Mass migration, cultural conflict, and the fear of terrorism: dilemmas of the democratic West.

Author:Farer, Tom
Position:2016 Myres S. McDougal Distinguished Lecture

    There is no reason to believe that 2015 was the high-water mark of migration, documented and undocumented, from the lands of mass poverty to the wealthy and comparatively well-ordered countries of the West. In the next thirty-five years, tens of millions more people are likely to begin the trek to the West driven by the economic, social and political pathologies of the lands of their birth and pulled by visions of affluence and security. Some will seek entry invoking the right to be protected from persecution. (1) Others implicitly will invoke a moral right to build a better life for themselves and their families. (2) The world's population is headed toward 11 billion or more by the end of the century (3) in the absence of nuclear war or collision with a large asteroid or the discovery by nihilists of how to combine the lethality of Ebola with the contagiousness of the common cold. Less than twenty years ago, the conventional wisdom among demographers was that the world's population would peak in 2050 at 9 billion. (4) Now, according to United Nations (UN) reports, it is expected to hit almost 10 billion by mid-century and surpass 11 billion by 2100. (5)

    The largest bulk of that growth will occur in Africa. Experts estimate that a population that has already grown 50 percent in the last fifteen years will by 2050 double from the present 1.25 billion to approximately 2.5 billion and continue to surge toward 4 billion by the century's end. (6) To convey a sense of what that means for individual countries, Nigeria's population alone is projected to leap from today's roughly 180 million to 500 million by mid-century (7) and the population in the risibly misnamed Democratic Republic of the Congo should expand from the current 75 million (an increase of 55 million since 1970) to 194 million. (8) Meanwhile, most of the rich countries will shrink absent large-scale immigration. Japan, to take an extreme case, with its 1.1 birthrate is projected to diminish from 120 million to less than 100 million by the middle of the century. (9) Italy, Spain, and Germany tag closely behind. (10)

    In Asia, Pakistan's increasingly violent and dysfunctional society will likely add 50 million people just in the next fifteen years. Swelling numbers are also predicted for Afghanistan, from today's roughly 25 million to 55 million in 2050. (11)

    Demographic pressure in the Middle East and North Africa present a particularly daunting picture for European political leaders concerned about managing immigration. In the second half of the twentieth Century, the population of the Middle East and North Africa increased fourfold, from about 93 to 347 million people. (12) Furthermore, that number is projected to double in the next thirty-five years, becoming roughly 680 million tightly packed persons by 2050. (13)

    Powerful push factors beyond sheer numbers are at work in parts of the Global South. Anarchic violence, civil war, and persecution have already driven more than 60 million people from their traditional homes. (14) Some are displaced within national territories; others have fled across borders. (15)

    Potentially dwarfing the numbers fleeing violence and persecution are the tens of millions of young people arriving at the door of the labor markets of developing countries, which seem incapable of bringing them into stable employment much less opportunities to prosper. In the Middle East and North Africa, 60 percent of the population is now under the age of twenty-five. (16) Less than 50 percent of people aged sixteen to thirty have regular employment and prospects for improvement in that figure are dim. (17) For many young job searchers, formal educational qualifications appear irrelevant: According to the World Bank, 30 percent of the unemployed in the Middle East and North Africa are university graduates, the victims of low quality education and a lack of relevant job skills, as well as insufficient private sector capital investment and persistent misgovernment. (18) Conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many governments are hardly more than vertically integrated criminal conspiracies for the extraction of wealth from tortured societies, are just as grim or grimmer. (19)

    The swelling migrant tide has fueled a political reaction which is proving much more toxic in Europe than in the United States. In this country, a coalition of liberals, big business, agricultural interests and members of earlier diaspora battle on the whole effectively in favor of continuing immigration on a scale calculated to bring the US population of almost 500 million by the middle of the century. (20) The issue of migration is more toxic in European politics in part because it has become entangled in the politics of cultural conflict, inequality and economic stagnation.


    Cultural conflict in the United States is conducted largely among the long-settled inhabitants, most sharply between devout evangelicals and conservative Catholics, on the one hand, and social liberals and libertarians, on the other, between addicts of Fox News and consumers of the New York Times. Although traditionalists have not disappeared from West European countries, (21) for the past several decades social liberals have occupied the commanding heights of politics and culture. Nominally the faith of the great majority of West Europeans, Christian piety is more a background to contemporary society than an active presence. It does not aggressively combat the sunny hedonism of day-to-day life among the middle classes. To paraphrase Ronald Dworkin, Western Europe is a secular space where religion is more wallpaper than immediate presence. (22) The US is a religious country in which religious indifference is tolerated. (23)

    Since World War II, a steady stream of Muslim immigrants has entered Continental Europe from Turkey, North, and to a lesser degree. West Africa. In the United Kingdom, the stream's headwaters are primarily in South Asia. Despite a very long history of Moslem-Christian conflict, the first wave of migrants from predominantly Muslim countries did not generate anxiety, in part because the migrants were needed to fill gaps in the labor force opened by the Post World War II economic boom, and in part because particularly in the continental countries governments assumed that the migrants were in essence guest workers who would return to their countries of origin when they were no longer needed. (24) This expectation proved false. Most migrants stayed, their families joined them, and, as usually occurs, the existence of diaspora communities encouraged and facilitated new waves of migration even after the post-war European economies lost their exuberance. Meanwhile, opportunities for the less skilled members of the indigenous population and a fortiori for the second and third generations of immigrant families have been eroding in the face of the economic transformations and disruptions resulting from globalization and technological change.

    Three other developments have turned the growing presence of migrants, but particularly migrants who identify as Muslim, into a ferocious political issue. One is simply numbers: A growing Muslim presence has become increasingly manifest at the grassroots level of society as Muslims have sought space for public worship and burial according to Muslim traditions and legal authority to slaughter animals in accordance with Halal law. (25) A second development has been the perceptible alienation of many of the children and grandchildren of the first immigrant wave and their disproportionate presence in the prison population. The recent phenomenon of a limited number of young men and women, not all from poor families, (26) departing Europe to join ISIS has sharpened the perception of alienation.

    Developments within the Muslim World have been a third factor generating Islamophobia in European politics. An aggressive, intolerant piety, hostile to the liberal norms which in Europe have displaced those of Christian traditionalism, has gained increasing traction among Muslim populations worldwide, but particularly in the Arab-speaking sub-world. Its affective power there is in part the result of the political and military failure of Arab nationalism, a secular ideology of integration and modernization which briefly captured the imagination of educated Arabs in the decades before and just after the Second World War. The deflation of Arab nationalism left a vacuum into which a species of Islamic thought analogous to Christian fundamentalism rushed in. But it has also gained powerful traction in non-Arab countries like Pakistan. (27)

    Funded principally by Saudi oil wealth,28 the spread of fundamentalist theology within Islam coincided with the demographic explosion I have already mentioned. (29) It coincided as well with a vast movement of people from the countryside into the region's cities (30) bringing with them patriarchal traditions to which fundamentalist Islam gave a theological legitimacy which could be wielded against the condescension of sophisticated urban elites.

    The spread of fundamentalist piety also coincided, of course, with armed militancy spurred initially by the successful call for jihad against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan and then reinforced by the difficulties Arab and West Asian Governments have had in coping with the twin stresses of mushrooming population growth and rocketing urbanization. Also fueling militancy, has been the increasing militarized presence of the West in the Middle East and West Asia and its association with repressive governments unable to help their swollen populations enter the precincts of that lavish consumerism which the popular majority witness in the media and in the lives of a small upper class. It is not, therefore, surprising that the call for jihad against the "far enemy", as Osama Bin Laden described the...

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