- Husband shopping in Beijing Sheng Yun, London Review of Books
- German life in the 20th century Richard Evan, the Nation
- City University of New York: American Dream Machine Charles Upton Sahm, City Journal
- Catholic populism versus American populism Ross Douthat, NY Times
- Germany is struggling with its place in the world Ulrike Franke, War on the Rocks
- German parents are more laid back than American ones Lenore Skenazy, Hit & Run (Reason)
- How to walk through a Berlin park Elnathan John, 1843
- How is the world ruled? Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
- Introducing… Jesus and Mo
- On private property and the commons
- Why Merkel’s Kindness to Asylum Seekers Could Reflect a German Soft Spot for Islam
- Why I find the Mthwakazi monarchy restoration unjustified
- September (a song about me)
- From the Far Right to the Far Left
- Beyond Neoliberalism (book review)
In a companion essay, “Hypocrisy!,” I pointed out that there was a good fit of preferences between the current crop of refugees from Syria and from Iraq and the countries one would reasonably expect to be giving them asylum. Muslim countries, with a small number of brave exceptions don’t want them and the refugees – almost all Muslims -don’t want to go there anyway.
As you would expect because many people go through life on automatic, liberals, libertarians and Muslims join tongues to blame the United States for the current exodus. Sure thing, the US intervened in Iraq against the bloodthirsty tyrant Hussein after he violated several hundred times the cease-fire that put an end to the First Gulf War. (Note for those younger people who learned their history in public schools: In the First Gulf War, the US had led a coalition of about 50 countries – not including Israel – to roll back Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. Yes, he started it. It’s the cease-fire to that first war that Hussein violated.) It’s not difficult to make the case that the US under Bush did a piss-poor job of re-organizing the Iraq it conquered after two weeks plus a sandstorm. It’s even easier to wonder why the Obama administration would just quit the country without attempting to leave a defense force behind (as in Korea, for example). Both the invasion and the failure to conclude its aftermath can reasonably be said to have caused major instability in Iraq and thereby, a flow of refugees from that country. (Personally, I still miss Saddam Hussein. He was a sweetie in his own way although much misunderstood.) But most of the current refugees seem to be from Syria. It’s also possible to argue that the US is responsible for the horrors there too. This time, it’s because it did not intervene into its home-grown civil war until recently. Worse, the US General-in-Chief declared a red line and ignored it when it was crossed with the gassing of civilians.
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to blame on the West, on America, the flow of emigrants from such countries as Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, even Senegal where there has not been any Western intervention. (Senegal obtained its independence in 1960, seamlessly, without a struggle with France, the colonial power.) Meanwhile Boko Haram (“Books are Forbidden”) in Nigeria is burning villages, kidnapping girls, raping and then, forcing them to become living bombs. What those countries have in common, of course, the peaceful ones that can’t provide for most of their population, and the others that are living hells is this: Coca Cola is sold in all of them, of course. Coca Cola is there everywhere, without exception; the Unites States’ malevolence yet again!
Conservative commentators on radio and on Facebook observe darkly that many or most of the migrants from the Middle East are of “military age,” perhaps portending a repeat of the many Muslim invasions of Europe ending only in the seventeenth century. Several comments are in order though I can’t make them in an orderly fashion.
First, a question lest I be accused of ignoring the issue: Will ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups use the exodus of Syrians and Iraqis to place undercover agents and terrorists in Europe. To ask the question is to answer it: Of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? It’s cheap and it’s easy.
Next: Many of the migrants are young men because, historically, everywhere, the first migrants are always young men. Second, they are of “military age” as some conservative observers pronounce breathlessly. Sure thing; many are fleeing the draft, precisely, a draft for a murderous war on in which they don’t believe. (A war many times more murderous than the Iraq war has been for Americans.) There is a third possibility that does not contradict the others and that casts a different light on the plausibility of these new migrants, these refugees being absorbed into European societies.
Many of the new migrants may be simply seizing the opportunity to flee from life in an Islamic society. (No, I don’t mean “Islamist.”) Here is the key: Islam maintains minimalist metrics about who is or isn’t a Muslim. By and large, if you were born in a Muslim family; if you are a male who was circumcised as a small child; if you don’t adopt another religion (at some risk to your life. See below) then, you are automatically a Muslim. No affirmative action is required, no behavior prescribed although some is proscribed: no alcohol, fasting in the day time and no daytime sex either – would I make this up? – for one month out of the year. With such lax standards, it would be amazing if many nominal Muslims were not lukewarm, or indifferent, or downright free thinkers.
With access to the Internet, the famed serenity of Islam may be indistinguishable from boredom. And the vaunted moral sternness of Islam may begin to seem like unbearable oppression: Ten lashes for a single beer (NOT in most Muslim countries, in some, it’s a simple fine)? Marriage to an indifferent-looking cousin without a chance to smell the flowers first. No rap, or little rap and in mental handcuffs. (I dislike rap myself; not the point.) And then, there is the shame even for individuals who are only reasonably educated: the shame of living in a less civilized part of the world with death as the penalty for conversion (not in all Muslim countries, perhaps rarely applied), the death penalty also for witches (uncommon, true, but happened recently in Saudi Arabia, and nowhere in the West, recently), death by stoning for adulterous women (not often applied but really calms amorous ardors); incidentally: adulterous = any sex outside of marriage, except in the Islamic Republic of Iran where two-week temporary “marriages” are encouraged. Remember also the grotesque sexual mutilation of little girls practiced on a vast scale in the Muslim world (only in some of it, SOME, and also practiced outside of it. And it’s NOT an Islamic practice; it just happens there a lot). And when young Muslim men in Yemen, in Somalia, and yes, in Syria and Iraq as well, hear that the unemployment rate among Muslim youths in France is as high as 30%, they think they are dreaming; they suspect a cheap propaganda trick: only 30%?
Just think about it. There are no doubt millions of Muslim youths who would do well in one of our colleges, who would get good grades, who would fit right in the coffee shop; the girls would even flirt with some of them. Many or most have some access to the wider world through the Internet and through movies. Some are rationalists not very different from your neighbor’s kids; some are much better rationalists than your neighbor’s kids if you live in Santa Cruz, California, for example (as I do). How much the meanness and the superstitions around such youths must lead to self-contempt and even to self-hatred when they realize that their own society is a lot like Europe was six hundred years ago? (To be fair, Europeans burned many more people alive, including thousands of witches, mostly older widows who owned some property, another story. It was then though. We have not done this for a long time.) There are many who would stay put otherwise for whom the sudden practical unlivability of their society pushes them over the rim, I would think.
There is a reason why I construct this frankly hypothetical view. If you dropped me in any French city, within an hour, I would be sitting with people with a Muslim first name and last name who would say this to me, “Why me, live where I – or my parents – are coming from? Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to live under the restrictions, sometimes under the gross oppression of a Muslim society? Don’t be stupid, I am French, I am a European, I am a Westerner.” (Incidentally, there is a remarkable autobiographical book in English describing the travails of a young Algerian’s multiple efforts to leave home for good. It’s called: Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind. It’s by Djaffar Chetouane.)
What about the Germans who have publicly promised to take in 800,000 refugees? (And who will probably seduce and bully other European countries to absorb an equal number between them, I would guess.) There are two ways to look at this, both valid.
First, everyone else has forgotten but the Germans themselves that in 1945 and 1946, there were millions of Germans on the roads of Europe, expelled from various countries, some in which they had lived for centuries, trudging on foot to a homeland they have never seen. Ordinary Germans have not forgotten the misery nor the giant successful efforts a ruined German deployed to give them roof and board, and work. More recently, when the hapless communist Democratic Republic of Germany collapsed from the inside in 1990, tens of thousands of “Osties” made their way to the West where they were generously accommodated too. “Been there,” many Germans think, “We did it under much worse circumstances. We can do it again.” Yes, the Germans have more compassion on refugee issues than other nations of Europe. Also, they know more, from the inside, about brutal dictatorships than do most other Europeans.
Second, as has been observed by many (I was scooped; I thought of it first!), there is Germany’s low fertility rate of 1.39 per woman. A low fertility rate has both proximate and long run consequences. In the long run, it means that you disappear as a people. In the shorter term – if and only if you have sturdy economy – it means that jobs go unfilled. This must be especially galling to Germans who have reasons to think that in every other way, almost alone among Europeans (almost), they have their act together. The Germans need bodies, preferably young bodies, now. And, they need children to pay tomorrow for the fairly generous benefits of the next retirees. Germans have good reasons to think favorably of mostly young men flooding into their country all reared up at no cost to them and ready to work. In addition, I garner from different press commentaries that many of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees are a different breed from the usual economic migrants. They seem more urban and better educated. (Many know English or French, some both.) It’s a cynical thing to say but this impression of middle-classness is re-inforced by the fact that they are able to pay the horrendous ransoms human traffickers extort from them.
Although Angela Merkel may have used the low German fertility rate argument as an afterthought, perhaps as a political way to make ordinary Germans amenable to the promise of accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees, it must have resonated among many Germans who can’t find employees or who are well aware of Germany’s demographic decline. Germany is not much worse off than other European countries in terms of fertility, incidentally. Italy is also at 1.39, Belgium at 1.55. None of the European countries pass the bar of 2.00 in the 2013 Eurostat. It’s generally accepted that the true replacement rate is 2.2 or 2.3 per woman, absent a catastrophe such as war or famine. Europe is disappearing before our eyes. Other European countries are less aware of their demographic decline because their economies are in bad shape and unemployment dominates every other issue in their collective narrative. As usual, Germany is ahead of the curve. (No, I am not stupidly, reflexively pro-German. Read my essay “the Best Meal and the Worst Meal Ever,” on this blog.)
Although immigration is almost always a net economic plus according to serious studies, it often carries a full load of negative social consequences. In this case, as I already mentioned, there is the near-certainty that Islamist terrorists will join the flood of good immigrants. But then, Germany will have hundreds of thousands of competent informants. (I believe the adage that good police work means having plenty of good informants.) I see a bad sign in the fact that many, most of the female refugees shown on TV wear the hijab, the head covering. It’s not required by Islam; it used to be uncommon in the major Muslim countries. The hijab directs you to a certain kind of retrograde Islam. It’s the kind of Islam where women must cover their hair in public lest they excite the lust of men and thus distract them from thinking of God. The hijab directs you to a culture where women in general are closer to the devil, where girls are poorly educated or not educated at all, where religious law is also civil law and it mandates that a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half a man’s testimony. A simple rule of thumb: If half an immigrant population must stay home, and it’s charged with rearing the next generation, it’s difficult for the whole immigrant group to assimilate or even to adapt. (Yes, I know, the parlous conditions for women I describe does not all, ALL, prevail in all Muslim countries.)
Second, it remains to be seen whether Germany will avoid again the curse for the second generation that is well demonstrated in France, next door. There, millions of immigrants mostly from North Africa, most of rural origin arrived with their sleeves turned up, ready to work, appreciative of the possibility of advancing themselves, of offering their children a better life than they could ever have back home. Their children, raised in France, end up sharing the sense of gloom common to most French young people but with a painful twist. They suffer additional disabilities, because of racism and because of Islamophobia to an extent, but also because they cannot but be incompletely socialized by their often illiterate immigrant parents. The young themselves don’t quite measure how much of a handicap reaching adulthood without benefit of a name, of family connections, of good adult examples constitute to succeeding in any society. (I do. You should read my book: I Used to Be French….) They only know they are getting the short end of the stick. Of course, the more stagnant the host society, the worse the handicap. Many of the children of appreciative immigrants accordingly become disaffected with the society where they live without really understanding why. This disaffection takes the form of drug abuse, of banditry, small and big, sometimes, seldom actually, of adherence to extremist creeds, for some, it’s of all three in turn. (The Charlie Hebdo terrorists, for example). The Germans have been there before however. They absorbed millions of Turks without experiencing much of this kind of mass alienation. Notably, in this case, they were stingy with citizenship and generous with employment opportunities, the reverse of the French formula.
We will see. Past the current immediate human suffering of the mass migration I am optimistic that Germany will keep its word and that other countries will be shamed into following the Germans. Our easy sense of doom often comes from a general human inability to contemplate the alternative. A mass of Syrians and some Iraqis of military age flood Europe. They may be viewed as a threat or you may think of them as so many fighters ISIS won’t force into its ranks or murder, of millions of children who will not grow up to be fanatics.
I am not losing track of the possibility that three dozen additional warplanes in the Middle East would do more to solve the present refugee crisis than all the European bumbling to absorb refugees.
Note: I did not say a thing about the US and Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal.
We have been working hard and we have been stressed by the unprincipled doings in Washington. So, here is a new story.
First, let me pull rank on you, reader. I was born and reared in France. I left when I was twenty-one. My godmother was a fine cook in the French tradition. She made it a point to train my palate from when I was a little kid, including with good wines. (You would be amazed to find out what two glasses of wine with lunch do to a seven-year old.) Then, I moved to San Francisco where it’s possible (though not easy) to find an excellent Chinese meal. I spent most of my adult life there, with frequent trips to Europe where I moved around as a dedicated gastronomy tourist, though not the moneyed kind. Once, for two weeks, I sampled the most expensive Japanese cuisine, possibly the best in the world overall. For a longer period, a Vietnamese lady with a fine pair of chopsticks graced my home and my kitchen with her presence. She was supplanted for thirty years following by an Indian lady who puts her pride in her cooking. I would like to tell you that the Vietnamese lady and the Indian lady had a kitchen cat-fight and that the latter won me as the prize but that would be stretching it
In any case, I am pretty sure I know more about food than anyone raised on burgers, fried chicken and Mom’s Sunday brisket and vegetables, even with Italian great-grandma’s Italian spaghetti thrown in occasionally. Yes, this sounds a little pretentious. So, what’s your point? Now that I have got you humbled, you will pay attention to the two demanding philosophical stories rolled into one below. Continue reading