I’m Sahil from theforeignmonde.wordpress.com and I’m guest posting today. I’d love to hear anything you have to say. If you’re interested, my blog has articles about the EU; Jeremy Corbyn and the wider world in general.
Europe is the place of my dreams – a continent steeped in culture; history and liberal thought – the continent that produced Rousseau and ‘Du contract Social’; Adam Smith and ‘the Wealth of Nations’; Newton’s Principia the list goes on. It’s a continent with some of the greatest museums and galleries from Prague to Madrid. And until now perhaps, it had always been an outward looking continent, open to change, leading the way in terms of cutting edge thought.
What’s made Europe’s culture so special is that it has been slowly built up by layers of history and thousands of different human influences, turning it into something extremely rich and accepting. Even if we look at a nation such as the UK where the last successful invasion was in 1066, many different people have inhabited it after 1066 to create the Britain today and its culture.
However many UKIP-esque far-right parties on the continent are suggesting that we shouldn’t let migrants into our continent because they aren’t European, won’t fit in or will slowly erode our own culture. But this is to completely overlook what Europe is, has been and shall continue to be. Europe is a continent that is culturally fluid – that is to say, there is no fixed moment in time at which we can call its culture sealed and unalterable. As we accept more migrants in, we are just moving one step further along that path in our culture’s evolution.
For these reasons, we Europeans, defenders of progressive civilisation, must not draw up walls, both metaphorical and actual to stop the migrants in. Europe has been at the front of rational thought, social mobility policy and the fight for equality. To me, this has always meant Europe was the real defender and best representative of the free world. How could it be America, where democracy is rotting with the rise of congressmen whose only allegiances are to billionaire lobbyists, where the poorer get poorer but the richer get richer and where one of the two mainstream political parties objects to universal health care? With that record, how could America ever be the defender and representative of the free world? Europe on the other hand has a Gini (a measure of income inequality) 10% lower than the US (and wants it lower), states which support the needy with healthcare and social welfare and vibrant democracies (although we could be in danger of throwing that down the drain). It is therefore a fantastic advert for the free world.
But if Europe shuts itself off from the world, it will be making an extremely damaging move that could harm its greatest characteristics. By shutting off from the world with countries like Hungary and the UK refusing taking their fair share of migrants, Europe is showing its nastiest colours – showing that it isn’t accepting or forward-looking but instead populist and racist. It also shows Europe off as a little stupid for failing to recognise that culture isn’t fossilised but an ongoing process or the benefits that migration brings. The migrants coming are no different from the Normans or Anglo-Saxons who invaded the UK but you wouldn’t call someone who had Norman or Anglo-Saxon blood, not British. Quite the reverse, you would expect it in their blood. But, at one point, those two groups were both immigrant communities. They then integrated into society and British culture evolved. It is therefore imperative that we integrate migrants, don’t let ghettos form and explain to them that since they’ve come here they can’t expect to preserve their culture exactly as it was in Syria or Eritrea say and that they should dive head first into British life. However, they should expect to be welcomed and some of their customs learnt so that one day they might float down into mainstream culture like Chicken Tikka Masala. If people are afraid of ‘British culture’ changing for example, they’ve clearly missed what culture is.
Some are afraid because their community has always been one way and unchanged. They’re afraid of what it will be like if it changes and how it will affect them. This fear of change and the issues that migration could bring is to some extent understandable since we’re all a little afraid of the unknown. It is also what UKIP and other populist parties feed from and encourage. This is utterly despicable behaviour. When a child has acrophobia say, we don’t encourage that fear. Rather, we help them to rationalise their fear and explain that they won’t get hurt or fall. This is exactly what we must articulate to those afraid of letting new people in – the fact that nothing bad will come about from these new (in the case of Syrians, highly educated and middle class) people. Instead, they will enrich their lives. There is also another explanation and reason – we accepted the positive consequences of globalisation (the opening up of the world) and therefore we must accept its more not-so-straightforward consequences too. I’m sure most UKIP voters buy Nestlé or Nike products, companies who have benefited massively from globalisation. It would hugely hypocritical of people to accept one and not the others and so I’m sure if UKIP voters were explained all these things, they would understand why accepting the migrants wouldn’t be so bad.
We must also help them with their fears about how migration might affect them in a tangible way and how they perceive it might hurt them and their children – the loss of school places, not enough housing etc. These are all very real issues that should not be taken light-heartedly but we must find it in our hearts to be generous to these desperate people fleeing atrocious circumstances. In the short term there will be upheaval but in the long term, they will be giving their children a richer future. We must assure them that we will act and build schools now and in the short term use all available space such as school halls and church halls to house the migrants, trying to infringe on people’s quality of life as little as possible.
Clearly many Europeans recognise all these things – leading the pack is Angela Merkel – and countries like Germany and Sweden are openly and warmly welcoming in many migrants. However, they only have so much space and cannot take all the migrants. They too will have issues with school places but are putting on a brave face and dealing with the issue. Germany perhaps realises what Europe could be like as a closed, unaccepting place because of its WW2 experiences. No one should ever wish a Europe such as was proposed in WW2. Accepting migrants and shunning far-right populist parties is the best way to show that we reject that most damaging world-view.
We must all follow these countries’ lead and learn from Germany’s lesson of what Europe could become. If we don’t, we risk turning Europe into a fossilised, closed continent ruled by a politics of fear, which can no longer be creative. We risk Europe no longer being the representative for the free world and having a vibrant culture that inspired some of the greatest literature and arts in the world. Above all, we risk taking away what makes Europe so great and allows it to innovate in all areas of life. David Cameron can let the UK’s fair share of migrants in whilst avoiding the loss of any political points if he simply explains these points to those who object to migrants. I thoroughly advise him to do so.
If you agree/disagree or just have something to add, please do leave it in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your opinions. If you’d like to see more of my stuff head to theforeignmonde.wordpress.com. I’ve written stuff on Jeremy Corbyn, the EU, India, UK politics generally and even Denmark.