Our news this week has been inundated with stories of the tragic plight of immigrants and refugees finding their way to Europe. The floodgates have opened, and who knows when they will close?
Some countries have certainly been more welcoming than others. Earlier this year the Hungarian government ran billboards letting foreigners know that they are not welcome. More recently, the government constructed a controversial fence on its southern border with Serbia. Denmark (in which a right-wing government recently came to power) has also sent unwelcome signs to migrants and refugees. The country re-imposed border checks this summer (arising fears from Brussels that the integrity of the Schengen zone is under attack) and has recently begun an anti-refugee ad campaign.
Is it any surprise that not all Europeans stand to welcome refugees with open arms? After all, for centuries European identity has been defined by skin color and religion. What do the [stereotypical] Swede, Frenchman, Irishman, Russian, and German all have in common? White, and Christian (although Christianity comes in many shades and varieties). In the last half-millennium Europeans have battled to keep Muslims out of Europe: from the Spaniards’ and Portuguese reconquista of the Iberian peninsula to the Hungarian and Austrian battles against Ottoman encroachments in southeast Europe. A few muslim-majority countries remain in Europe–Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina–but these are poor, marginalized countries that have not been integrated into the EU.
With ever-increasing numbers of brown-skinned, Allah-fearing people entering European lands, the traditional European faces an existential crisis. Is change scary? Of course. Can change be good? Definitely. The right-wing fear of Europe turning into “Belgistan,” and chapels being paved for mosques, is quite unfounded. Mehdi Hasan reminds us on Al Jazeera’s ‘UpFront’ that the current number of refugees make up less than one percent of the EU population. As if that tiny fraction could take down Paris’ Notre Dame or Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia!!
In my opinion, Europeans should spend less time worrying how to keep the refugees out, and more time integrating those who are already here. The murderer’s behind January’s Charlie Hebdo killings were muslims marginalized by French society. If Germany’s thousands of Syrians and Libyans are marginalized, how many dozens more terrorist attacks will we have on our hands? The solution is to stop the hate, and make these people feel welcome. Most of them aren’t leaving. And every culture has something to teach the other. Germany, and other countries, will not be harmed by ethnic diversity. Rather, they have the potential to become more vibrant, fascinating, and productive. But whether that happens is in the hand of the Europeans themselves.