Anti-immigration and anti-islam tendencies in Europe
Europe is a multicultural continent. After decades of a steady influx of people from Africa and Asia, the continent is nowadays home to residents of all major religions and cultures. When you walk through a big European city, it feels like a journey around the world. You can hear different languages at every corner and visit loads of groceries or restaurants selling foreign products. Also, there are nowadays big Jewish and Islamic communities and churches in European cities. With the amount of foreigners still increasing, Europe is going through a dramatic change. It is evolving from an overall Christian continent into an intercultural, interreligious one.
However, this process has evoked a lot of fears in parts of the 'indigenous' European populations. They do not feel comfortable with that change. The causes are devastating. They play a part in the rise of nationalist parties all over Europe, as the French Front National and the British UKIP party. Also, as in Germany, people go onto the streets to protest against the 'islamization' or also the 'alienation' of the countries the way they used to now them.
To elaborate, in Germany, there has been a movement called Pegida for a few weeks now, in the East German city Dresden. Pegida means 'Patriotic Europeans against the islamization of the West'. Participants are marching for stricter policies towards refugees, but do also demand a stronger assimilation of migrants. Moreover, it is their aim to defend Europe's Christian values, which they think are in peril because of the heavy influx of people from other cultures.
Besides the fear Europe may alienate from its values, they are frightened by ISIS and terror attacks. They are anxious Muslim migrants may spread terror to Germany and may try to build a Sharia-like state on the long term. Furthermore, they believe Germany is accepting way too many refugees. They say there would be too many economic migrants who come to Germany just to profit from its welfare system.
The 'Pegida' movement in Germany, gradually increasing, could mobilize 17,500 people at its last rally on Monday. Nevertheless, they and their demands have been condemned by German politicians and the German media. The general secretary of the German social democratic party, Yasmin Fahimi, even went as far as calling them 'a shame for Germany'. Media and politicians try everything to portray the group as a radical faction at the edge of society, a group you cannot have a serious discussion with.
The positive net immigration into Europe has had a profound effect. In some cities in Germany, as for example in Frankfurt, the percentage of the migrant population is more than 40 % and even higher in some city quarters. However, there are no sign that this process will stop. Nowadays, more people than ever try to get to Europe, especially from Africa. Current estimates say there will be a net movement of 55 million immigrants to Europe until 2060, pushing its population from 507 million to 523 million in 2060.
The fear that Europe will loose its original values and will be ruled by authoritarian, illiberal Islamic extremists, is inappropriate. Also, economic refugees and immigrants in general do not seem to harm Europe.
Many immigrants that came within the last 60 years are nowadays well integrated. In Germany, more and more immigrants graduate from high school or even college and they do nowadays go to politics and start businesses. After decades of difficulty, they start to become an enriching part of European societies. Additionally, there were movements all over Europe of Muslims who distanced themselves from ISIS. That shows that European Muslims are not in favor of radical groups.
Moreover, immigrants form a major economical factor. Europe is a continent whose population would be naturally decreasing when there would be no immigrants, since its fertility rate is only about 1.6 children per woman. In order to maintain its population size and therewith its position as the biggest single market in the world, it needs immigrants. There is no indication that birth rates in Europe rise again to the level they were at in the 1950s or 1960s.
Statistics on the amount of welfare benefits migrants claim do not show that they exploit them heavily, at least not in the UK. And some studies even suggest immigration boosts the economy.
Additionally, just let us have a quick thought: If you would be an economical migrant/refugee, coming from a country where you had no work, would you like to come to Europe and live a life where you do nothing and just claim benefits? Probably not. Immigrants come to Europe, willing to work and to live the 'European way of live'. We have to find smarter ways to integrate refugees and immigrants into our economy and boost growth.
Nevertheless, we need to find a way to reconcile the parts of the population that feel at unease with the steady rise of our migrant populations. We need to take their concerns seriously. Condemning and ignoring them, as it is done in Germany, can be no solution. Many of the protesters are already frustrated, since the major parties do not cover their interests any more. This is especially the case since in Germany, the traditional conservative, right-wing christian-democratic party, CDU, has shifted to the left under Angela Merkel, leaving a large space on the right that is now filled by eurosceptic, more nationalist parties. A debate about immigration would be uncomfortable, that is exactly why political leaders try to avoid it. But frustrated people are a ticking time bomb. They radicalize, doing even more harm to a country. Not only Germany, but also the UK and France need to find a way to reintegrate those voters that did now vote for radical, nationalist right-wing parties.
The debate we face is by any means difficult. The fears of those marching are diverse. However, the only way we can lead the debate is by showing people that immigration and multiculturalism works. Protests and people who vote against immigration and Islam come mostly from regions with little foreign population. For example Dresden, in Germany, where the big anti-immigration and anti-islam protests take place, has a migrant share on the population of only 8 %, way below the German average of about 19 %. People need to see that integration is working, that Jews and Muslims contribute in a positive way to a democratic, free and peaceful society. Also, they need to see that the immigrants who come to Europe are eager to work and to boost our economy. They need to see that we, together, are working for a better country, not against it.