A Word of Caution

Recent images of migrants making their way to Europe have left many wondering whether Europe should increase the number of refugees it accepts. The pictures are stark, and the routes taken by the migrants are long and arduous. In the absence of compelling reasons to turn such desperate refugees away, many in Europe feel that these people should be allowed to stay and work indefinitely.

Despite the initial appearances, however, governments should exercise caution in moving forward. The issue is that it’s not obvious that these refugees will take on the values that make Europe what it is – values of democracy, tolerance, and free speech for example. And it’s precisely the rejection of these values that has led to the present turmoil in the Middle East and certain parts of South Asia. Indeed, this is what has caused the current refugee crisis in the first place.

At first, this might seem like a crude over-generalization. It might seem that chaos in the Middle East is surely the work of a minority of extremists. The vast majority of Muslims in these regions are moderate — why not give these people a chance to make a fresh start in Europe or America?

As much as we would like to believe this is true, the evidence bears strongly against this picture. A recent poll by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that 84% of Muslims in South Asia and 74% in the Middle East supported Sharia as the official law of the land. These are big numbers! Granted, the numbers would be benign depending on what “support for Sharia” meant.

But consider this. Among the people who support Sharia in South Asia, a median of 78% want “religious judges to oversee family law,” 81% want “severe corporeal punishments for criminals” (this includes punishing adulterers by stoning, for example), and an astonishing 76% want to execute those who leave Islam. In the Middle East, the numbers are slightly lower, but do not inspire much confidence – they are 78%, 57% and 56% respectively.

Even though many of these people might not use violence to promote these ideals – as the extremists do – they nonetheless are bound to change the European political landscape once they are given the right to vote.

But perhaps having a multicultural society means that people of different political and ethical ideas can still get along together through dialogue. And it’s often claimed that it would be intolerant and bigoted to try to exclude immigrants because of their personal beliefs.

There is a problem with that line of thinking in this case, however. The problem is that a multicultural society is only sustainable in the long run if all the subgroups within it have a “live-and-let-live” attitude towards each other. And it’s not clear that the present wave of migrants would fit that bill.

An earlier Pew poll found that a stunning 100%, 99% and 98% of Muslims surveyed in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, respectively had an “unfavourable attitude towards Jews.” These are not attitudes of toleration. It would have been a different matter if the survey asked for attitudes towards Israel, but the prompt specifically mentioned “Jews.”

Throughout the Islamic world, religious minorities face high levels of discrimination and violence. Recently, Christians have faced violence in the Iraq/Syria region to the point that their numbers have fallen from at least 800,000 in 2003 to 400,000 in 2011, according to the Guardian. Given that these numbers are from a period before the rise of ISIS, it’s hard to believe that the violence and discrimination against Christians is only the work of a few extremists. Elsewhere, many Islamic countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia) only allow Muslims to be citizens. And laws against “blasphemy” apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Perhaps these numbers are besides the point if we can reasonably expect assimilation. The thought here is that when the refugees start living and working in Europe or America, they will slowly adopt the values of toleration, democracy, and equal liberty. There may be some truth to this, and indeed, many immigrants from the Islamic world do adopt more liberal values once they move to the West.

However, large chunks of these immigrants – even up to later generations – continue to hold anti-liberal values. Take for instance, the marches that occurred in England under the slogan “Democracy is Cancer, Islam is the Answer.” Or the “Sharia Patrols” that move around in London instructing people to avoid alcohol, and shouting at women who appear “immodest.” Or the rise of anti-Semitic violence caused by French Muslims, with protesters yelling things like “gas the Jews!” Or the thousands of Europeans who have joined ISIS (which is among the main reasons for the current crisis in the first place).

Moreover, such attitudes seem to persist among people admitted as refugees. Recall that the Boston Marathon bombers came to America as refugees from Chechnya.

What to do in light of this? One thing European governments might do more of is to put pressure on other Middle Eastern countries to accept more refugees – Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the like. In this way, the West could avoid having to face and accommodate a clash of values within itself, while at the same time allowing refugees from Syria and elsewhere to escape war-torn situations. Another option is for the UN to do more to set up adequate refugee camps within the region.

The main problem with allowing large numbers of Muslim refugees to settle in Europe or America is that granting residency or citizenship will have long-term consequences. The West will have to deal with a clash of values within itself for generations to come, and the strength of its secular democratic institutions will be undermined. Much better then, to find more local solutions.

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