Category Archives: Refugees

INTERVIEW ON IDENTITY POLITICS AND THE RISE OF THE PARTY ISLAM

In the debate surrounding immigration, integration, religious fanaticism and radicalism, all too often the debate is about the migrants, but not involving migrants. Today, Dr Sid Lukkassen discusses these topics with Manel Mselmi: a young woman of Tunisian origin who is active for Mouvement Réformateur in Belgium. She is currently a PhD candidate in environmental humanities, a talk show host and a blogger. Sid published several books on topics such as geopolitics, humanism, media analysis and the culture wars and, from 2010 – 2018, he was active as a city councillor (VVD)

Manel: I am happy to begin this discussion. An Islamic political party was recently created in Belgium. Hasn’t something similar happened in the Netherlands?

Sid: A few years ago, two MPs split off from the Labour Party (PvdA) and established DENK. The MPs were from a a Turkish background and the party is focused on migrant issues. I would not hesitate to call this identity politics. This party is on the rise, particularly in major cities.

Manel: I noticed that identity politics is also a theme in my municipality. Some years ago, a large share of cultural subsidies were used for a film festival that accentuated a particular migrant community, but the general cultural curriculum was ignored.

Sid: Did you speak out about it, at the time?

Manel: It bothered me because it was so one-sided: things like Western literature were ignored as a result. I could not escape the impression that Labour were doing this to win migrant votes. People from my community said that the left was doing to help migrants and that I, being of migrant descent, shouldn’t criticise. However, I pointed out that this approach only pushes migrants into a group identity; liberals should do the opposite and emphasize the opportunities and rights of individuals.

Sid: What you noticed back then, was the cocoon of identity politics being spun. The Party Islam is the butterfly that hatched from that cocoon.

Manel: At least now the left is forced to see what they have created, directly or indirectly. What bothers me is that we have no parties with real values at the core of their programs. In any case those values are so watered down that the main parties appear to be the same. By contrast, the Party Islam exudes a strong sense of identity that will appeal to many who feel spiritually and politically uprooted.

Sid: I guess we can say that the left never demanded integration as part of its message to the migrant voter. Instead, they wanted to tap into this electorate through migrant identitarian statements. For example, party programs written in foreign languages or by advocating policies with some Islamic accents here and there. But now, politically active Muslims realize that the left doesn’t offer a strong base for the future. The left – especially the cultural left – hasn’t done much to support traditional families. However, family is a core value of Islam. The left tries to tweak society, but Islam, especially when it becomes political, presents its own model of society.

Manel: That adds up with what I said before, that all the parties begin to look more alike, with the Party Islam then being a strong and demographically viable alternative. If this continues, we move to a state of society where the demographic question takes over the political sphere. Then, labels like ‘liberal’ or ‘social democratic’ will mean less and less in practice.

Sid: Do you consider yourself mostly as a politician, public intellectual or academic?

Manel: I may be a woman from a ‘minority’ background, but I feel mostly driven to defend the Western liberties. I never allowed any identitarian issue to hold me back in my career. Personally, I see you as a fellow relevant thinker on today’s debate on identity and Islam. You can be a successful politician, but your problem is that you are brave enough to be direct and straightforward when presenting your ideas. I can relate to how it would mean that one is sometimes criticised by their own community.

Sid: Politics is a snaky business, and moving up in politics has more to do with in-crowd networking than with developing original ideas. Many politicians seem not to care about that. They are formed by decades of peace and prosperity, and cannot see the real danger of a society becoming dysfunctional.

Manel: Sometimes I am disappointed because democracy can be very vulnerable. I do believe strongly in Western values but it is complicated – we are in an ideological war. It’s strong but also risky that you address these concerns in a direct manner.

Sid: I am confident that my direct style will reach people, even if it takes time. People will hear me better once the system of the current elite begins to crumble. This could be quite fast given that they [the elite] ignore constructive criticism, as you’ve noticed.

Manel: We have to raise awareness among young people about the need to be engaged in politics and fight against extremist parties. Secularism and individual liberties need to be preserved.

Sid: In that sense, you and I have something in common with the Party Islam. Meaning that we try to build awareness and political influence not from the top – as the top tends not to listen – but from the bottom.

Manel: We need truly driven people for this political challenge: convinced and determined ones to build networks.

Sid: It is the only way. From my activities in the media, academic world and by being an elected representative for eight years, my impression is that if you go knock at the gates of the elites to give report from society and to tell them the story from the streets, then you will be portrayed as a ‘racist’.

Manel: This is definitely true. But they forget that values, once you lose them, are hard to grow back as a basis for society. In any case our media activities are a good step to create awareness. Following from this, migrants stop to trust the left parties and they begin to see how they have been used.

Sid: DENK attacks and shames the migrants who are active for other political parties. By doing this, they seek to unify the migrant community as one solid political block. They try to distance those other politically active migrants from that group. But if their aim succeeds, then there is always the chance that all the other blocks will team up against them, since the migrant vote at that point won’t benefit any other party.

Manel: Things will get more polarized from now. Whatever happens – I am glad to share these thoughts with you and to develop our ideas. I feel that I am not alone in this struggle, and hope that our discussion will inspire other young intellectuals.

To conclude, a critique of the identitarian left is often perceived as being disrespectful towards minorities and as violating their rights. The left fears that such criticism leads to ‘second rate citizens’, but they cannot argue with demography; nor can they play their victimhood status trump card when the critical voices come from the minorities themselves, who have experienced what political Islam means in their countries of origin. The left thus generally avoids this debate, as engaging in it could jeopardize their morally superior status.

Advertisements

Helping refugees is not enough: we must prevent future refugee disasters

Starting from the official migration data in Europe, Erik Solbu analyse the phenomenon in search of possible solutions that – apart from welcoming and helping those who run from poverty and war- can stem the escape, also intervening in the countries involved

How many immigrants are welcome to Europe?

For many years there has been a conflict in the migration issue between liberals claiming human rights to free movement and xenophobians opposing all forms of immigration of people with different skin color and background. While the former focus on the benefits of immigration, the latter only see disadvantages.

Despite the wonderful idea of a boundless world, we cannot, unfortunately, ignore the fact that free immigration would lead to major problems in Europe. Direct problems caused by immigration itself as well as indirect problems caused by increasing xenophobia and extremism. Although we find those totally against immigration wrong, too many immigrants lead to chaos in our societies. This was the case in 2015 when 1.39 million asylum seekers entered EU(28).

Region/

country

Population

millions

Asylum seekers 2014 Asylum seekers 2015 Asylum seekers 2016
Thousands % of pop. Thousands % of pop. Thousands % of pop.
EU28 510 662 0.13 1,394 0.27 1,293 0.25
Germany 82 203 0.24 477 0.58 745 0.91
Sweden 10 81 0.8 162 1.62 29 0.29

The table above shows the number of asylum seekers to Europe (EU(28) with separate reports for the two most generous countries (Germany and Sweden). Taking into account the chaos that broke out when the reception capacity was exceeded and consequential political acts, we may make the following conclusions: An inflow of more than 1% immigrants relative to the population does not work, while an inflow of 0.25% seems manageable. The maximum inflow of immigrants to the whole EU28 thus lies between 1 and 5 million per year, provided immigrants are more eqaually distributed among the countries.  The German Christian Democrats recently set a target value of 200,000 immigrants per year (= 0.25 % of the population). Therefore, although we may wish for a higher reception of refugees, the longterm influx of immigrants to Europe will probably not be much higher than about 1 million people per year.

How shall we chose which immigrants to stay?

UNHCR Report Forced Displacement in 2016: “Over the past two decades, the global population of forced migrants has increased significantly from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016, and it is still high.”

The most acute problem is currently caused by the war in Syria, but there is no reason to believe that refugee problems will disappear if that war ceases. Probably, if nothing radically is done, problems creating migration will increase even more over the next 30 years. As it is, how can we know that just the people who manage to enter the borders of Europe are the ones most in need of shelter, as there is a massive amount of refugees that never come in question for asylum?

It is easy to argue for asylum rights under the Geneva Convention, while at the same time you are doing everything you can to make it difficult for refugees to enter Europe. Those who succeed do so at risk of losing their lives in the Mediterranean. I see this attitude as immoral and therefore I have proposed to the EU Commissioner for migration a policy based on asylum centres outside the EU and a quota system for distributing refugees between the member countries. Recently the Swedish political party Moderaterna and a group among Kristdemokraterna (both EPP members) have proposed a similar policy.

How can we prevent future refugee disasters?

Up to now EU has done little or nothing to prevent situations giving rise to refugee disasters. We may not have been strong enough, but certainly we have not been determined enough. The colonial past of Europe has partly paralyzed us so we do not intervene when humans suffer in countries around us.

One exception was Libya, where the dictator was overthrown with help from Europe (and the United States), but as soon as this was done, the country was left helpless. The confusion that arose after we left Libya to its destiny was later used as argument for doing nothing in the case of Syria. The total non-involvement in Syria led, however, to tremendously much higher problems than in Libya.

A lesson to be learnt from this is that Europe must have an active attitude for dealing with problems in our surroundings. If a military action is needed, this must be part of a plan for stabilizing the country on a long term. There is also the question whether Europe henceforth can rely on the assistance of the United States. The answer is most probably not. We must admit that the problems are ours and we must have the capability to solve them ourselves.

Situations where military actions are needed are exceptional and create suffering. Therefore it is important to act for avoiding such circumstances. The development of civilian communities in our neighbourhood is not only humanly, but also to our own advantage. We do best with democratic, prosperous countries around us and must work for this in many different ways.

One specific problem that may destroy whatever effort we may do to stabilize the countries around us is high population growth, which takes place in most vulnerable countries in the world and inevitably leads to deterioration of living conditions and to conflicts.

In Africa, the forecast is that the population will double from 1.2 to 2.4 billion by 2050. If we continue to do as little as now for the people in our environment, Europe will either be flooded by refugees even more than autumn 2015, or forced into even more frustrating methods to keep suffering outside Europe’s borders. In both cases, this will lead to disasters and destroy our humanistic values. To prevent this, a massive, all-European initiative is needed to counter the evolving development.

A central action will be the powerful actions for birth control in the most vulnerable countries. In most of the sub-Saharan countries, five-six children are now born per woman and the population is growing faster than the economy, which inevitably causes catastrophic consequences if nothing is done.

Conclusion

If nothing dramatic is done, the number of migrants will most likely increase in the future. However, rather than only focus on problems caused by migration, we must get the European politicians to act to prevent future refugee disasters. There seems to be a willingness to spend 2 % of GDP for military defence. Actions to stabilize our surroundings are as important and should certainly also be allowed to cost. Only in this way can we maintain our decency and democracy.

Erik Solbu