Europe is changing to accommodate Islam, says US author

Christopher Caldwell: 'Europe lacks ideals and vision.'
By Marc Leijendekker

Immigration is changing Europe and not for the better, says US author Christopher Caldwell. "You can't argue that immigration is necessary on economic grounds and then not look at the economic effects."

In Germany the number of immigrants grew from 3 million in 1971 to 7.5 million in 2000, but the number of immigrants with jobs remained more or less equal, at around 2 million.

This is the kind of statistic that Christopher Caldwell likes to point out, because it illustrates a blind spot that politicians in most Western European countries have when it comes to the economic and social cost of immigration, he says.

Caldwell, an American writer and a journalist, has written a polemic book about the issue: Reflections on the revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the same with different people in it?

In a nutshell: the economic benefits of immigration were short-lived and marginal while the social consequences have been far-reaching and have led to a watering-down of traditional European values.

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Flesh and blood people

Critics of the book often argue that it is inappropriate to discuss the cost of immigration because it is about flesh and blood people. Caldwell thinks this is absurd.

"The question about the economic cost of immigration is entirely legitimate. The justification for [the] mass immigration [of the seventies] was economic too: Europe's industry needed guest workers. You can't argue that immigration is necessary on economic grounds and then not look at the economic effects."

American economists like George Borjas and David Card have done extensive research into the economic effects of immigration in the US. "Far too little such research has been done in Western European countries with high immigration," Caldwell said during a recent telephone interview from Washington, DC. Had it been done, Caldwell thinks, the perspective on mass immigration would have been radically changed.

'The welfare state is like a dying industry that needs to be rescued with foreign immigrants'

Christopher Caldwell

From the mid-fifties until the mid-seventies, countries like Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium set up programmes for guest workers. Their net impact on the economy has not been positive, Caldwell argues.

"Rather, they were a brake on the rise in productivity. The main effect was that industries that were doomed to become extinct were allowed to stay afloat a couple of years longer, such as the steel industry or shipyards."

Selective immigration

All too often people argue that immigration is necessary to fill those jobs that local workers refuse to do, says Caldwell. "But as soon as immigrants have settled in, they too run away from those jobs. Europe would have done better to choose for selective immigration, like Canada." Britain, Ireland and Switzerland now have successful programmes to attract foreign doctors, but Caldwell says Europe still hasn't embraced selective immigration wholeheartedly.

He also rejects the argument that immigrants are needed to compensate for the ageing population of Western Europe.

"Perhaps this is partly true for the services industry, like nursing or the restaurant business. But it is philosophically illogical to bring people from poor parts of the world to your country and think that by having them work and pay taxes, you will be able to pay the pensions of the rich. It is also nonsense from an economic point of view. These people will eventually retire themselves. In the long term, the welfare state will not be able to deal with its internal contradictions and will inevitably have to become less generous. In that sense, the welfare industry is like a dying industry that needs to be rescued with foreign immigrants."

In your book, you write that Europe became an immigration region ‘in a fit of absence of mind’, without a public debate or conscious choices. Would immigration have been less conflictual and more controllable if countries had openly chosen to become immigration countries?

'You will never hear an American say what you hear in Amsterdam, that immigrants don't want to work'

Caldwell: "I have never completely understood that definition. I first heard the expression 'immigration country' from a German woman. She said that America should allow an unlimited number of immigrants in and Germany none. When I asked her why she said: 'America is an immigration country, Germany isn't.’ To me that means that Americans are more open towards immigration, whereas European society is much more normative."

Has immigration been forced upon us then, by powerful economic interests?

"The way immigration came about in Europe does show the economic interests behind it, even if they were all short-term gains. Germany is a good example. The Gastarbeiterprogram was well-intended: young men would come from a variety of countries to work for two years and then return go back home. But companies thought: why would we send good workers back after we've invested so much in them? It was much more logical to keep the workers and have them bring their families over."

What is your advice to European countries struggling with immigration issues?

"France could set the example. There are many problems with how president Sarkozy runs his country, but his approach to immigration is sound. He acknowledges the religious impulse of Muslim immigrants, but he refuses to make concessions where crime is concerned. More importantly, he is confident that French law is the proper instrument to control this problem. Many other countries have lost this confidence. Take Spain for instance. There is a lot of ambiguity in prime minister Zapatero's approach. When the country needed more immigrants some years ago he declared a general amnesty - allowing people to freely travel on to other European countries. But when a lot of Africans started arriving on the Spanish beaches in small fishing boats a couple of summers ago, he asked for help from Europe. It is unclear where the responsibility lies."

You note that the argument for letting immigrants in has changed over the years: from economic necessity to moral duty.

"During the research for my book I found that immigration is controversial everywhere. Many Americans are against immigration too. But you will never hear an American say what you hear people in Amsterdam say, that immigrants don't want to work. In the US nearly all immigrants are employed. Unemployment among immigrants is extremely low. You can be anti-immigration in America, but there is a fundamental respect for immigrants at the same time. That's something you don't see too often in Europe. And as far as moral duty is concerned: the solidarity principle and the asylum policy in Europe have been extended too far. Solidarity is fine but it has its limits."

'Europe needs more politicians like Sarah Palin who reflect the traditional values of immigrants'

But that’s mixing up two different categories: economic refugees and asylum seekers.

"There is a lot of confusion. The boundaries between asylum seekers and economic refugees have become blurred. Differentiating between them gives you a better understanding of the obligation you have towards people. If someone is not personally threatened by the state or - if there is no state like in Somalia - by the powers that be, he is not a legitimate political refugee. You have to be practical with your solidarity. China's one-child policy is a clear case of political repression, but you can't open your borders to all the Chinese women who have a problem with that."

Another theme in your book are the social and cultural aspects of immigration. You write: "In no country in Europe does the bulk of the population aspire to live in a bazaar of world cultures".

"People in Europe have been far too reluctant to look at the cultural factors. There had been so much violence, so much misery in the [second world] war. For this reason people didn't want or didn't dare tell the immigrants: this is how we do things over here and if you don't like it you can leave."

Isn't work the best way to integrate, to overcome cultural differences?

"I don't think people become less assertive culturally once they find their place in the economy. And there is another essential element to the problems Europe is having with immigrants. Developments in mass media have changed the dynamics behind immigration. Twenty years ago an immigrant in England watched the BBC and Monty Python. Now he watches Al Jazeera. That has big consequences for the way immigrants deal with cultural differences and how they participate in society.

"European countries would have more success integrating immigrants if they had more politicians like Sarah Palin [the Republican running mate in the 2008 US presidential election]. Someone who comes to Los Angeles from a traditional village in El Salvador brings along traditional ideas about the position of women, homosexuality, abortion. If he turns towards national politics he will see his traditional values reflected, however imperfectly, in people like Sarah Palin. Most immigrants in Europe today are Muslims. But the Muslims who come to Europe don't find see anything there that reflects their traditional values."

You warn against the influence of Islam in Europe. "Immigration doesn't strengthen or affirm European culture; it is taking it place. Europe doesn't welcome its new residents; it gives way to them," you write.

'Some countries are changing laws that are deeply rooted in European culture to laws that try to mediate between cultures'

"I'm not suggesting that all European countries will be ruled by a council of Muslim clerics, or that Islam will become the dominant culture. It's not about radical scenarios like that. What I'm talking about is deep changes to Europe's core values, in order to accommodate Islam. A good example is the discussion in the Netherlands about criminalising blasphemy. Or the French court that agreed with a Muslim man who wanted to have his marriage annulled because his wife wasn't a virgin.

"Some countries are changing their laws, from laws that are deeply rooted in European culture to laws that try to mediate between cultures. Look at Denmark. If you had told a Dane a few years back that there would be a law banning young Danish citizens who marry foreigners from outside the European Union from living in Denmark for a number of years, he would have called you crazy. But there is a law now doing exactly that, and people don't just accept it on a pragmatic level; they actively support it."

Isn't that part of the dynamics of society?

"I see it as making concessions. The natural dynamic of a society should be towards more democracy, more freedom of speech. Now it is going the other way. Of course respecting someone else's religion is an ideal too. But the traditional European approach has been to give priority to freedom of expression over respect for someone else's religion. The fact that is changing is not because Europeans have become more religious, but because they are afraid of a conflict with the Muslim minority."

You don't see it as respect for the other?

"It is a sign of respect if you take people's convictions seriously and you recognise that is not obvious for different cultures to integrate. Europa has to choose for a more restrictive immigration policy. It also needs to make a more realistic assessment of how open European culture can be towards other cultures. Europe today lacks large, metaphysical ideals, self-confidence and a vision for the future. When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter."

Calculating the cost of immigration

  • In July 2009 Sietse Fritsma, a member of parliament for Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV), officially requested a cost-benefit analysis of the presence of non-Western immigrants in the Netherlands. Fritsma asked for detailed calculations from all twelve Dutch ministries.

  • But on September 4 integration minister Eberhard van der Laan (Labour) said in a letter to parliament that the government will not be responding to the PVV's request. "Western and non-Western immigrants are members of our society. Their presence cannot be reduced to a simple sum," wrote Van der Laan.

  • A few attempts were made in the past to make a cost-benefit analysis of immigration in the Netherlands.

  • In 1999 economist Pieter Lakeman published the controversial Enter without knocking in which he estimated that Moroccan and Turkish immigrants had cost the Dutch state around 70 billion guilders (31.8 billion euros) in the past twenty years.

  • The most commonly quoted figures are from the report Immigration and the Dutch Economy, published by the bureau for economic policy analysis CPB in 2003. The CPB estimated that every non-Western immigrant family costs the state on average 230.000 euros. A 25-year-old immigrant who comes to the Netherlands will cost roughly 3.000 euros per year he spends in the Netherlands, according to the CPB.
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