugee pasts is that the refugee masses now are from a different civilization and religious based-culture. Eastern Europeans and their leaders have no qualms about identifying this as key to the problem. Nor do many French, especially Jews whose fears the Germans would find it most awkward to dismiss.
The dilemma among Jews on the issue of mass Muslim immigration echoes the polarization within France with its five million Muslims, mostly North Africans or their poorly assimilated descendents. As I witnessed during my July stay in Toulon, the recent terror attacks of fanatic Islamists has increased the tensions long growing as a result of the demographic upheaval. A Vanity Fair article sent me by a Jewish friend when I returned home to Vienna focused on the particular fears of French Jews. Even before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, others pointed to an evolving hostility toward mass immigration and the multicultural model, previously an article of faith rivaling the Torah among many secular and non-orthodox Jews. Jewish community organizations (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde) in Germany and Austria sponsored welcoming events for new migrants. Privately, concerns reflect those of their French brethren.
In Europe’s far west, non-European immigration is a legacy of colonialism. In Germany, it is a legacy of a post-war economic boon and labor shortage that led to a mass inflow of “guest-workers,” mostly Muslims from Turkey’s “backward” Anatolia region. The jobs they took were often victim to later automation. German speaking countries have not had the degree of culture-clash that France has experienced. But as in France, offspring of immigrants often remain culturally separated. Mutual resentments simmer. A million new Arab immigrants in Germany, a number of future voters that will be increased through the multiplier effect, will not make it easier to lobby for Israel.
They’re coming to Germany now, Neil Diamond, and it’s OK with their eastern neighbors
Holocaust guilt shaping German deference to Israel and Jews is probably less ridiculed by descendents of Turks than of Arabs. Until now, the Arab portion was far less pronounced than in France. The changing numbers are ironically tied to the same guilt complex driving the amazing embrace of current refugee masses from the Islamic world. Many Germans do not want to be outdone in demonstrating tolerance and openness. All the migrants whom I spoke to at Vienna’s train station the past weekend were continuing on to Germany. Of an estimated 20,000 who just crossed the border from Hungary, only about 100 officially applied for asylum in Austria. They were greeted with welcoming applause and shouts usually accorded to returning champion football teams. Tons of food, clothing and toys for the children were on hand. Like Germany’s government, Austrian authorities put on a great display of welcome. The arriving migrants were grateful. Austrian officials quietly breathed a sigh of relief that nearly all were just passing through. Glad to see you come, glad to see you go. But they haven’t stopped coming yet.
Both German-speaking peoples for the moment are basking in their “good guy” image, in stark contrast to the Hungarians. As the first contiguous EU country to be hit by the refugee invasion, Hungary had initially tried to fence them out. When the flood gates were first forced open, they had less time and resources to deal with the inflow. When the government in Budapest tried for a few days to keep them from travelling west,crowds of protesting Syrians at the main train station demonstrated and chanted “Germany, Germany.” If they had been chanting “Deutschland” instead of its English version, it might have sounded like a Nazi Party rally. On the other end, crowds of disappointed young Germans who had created a welcoming center outside Munich’s main station were furious at the Hungarians. For a couple of days, they had to mill about with few migrants to help. Some migrants have accused Hungarians of the vilest practices, including murder. A few blamed them for the death of 71 refugees who suffocated in a Hungarian registered van found on the Austrian side of the border. The paranoia and baseless accusations were familiar to me from my experience in Central Africa and in countless Bosnian refugee facilities. But it helped make the cheerful Austrian and German welcoming committees feel like liberators.
German officials and media particularly have been getting on the nerves of eastern Europeans with their incessant calls for solidarity, translated as sharing the refugee burden. The eastern neighbors would like to see EU solidarity in resisting the inflow and working on a common, unambiguous message that would discourage continued migrant invasions. That might include a belated EU reminder that refugees will be eventually expected to return home; details on how and when could follow. Meanwhile, the German and Austrian kumbaya message is only encouraging more to come who might otherwise find alternative ways, however unattractive, to deal with their unquestionable hardships. Poles, Czechs etc. are more accustomed to ritual German professions of contrition for the ravaging of their lands in WWII. A common reaction among Easterners is essentially “deal with your own historical guilt complexes.” That might also apply to the legacy of slavery and colonialism in other western countries. Eastern Europe, so the thinking goes, had already “paid its dues” in almost a half-century under communism, a birdbrain idea spawned in Germany. Multicultural ideals are far less fashionable than in the West, whose college students regularly opt to major in political correctness and minor in moral posturing.
As is the trend these days, internet postings reflect popular sentiments scoffed at by establishment media. One of the more creative YouTube videos on the mass Muslim immigration theme depicts scenes of the 1683 defeat of the Turks, led by a Polish king, at the walls of Vienna. The caption: “The Polish Army will not come again to save you.”
The Economist end of August issue sniffs at “the more atavistic concerns” of these former East Bloc countries, pointing to statements such as those out of Slovakia that it wanted Christian refugees only. Or Hungary’s wanting to restrict mass immigration of people from “different civilization roots.” Czech President Milos Zeman was a step ahead of them last June in saying his country did not want “to accept any refugees from countries distant from us in terms of culture.” The argument is that EU resources would be better spent housing refugees closer to their own cultural spheres. The fact that countries in the region already house most of the refugees makes little impression. Geographically, that makes sense too. Turkey and the Gulf States were also largely behind the destabilization of the Damascus government.
Given the reality that culture-clashes within so many non-western societies are an important element among migrant desires to flee them, reluctance of many to get on the multicultural bandwagon seems reasonable enough. Variety is the spice of life, but while small communities of “others” within the larger collective usually add flavor, eastern Europeans understand what policy shapers to the west don’t seem to grasp: too much is too much. The West, in the view of many, is guilty of gross negligence for naively maintaining it is not creating a precedent that will entice multitudes of more migrants to come.
Migrant trains packed – but not all Germans onboard
Many Germans likewise scoff at the folk festival welcoming festivities organized by their compatriots. Despite kudos generally bestowed on their country by western media, a New York Times opinion page commentary by a “vigilant” German newspaper reporter warned about the danger of surrendering to “our darkest demons.” A planned refugee facility in Germany was torched before it was opened, and a refugee family narrowly escaped the burning down of their smaller abode. Concern about rightwing terrorism sometimes triggered more public debate that the developing migrant “invasion” itself. Resistance had been mounting earlier as the number fleeing from North Africa across the Mediterranean approached a hundred thousand. Attention then shifted to mass migration via Turkey to Greek islands a few miles distant. Images of chaotic conditions in makeshift island facilities invoked compassion, alarm and some bemusement. Some of the refugees immediately complained that they had expected more from “Europe,” and some seemed not to know that Greece was part of the EU or even Europe. Among European host countries bracing for still more arrivals, eyebrows were raised by images of refugees brawling with each other and of some kicking others cowering prostrate on the ground.
Headscarf-covered women, with children whom they would almost certainly discourage from one day marrying non-Moslems, seemed baffled by the occasional resistance to their Allah-given right to settle among infidels further to the northwest. Another headscarf-covered woman, similarly befuddled, told a TV reporter she was a lawyer. One wonders why an educated and devout lady, fleeing the violence of a region ravaged by disagreement over how to interpret Muhammad, would be surprised by the reticence of many westerners to see a vast expansion of Islam into their own cultural sphere.
Even after getting to Hungary, migrants still talked about “Europe” as a place they hadn’t yet reached.Europe for them quickly became Germany. “That’s where the money is,” as legendary bank robber Willy Sutton might have put it. He too had been “searching for a better life,” a basic human aspiration that asylum advocates and reporters routinely evoke to remind skeptics that the refugees were just like the rest of us. There is naturally some concern about refugees also relying on crime, like Sutton, to better their lifestyles. But a favorite straw-man tactic is to imply that asylum opponents consider migrants in general as criminals. Fears about rising crime rates or even terrorism accompanying the mass migration are usually dismissed as irrational or based on racism or xenophobia. Regarding material costs, more recognition is accorded to the inevitable lure of jobs as well as magnanimous state welfare benefits for those now arriving and for the many family members who will surely follow. They constitute an offer the migrants can’t refuse.
German state TV is emblematic of media tendentiousness on the subject. It largely avoids context that might assist arguments outside a politically correct framework to seem reasonable. Of course interviews with refugees recounting harrowing ordeals must be a main element in the story. But it is hardly the whole story. When serious qualms about the longer-term societal impact are covered at all, they tend to be quickly neutralized. Blithe assertions follow about manpower shortages in the decades ahead. Reports about future technology replacing jobs never appear in the same context. Nor do reports about the 50% youth unemployment rate in some regions of the EU, a single job market open to all member citizens.
The case for permanently settling refugees is also accompanied by reminders of Germany’s “historical debt” to humanity from the suffering Germans had once inflicted on others and themselves. Many Germans had also been refugees once and host societies usually profited from the migrant inflow, compatriots are told. It would be bad journalistic form, apparently, to note the obvious differences that allow masses of immigrants to integrate more seamlessly into one culture than another. At the height of the migrant inflow, it was rather unusual to see a report devoted to problems instilling 2nd generation Muslim youth with “European values” regarding the treatment of women and respect for the constitution. Events may be prompting at least a few editors to reflect more deeply about packaged humanism’s unintended consequences. More often, however, the integration success stories are highlighted by introducing charismatic immigrants or their descendents who have “made it.”
The fact that most of the refugees are Muslims is generally the elephant in the room that media elites would rather not talk much about. But the masses of incoming refugee women with head scarves are clearly visible to news audiences. The happy talk from the refugee-welcome advocates is contradictory. The multiculturalists think permanently implanted parallel societies are the way to go. The integrationists claim that in a generation or two religious-culturally based tribal loyalties will disappear. The nation will be one big united family again. Both they and the “Islamophobes” point to their favorite passages from sacred scriptures to justify their conflicting positions, glossing over any textual incoherence and self-contradictory messages within.
“Islamophobe” is the epithet commonly used to suggest that only irrational fear, i.e. a phobia, could explain concerns about inherent conflicts of interest between the cultures. Opponents of mass immigration from the Islamic world are the spiritual offspring of Germans who used to gas Jews, the irrepressible champions of tolerance often imply. Earlier this year, Germany’s press went on the counteroffensive when its journalistic integrity came under attack by demonstrators’ chants denouncing the “Luegenpresse” (lying press). The chants were part of regular protests in former East German Dresden calling for an end to the alleged “Islamization” of Europe. There were indeed some unsavory characters behind the movement who helped make it an easier target. But critics harped as much on the fact that Dresden didn’t have many Muslims compared to other German cities. Fears, therefore, about a growing Islamic presence were dismissed as irrational at best. The city’s depressed topography, coincidently, had in fact prevented it from receiving West German TV signals and much information about the outside world during the Cold War. Those days of communist censorship are over. The more limited self-censorship of western TV these days had not gone so far as to prevent audiences — Dresdeners now included — from keeping abreast of the radical demographic upheavals elsewhere in Europe. Many obviously are not enthusiastic about following in their footsteps. They announced new protest marches this month.
The CNN Factor: misleading media images and unintended consequences
Fear of how emotive images might distort the bigger picture was behind a catastrophe in Central Africa that I saw unfold in 1996. Superficial attempts to help refugees at the time unwittingly helped trigger one of the continent’s deadliest wars. Rwandan leaders in Kigali were determined to close, by force if necessary, camps full of Rwandan refugees across the border in the Congo. The camps had been established by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994. My embassy colleagues and I convinced Washington that Kigali was serious and that the refugees could safely return to their homes, except those suspected of actively participating in the 1994 genocide against fellow Rwandans. The local UNHCR head and most of my EU colleagues were similarly convinced. Officials at UNHCR Geneva and in EU capitals remained skeptical. The UNHCR camps were controlled by former Rwandan government militias, organizers of the earlier genocide, who continued to stage deadly raids into Rwanda. But the specter of newscasts showing terrified refugees forced to go home — the so-called CNN Factor – further contributed to EU/UNHCR dithering. As promised, the Rwandan army eventually invaded and closed the camps itself. Tens of thousands of refugees fled into the Congo’s interior. The protracted war that thus ensued drew neighboring countries into the conflict in which millions possibly died. The road to hell had been paved with humanitarian intentions.
UNHCR and the West are again at a crossroad. No one of significant influence is suggesting today’ refugees not be helped, or that they now be driven back to Syria or wherever at the point of bayonets. But unlike the earlier Central African tragedy where camps should have been closed but weren’t, an option today that strikes so many as morally indefensible involves opening additional camps in regions where the refugees are from, and relocating them there.
Following this weekend’s massive refugee onslaught, European leaders talked again about addressing the source of the refugee drama. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her nation that the breathtaking influx is something “that will occupy and change our country in coming years.” Such talk is a mild change from the months of arguing about distribution quotas while passively absorbing any migrants who show up. Publically, however, there’s been no high level talk about revamping Europe’s military and strategy to either deal with refugees directly or effectively tackle the “source” of their exodus. French President Hollande merely announced that France would start bombing ISIS in Syria, not just Iraq. Policy nevertheless remains hostage to media-shaped public perceptions.
Media exploiting emotions
The visual media is doing what it’s supposed to do in capturing images deserving of our sympathy. Too often, however, journalists exploit the emotions triggered by these images to badger officials into adopting superficial policies that exacerbate rather than alleviate fundamental problems. None of the images of bodies floating in the Mediterranean or refuges being hauled aboard rescue vessels had anything like the global impact of the horrendously sad photos of a little Kurdish boy found on a Turkish beach after he and his brother drowned in a family attempt to flee to Greece. The photos were juxtaposed alongside “heartless” officials stumbling to explain why the family hadn’t been allowed normal entry to the EU or Canada, where an aunt already resides. No report that I had seen noted that the Kurdish family was fleeing from a country in which 14.5 million indigenous Kurds lived mostly in peace (Greece’s population is under 11 million). Nearly as many live in secured Kurdish regions in Iran and Iraq. The implication behind the “hard-hitting” journalistic reporting, of course, is that efforts by nations to control immigration are inherently immoral.
The case for an emergency suspension of border controls for those fleeing war is irreproachable. But permitting the “leapfrogging” over countries which offer less than the optimal deal is a recipe for future social upheaval in countries with more generous social policies. TV coverage of the refugee crisis has been largely superficial and tendentious. Images are not being accompanied by a package of questions, commentary and analysis that might help viewers better understand the much less obvious implications of the scenes they are witnessing. Without the collective sense of historical guilt for a crime like the Holocaust, few countries if any would likely have agreed to open its doors so widely to an onslaught of people with such different — and in many ways conflicting — value systems.
The problems in much of the Islamic world will not be fixed by enlarging it within Europe’s borders. More attention needs to be given to other lessons about unintended consequences such as the Central Africa debacle exacerbated by humanitarian good intentions.
PR resistant alternatives
There are encouraging signs of a sobering up in some of Europe’s mainstream newspapers. Among Western leaders, the need for a military component in dealing with a problem fueled by military conflict is becoming increasingly apparent. But, as Hollande’s planned bombing expansion shows, there’s not much sign of fresh thinking. Top US diplomat John Kerry reportedly cautioned Russian leader Vladimir Putin against reported plans for additional Russian military support of Syria’s Assad regime. The State Department claimed that could “further escalate the conflict.” Escalating might be what the US and EU countries ought to be working with Putin to accomplish, instead of dreaming that Russia abandon the regime it considers important to its strategic interests in the region. Russia is as threatened by Islamist terror as much as the rest of Europe.
Mosul and the ISIS strongholds need not be retaken by Russian and NATO ground troops. Syria itself is already being carved up along vaguely sectarian lines. Moscow, Washington and Brussels effectively working with regional “allies” to break the current stalemate could help shape clearer and more defensible borders in that ex-nation state. Safe areas for refugees separated along ethno-religious lines could be an interim stage.
EU citizens, suddenly awakened to how easily Middle East instability can be exported to their heartland, are the outsiders who stand most to benefit from solving the refugee-generating conflict. Their economic and potential military resources will almost certainly be directed more to that goal. They will have to rely on more than the usual cast of characters for the military and logistical part of the task. An obstacle to working with Moscow may be Washington’s fixation on removing the Assad regime, still preferred by its own Alawites, Christians and Shiite minorities to any currently plausible alternative. If Washington becomes the obstacle, Germany and Italy might hint about closing some US bases and converting them into refugee settlements.