The figures are staggering. In what looks like a vast population transfer from a disintegrating Greater Middle East, nearly 200,000 refugees passed through Austria in September alone. About half a million desperate refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have arrived in Greece since 2015 began (those, that is, who don’t die at sea), and the numbers are only expected to rise. Seven hundred children a day have been claiming asylum somewhere in Europe (190,000 between January and September 2015). And at least three million refugees and migrants from the planet’s war and desperation zones are expected to head for Europe in 2016.
Under the circumstances, I’m sure it won’t surprise you that, once the first upbeat stories about welcoming European crowds had died down, the truncheons and water cannons came out in some parts of the continent and the walls began to go up. Nor, I’m sure, will you be shocked to learn that an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim fervor is now gripping parts of Europe, while far-right parties are, not coincidentally, on the rise. This is true in France, where Marine Le Pen’s virulently anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-European-Union National Front is expected to make significant gains in local elections this winter (and Le Pen herself is leading early opinion polls in the race for the presidency), while in “tolerant” Sweden a far-right party with neo-Nazi ties is garnering more than 25% of the prospective vote in opinion polls. In Poland, an extreme party wielding anti-refugee rhetoric just swept into power. And so it goes across much of Europe these days.
All of this (and more) represents a stunning development that could, sooner or later, reverse the increasingly integrated nature of Europe, raise walls and barriers across the continent, and irreversibly fracture the European Union, while increasing nationalistic fervor and god knows what else. In the United States, in a somewhat more muted way, you can see similar developments in what’s being talked about here as an “outsider” election, but is, in fact, significantly focused on keeping outsiders separated from insiders. (Just Google Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and immigrants, and you’ll see what I mean.) Isn’t it strange how we always speak of the “tribal” when it comes to Africa or the backlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but never when it comes to our world? And yet, if these aren’t, broadly speaking, “tribal” responses, what are?
Should the flood of desperate refugees from the failed or failing states of the Greater Middle East sooner or later alter the configuration and politics of Europe, then perhaps we will finally be able to write a true obituary for the invasion of Iraq that George W. Bush & Co. launched with such blind confidence. After all, how many single acts in historical memory, other than perhaps the assassination of an archduke in 1914, have potentially altered the political configuration of such vast stretches of the planet in more radical and devastating ways?
Of course, the future remains eternally unknown and invariably holds its surprises. Fortunately for TomDispatch readers, however, it will prove far less unknown because among our far-flung authors we happen to have one, John Feffer, with the ability to channel a geo-paleontologist who’s had some experience with the world 35 years from now and so, unlike the rest of us, can look back on our planetary fate from what turns out to be a distinctly dystopian future.
The View from 2050
John Feffer • November 10, 2015 • 3,600 Words