Special Issue on Immigration
by Graham Lea
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(Swans - October 4, 2010) It is impossible to complete a jigsaw puzzle if half the pieces have to remain upside down, but that is the situation with many commentators when they discuss immigration. Since every immigrant is also an emigrant, it is essential to consider the reasons for emigration (and thus see the upside-down pieces), in order to be able to analyse the situation. But to turn over the remaining pieces and to see the whole picture is to open Pandora's Box.
You will recall the tangled tale when Zeus, the supreme Greek god, was annoyed with Prometheus who had denied him a share of a sacrificial ox. In revenge, Zeus denied Prometheus the use of fire, so Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus for mankind. Zeus then chained Prometheus to Mount Caucasus, where an eagle preyed on his liver, which was magically renewed each night. Hercules eventually slew the eagle. To get revenge for Prometheus's gift of fire, Zeus sent Pandora (an all-gifted woman) with a Box containing Evils to marry Epithemus, who was Prometheus's brother. Although she had been told not to open the Box, she did so, with the result that the Evils flew out.
Too often, immigrant host countries have played a less-than-moral role as a result of political, economic, and military interference on the part of their governments, corporations, and people. They must bear the burden for bringing about conditions that result in emigration.
At the same time, migrants should ask themselves, in the immortal words, not what their adopted country can do for them, but what they could do for their new country. This requires considerable cultural adjustment. Let us examine a few of the Evils about migration that have escaped from Pandora's Box recently.
First out of Pandora's Box is the Evil of blaming immigrants for mistakes in host-government policies. A great error in Europe has been to give European Union membership to some East European countries before they were ready for it. There was strong political pressure, particularly from the United States, for the 2004 expansion of the EU to Eastern Europe, in order to create a pro-West buffer zone around Russia. Then in 2010, Romania and Bulgaria, widely recognised as highly corrupt countries, were admitted to EU membership. Thus escaped another Evil from Pandora's Box.
The situation of the people in Romania was extremely bad, with half the population living on 150 euros/month, and an unemployment rate of more than 25%. In Bulgaria, around half the population lives on less than two euros/day, with conditions amongst the Roma being very poor indeed. Corruption exists on an immense scale, so that even whistleblowers have to watch their backs. These political errors permitted the quasi-free movement of people in the European Union, thereby creating many of the immigration concerns seen today. It was hardly surprising that the Roma, who were marginalised in their own countries, migrated in large numbers as soon as this became possible.
A further serious European political error was the failure of the Schengen-agreement countries (which opened their borders to each other) to develop a policy on the porous border with North Africa. This made it possible for many impoverished people to migrate to Europe without legal documentation, in order to seek casual work and better prospects. Had there been a sensible development aid program for North Africa, fewer problems would have arisen, and another Evil might not have escaped.
Most immigrants are understandably seeking to improve their economic situation. That they are unable to find reasonable employment possibilities in their own countries reflects badly on the developed countries that have, as a matter of policy, ensured that energy costs were very high and that the economic situation of emigrant countries remained appalling. The tools used by the major trading nations to assert their dominance were the international trade system that erects barriers against trade from countries where the labour cost is low. This prevents exports, and keeps many developing countries impoverished, resulting in the Evil of unfair trade.
The Evil of odious debt, mostly to the IMF, the World Bank, and American banks, is particularly pernicious. Such debt is often corruptly acquired, and spent on formidable weapons to be used against the people, to suppress any political opposition. Usually only a small minority benefits from most infrastructure development projects. Western arms producers and construction companies are effectively being subsidised by taxpayers. There is growing international support for cancelling such debt. Without such burdens, there would be more opportunity in migrant countries and a consequent lessening of emigration.
A further Evil is the dumping of subsidised food, mis-designated as aid, since it results in the failure of local farmers who cannot therefore sell their produce, so curtailing local food production.
Islamophobia in Europe is unrelated to the alleged role of Muslims in the 9/11 attacks: it is an Evil encouraged by racists, and made worse by the failure of immigrants to integrate, to accept the cultural norms of the host country, and not to be a burden on taxpayers. Nor is European Islamophobia a religious issue, since religion is hardly significant in Europe today. The partial concern about the Roma is that when people are unemployed and cannot live off the land, there is a great fear, with some foundation, that they will steal.
Over-aggressive US reactions against Muslim countries following the 9/11 attacks (an Evil that has caused much emigration) has resulted in the strengthening of Muslim identity, in much the same way as the US flag was made into an ubiquitous symbol. There has been a substantial increase in the wearing of traditional Islamic attire as a means of political protest. Many Muslim immigrants tend to maintain their culture, find language learning difficult, live close together, have different values, and find integration very difficult. Females are more likely to integrate in order to obtain freedom from oppressive family control.
Racism is another of Pandora's Evils, with many Europeans opposed to immigration by Muslims, Roma, and others for mostly racist reasons. To sidestep accusations of racism, they tend to seize on symbols such as Muslim women's apparel in order to express their feelings, ignoring the cassocks of the clergy, the habits and wimples of nuns, the kippot of Jews, and the zucchetti of cardinals. Immigration opponents often criticise the linguistic ability of immigrants, their feeble level of integration, and their educational attainment. Such intolerance particularly extends to the failure of many immigrants to find employment, and the social benefits they receive.
Opportunistic politicians and activists are exploiting immigrant issues, since it gets them votes and protects their sinecures. With high unemployment levels, housing at a premium, and health services under pressure, Western Europe cannot easily absorb any more unskilled workers. Let us review some of the Evils being encouraged to escape throughout Europe by politicians.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has a number of domestic problems that have made him unpopular, most recently that the minimum retirement age is being increased from 60 to 62 (by 2018). There have also been accusations that during his election campaign, there were substantial illegal donations: the so-called Woerth-Bettencourt affair. Le Monde is suing Sarkozy's office for spying on its journalists for using the French intelligence service to find the sources of their stories. Whistleblowers are protected in France. (1) One high level official has already been exiled to Guyana (but not to its Devil's Island). Because the budget does not balance, taxes are being increased. Of course the real reasons for the budget deficit include early retirement costs, the 35 hour working week, and the defence budget. Sarkozy also threatened to cancel the French citizenship of people of foreign descent who commit crimes, despite Sarkozy himself being of Hungarian descent. Rudolf Sarközi, a member of the Vienna City council and a prominent Roma, noted that Sarkozy's name was typically Roma. (2)
Seemingly to detract from these pressures, Sarkozy has been using the race card, hinting that the Roma and other immigrants were significantly responsible for the economic problems. He has ordered the removal and repatriation of Roma in an attempt to regain popularity before the 2012 election. Some 10,000 Roma were expelled mostly to Romania and Bulgaria in 2009, with a further 1,000 so far in 2010.
After Sarkozy announced the dismantling of Roma camps at the end on July, European Union opinion was orchestrated against him by the EU justice commissioner from Luxembourg, Viviane Reding. (3) She wants the European Commission to take action against France, but foolishly drew parallels between the French government and the Nazi puppet Vichy government, evidently unaware of the French wartime situation. She told the BBC that the French government was carrying out the policy "for purely populist reasons and party political reasons," which was a diplomatic gaffe, even if true. Sarkozy suggested at a private lunch that Luxembourg could have the Roma. Reding made a half-hearted apology some days later.
France has more than five million Muslims, more than any other European country, but the French are equally divided about the toughened government stance against them. The burqa or other enveloping garb has now been banned in public, with fines for the women, and very substantial fines and possible imprisonment for men pressuring women to cover up.
The Netherlands is going through a bleak period, unable to form a workable coalition government because the Dutch voted in considerable numbers for Geert Wilders's anti-Islam PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid - Party for Freedom) that wants to ban the Koran and expel Muslims. Wilders will be in court in October to answer five charges of religious insult and anti-Muslim incitement: the outcome is uncertain.
Belgium's highest court decided that the Vlaams Blok party (motto: Own people first!) was racist, but now Philip [or Filip] de Winter, who says he admires Wilders, is the leader of the successor Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). The party has been accused of being fascist and racist, and strongly supports the Belgian stop on immigration.
Rene Stadtkewitz started a Freedom Party in Germany in September, encouraged by Wilders, with plans to banish headscarves, close mosques, and cut welfare payments to Muslims. Italy has the Lega Nord (Northern League) which opposes Muslim immigration, and claims it supports Christian identity. The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have just won 20 seats in the Riksdag (more than five percent). The Danish People's Party also opposes immigrants, as does the Austrian Freedom Party, which is however in decline, although it received 27% of the votes in 1999.
Immigrants have responsibilities to their adopted country: to work, to integrate, to become proficient in the language, and to live within the social norms. By fulfilling their duty as good citizens, they can diminish the Evil of anti-immigrant sentiment. Illegal immigrants, unless genuine applicants for political asylum, should expect to be expelled according to law.
The epilogue to our analogy with Pandora's Box is that only Hope remained in the Box after the Evils had flown out. In 1945, fifty nations gathered together, opened Pandora's Box, and released Hope. They solemnly resolved to combine their efforts to...
...practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples...
- From the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945 (4)
The biggest nations broke their promises, but let us be optimistic. We may yet see troupes of flying buffalo singing pastoral songs. What a sight it would be!
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About the Author
Graham Lea is a British writer and journalist, inter alia for the BBC and The Register, where he covered the Microsoft antitrust case. For many years he was a geologist. Apart from London, he has lived in Canada, the USA, and the Netherlands before settling in la France profonde with his Dutch wife. Lea's work for Swans brings another bit of international flair to the coin français. (back)
1. "Le Monde sues France President Nicolas Sarkozy's office." BBC News 14 September 2010. "The secrecy of journalistic sources is protected, in order for journalists to carry out their mission of informing the public." Ironically, the press law was introduced during Sarkozy's presidency. (back)