Updated: Jul 16, 2020
- Immigration, Population and the Identity Question -
Keywords: Population Growth; Political Ecology; Immigration; Identity; Islam
"Immigration is one of the most significant things affecting all political decision-making, and all public concerns across Europe. It is a huge issue that raises every imaginable question about the society you are in. What is the society you are in? What can it tolerate and what it cannot tolerate? What is an acceptable level of immigration? What is a level that fundamentally alters a society? These are massive questions that we are barely at the beginning of addressing.”
- Douglas Murray – The Strange Death of Europe 23/05/2019, in YouTube
Our world is changing. The biophysical stability of our environment is gradually caving in. The Holocene which allowed for humanity to thrive might come to a halt and with it our dreams of maintaining this global and burgeoning apparatus we call civilization.
Facing such a precarious plight, the human population still keeps on increasing by roughly 80 million people every year (net gain), inescapably condemning many to a fate utterly unrecognizable to the warm welcome we have received on this planet in millennia. As a result, multitudes will be forced to move in search of shelter, security, subsistence and dignity.
In my previous work, The Human Overpopulation Atlas, I attempted to condense the first batch of problems created and intensified by the inescapable circumstance of our ever-increasing numbers. This led me to draft chapters on the multifarious ecological and environmental predicaments of our own making, on the state of the discourse and the carelessness and derision surrounding it, and eventually, to how the projected rise of the human population combined with all the biophysical changes occurring within our planet, will induce thousands of millions to immigrate. For this reason, the chapter on immigration was titled ‘Exodus.’
As I described in the Atlas, Exodus ended up just being a preliminary study of the themes that surrounded immigration. For simplicity and clarity, I decided to mostly confine my examination to the anthropogenic drivers that induce the forced movement of peoples from their homes and to seek other lands to re-settle. However, that was just a glimpse of the full story, and before expanding on that, an abbreviated revision of the current state of affairs is justified.
Current data indicates that in 2016, there were 40.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide and 22.5 million refugees, with roughly 227.6 million people having been uprooted due to environmental hazards from 2008 to 2016. At present, only estimates can be conjectured, nonetheless with an unstable climate, rising sea-levels, ecological degradation, food and water insecurity, depletion of natural resources and a growing human population, projections of hundreds of millions or even billions on the move by the end of this century are well within conceivable expectations.
Along these lines, in the Making Sense podcast, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris was joined by the author and climate expert Joseph Romm, who stated:
“If the planet warmed 2ºC and stopped we would probably adapt. It wouldn’t mean that probably two billion people wouldn’t have to move, and these numbers of climate refugees would be a catastrophe. We saw how 2-3 million refugees from Syria turned global politics upside down.”
Alternatively, as the author Jeff Goodell put it in The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World:
[Such a rise in sea-level would]”create generations of climate refugees that will make today's Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.”
Such a prognostication would be, in all by itself, devastating to the people fleeing these conditions and to the ones whose lives will be profoundly altered by the corresponding surges of immigration. Without a doubt, humanity should do everything in its power to prevent such scenarios from ever unfolding. Nevertheless, there are already existing problems with immigration.
One central point in the discussion of current trends and future projections regarding immigration needs to be established from the start. That is that ‘the numbers, the speed and the scale do matter’ as the author and political commentator Douglas Murray reminds us (I will regularly cite Mr Murray throughout this piece, as he is a sober and lucid voice in the themes that I’m about to introduce.) To point out, in 2016, the vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, disclosed how 60 percent of the arrivals reaching Europe were considered economic migrants, and not legitimate cases of refugee status. Economic deprivation, as dreadful as it is, doesn’t constitute a justifiable claim for asylum, which stands as a person fleeing war, violence, conflict or persecution. Then again, Europe and its people cannot possibly cope with the ambition of millions to seek its shores. It is unavoidable that the desire to be generous with the whole world will eventually come into conflict with the fairness that the European people deserve. As Mr Murray upholds when illustrating the dichotomy of competing virtues (justice and mercy):
“In search to be merciful, we have given up the idea that there should be any justice for the peoples of Europe.”
He goes on to add:
“Can Europe be the home to anyone who moves in and wants to call it home? The answer is obviously not. We basically think of ourselves as this continent that can keep taking people in, without realizing we are in this lifeboat ourselves. We need to work out how many people we can save from the undoubtedly terrible waters all around us, what our limits might be and where we sadly have to say ‘no.’ Lifeboats usually have that warning of limited capacity, well, we don’t have that. There is no warning in Europe for its maximum capacity. What we do have is that the people in the boat, if they think that it’s getting very dangerous have the right to say to the captain, ‘stop bringing people on board!’ That is the only safety valve we have, and if the captain says ‘I’m not listening to you because you must be racist,’ then we are in a real trouble.”
To this extent, I find it pertinent to explore what the peoples of Europe are thinking about immigration and how to manage a world on the move. For starters, where do sustainable population advocates stand on these issues?
An Undesirable Alliance?
One of the central principles proposed by the sustainable population movement (SPM) is the reduction of immigration rates to overdeveloped countries. This is described as ‘Malthusian restrictionism,’ and it is based on the view that checks on immigration are ethically justifiable when taking into account the degradation of the environment. Provided that individuals in the most overdeveloped countries have some of the highest carbon and ecological footprints of the whole of humanity, it follows that immigration into those countries will create more top-of-the-chain consumers, exacerbating an already disquieting situation of overshoot. Considering such a scenario, the SPM encourages both the decrease in per-capita consumption (first and foremost on wealthier nations) as well as the reduction in fertility rates on a worldwide scale, by the voluntary decision to adopt a small-family model.
Coincidentally, the other group that has made the regulation of immigration the bedrock of their vocation have been the alleged “populist,” “nationalistic,” or “far-right” governments. Indeed, countries such as Italy, Hungary, Poland, Austria, France, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, Germany, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark and even Spain have recently witnessed an ascension of right-wing conservative sentiment.
Their desire to toughen up migration policies hails from and spans a wide variety of concerns such as identity, social cohesion and trust, culture, and the discrepancy in shared liberal values such as freedom of speech; separation of church and state; women, minorities, and same-sex rights. There is also an apprehension that integration has not been as successful as it was portrayed to be since Europeans are worried there is a willingness of immigrants to ‘want to be distinct from our society,’ creating parallel societies in the process. The Islamic religion is also under the microscopes of European citizens, with Mr Murray citing unsettling polls in his debate with Bernard Henri-Lévi titled Can Europe survive the new wave of populism?
A poll in 2013 in Germany found that 7% of the German public said they associated Islam with tolerance or respect for human rights.
Another poll from 2013 in France found that 67% of the French public think that Islam is, “incompatible with the French state.” Also, 73% of the French in 2013 said they viewed the religion very negatively (the poll was of course made before the terror attacks in France and elsewhere).
68% of the Dutch public said in the same year that there is “enough Islam in the Netherlands.”
Besides all of these points, governments are also reducing the inflow from immigration due to native demographic decline. As Shaun Walker explains in The Guardian:
“Demographic decline is a problem in many societies in central and eastern Europe, with millions of people leaving countries such as Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria in the years after their accession to the EU for higher salaries in Western Europe. This, combined with low birth rates, has contributed to shrinking populations and fueled fears of dying communities across the region.”
The juxtaposition of a declining native population, the desire of millions to call Europe their home, as well as the different birth rates between natives and foreign-born, has inflamed the angst of population replacement as a real concern for these nations. Hungary’s Prime Minister has asserted:
“In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the West to this is migration. They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids, so that the numbers will add up. We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”
Each one of these issues is a contemporary minefield in itself. Those that have held such positions or have attempted to dissect their legitimacy have repeatedly been characterized as racist, xenophobic, intolerant, sectarian or nationalist, at the very least inviting wariness of ulterior motives or are accused of ‘adjacency’ with less favored individuals. I don’t just resist the temptation of plainly branding these concerns has racist et al. (although there are certainly those individuals that hold such attitudes), but I find myself skeptical of the childlike ‘justification’ that suddenly millions of Europeans have found it appealing to gravitate towards such views. Alternatively, it is often suggested that they are being deceived by compelling and bewitching demagogues, instead of the more rational explanation that the citizens of the continent are changing their views because they are witnessing a reality that politicians can’t fully grasp.
Much more disquieting should be the ‘cordon sanitaire’ that has been enforced around the discussion of these heterogeneous and complex problems, which appears to be a cop out and a profoundly intellectual dishonest way of not having to deal with uncomfortable subjects. Accordingly, the benefits of immigration have been echoed and reinforced for decades, while other less favorable peculiarities have been systematically stifled or reserved to the more unpleasant fringes of parlance. Notwithstanding, it should go without saying that there are plentiful of advantages to individuals and societies that emerge from immigration and exposure to other cultures as well as countless cases in which people do assimilate and become as European as any other native individual.
The intent of this essay should be made clear. Voices imparting conservative notions that societies and cultures are of a fragile fabric and should be handled with care have been consistently vilified, misrepresented and suppressed. Individuals and governments alike holding such views should be given a proper trial, since not only are we talking about sovereign nations, which have the full right and power of governing themselves and deciding the make-up of their demographics without outside interference, it is also the case that these governments have also been democratically elected.
The aim here is to audit these considerations and leave it to the reader to adjudge their legitimacy so that advocates of a sustainable human population and the movement itself can decide if there is enough common ground and if the disagreements are not too extensive, for a viable alliance and mutual understanding to be made. Judging by the urgency and dimension of the threats facing humanity and the living world, should the SPM attempt to build bridges with these parties and the societal momentum they enjoy, or would such an arrangement cause more harm than good, by driving away the limited support the movement enjoys? Taking into account that the two of the most significant winners of the recent European elections appear to have been both the Greens and the Center-right/Right parties, the suggestion moving forward would be for both fronts to contemplate uniting efforts. Provided that happens, the right could embrace the environmental concerns that have been for a long-time espoused by more left-leaning politics, while themselves bringing into the table their conservative considerations.
Reductions in the rates of immigration are a common goal, although both are being encouraged on entirely different grounds. Demonstrably, time and time again the residents of Europe (and worldwide) have asserted their concerns with immigration, plainly voicing their anxiety and willingness to allow ‘fewer or no more immigration’ or ‘about the same’ numbers (here, here, here). To grasp the animus behind this interest in reducing immigration to Europe, one must first contemplate why the continent has maintained high immigration rates for so long despite the public’s requests? Mr Murray suggests that there is a schism between citizens and their elected representatives, with the latter ignoring an essential principle of democracy, that leaders listen to the public and act on their behalf.
For instance, a poll by Project 28 gathered the opinions from 1,000 respondents in each of the 28 countries of the EU, and more than three-quarters (78 percent) of EU citizens favor a stricter stance on external border protection, with the number rising to nine in ten in central and eastern European countries. To say nothing of the poll that revealed a majority of Europeans to want a ban from Muslim-majority countries, after the Trump administration listed several nations on a travel ban. From the ten countries polled, only two of them, Spain and Britain did not attain a positive majority response to the question “all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped.” They reached, respectively, only 41 and 47 percent.
The alienation between the public and the political class, on the subject of immigration, might explain why the few politicians that do indeed act on behalf of their electorate appear to draw so much support even if these end up upholding questionable policies and falling on the right end of the political spectrum. A particularly fitting example would be that of an interview between Polish Member of Parliament and Vice-President of the Conservative group in Council of Europe, Dominik Tarczyński and news anchor Cathy Newman:
- Cathy Newman: “How many refugees has Poland taken?”
- Dominik Tarczyński: “Zero.”
- CN: “And you’re proud of that?”
- DT: “If you’re asking me about Muslim illegal immigration, none, not even one will come to Poland, if it’s illegal. We took over 2 million Ukrainians who are working and are peaceful in Poland, and we will not receive not even one Muslim because this is what we promised […] this is what our people are expecting from our government, this is why our government was elected […] we can be called populists, nationalists, racists, I don’t care. I care about my family and my country.”
If politicians already fear to tread on the issue of immigration, then the subsequent outcomes of demographics and ethnic population growth (either from immigration or higher fertility rates) are out of bounds for the majority of elected leaders. Still, the publics of Europe (70 percent) recognize that the ‘rapid population growth of Muslims’ is either a ‘somewhat serious’ or ‘very serious’ risk to Europe.
Once again, this isn’t to say that integration isn’t compatible with individuals of the Muslim faith or that one must endorse a zero-tolerance immigration policy. However, the systematic stigmatization of concerns about immigration as racist, nationalistic or populist, instead of the concession that the people might be onto something, is worth delving into.
Isaac Asimov is credited with the quote: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Likewise, are European’s assumptions regarding the demographics of ethnic groups, particularly those which are increasingly reaching Europe from areas such as Sub-Sahara, the Middle East and Asia, or the growth of the Muslim population and the threat of ‘Islamization’ of the continent correct, or are they in need of a little scrub? An analysis of the evidence is required.
In late 2017, the Pew Research Center released the study “Europe’s Growing Muslim Population,” which consisted of three different models of projections of population growth depending on future levels of immigration. The study starts by declaring that:
"Even if all migration into Europe were to immediately and permanently stop – a “zero migration” scenario – the Muslim population of Europe still would be expected to rise from the current level of 4.9% to 7.4% by the year 2050. This is because Muslims are younger (by 13 years, on average) and have higher fertility (one child more per woman, on average) than other Europeans, mirroring a global pattern.”
Naturally, a zero-migration scenario is not likely to happen. Consequently, the Pew Research Center came up with two additional scenarios. The “medium” scenario relies on the assumption that all refugee flows will cease, but levels of the “regular” migration to Europe will continue (i.e., economic migration). Under such a condition, the Muslim population could be expected to reach 11.2% of Europe’s population by 2050. Lastly, a “high” migration scenario forecasts the record flow of refugees into Europe between 2014 and 2016 to continue with the same religious composition, in addition to the “regular” flow of migration already delineated in the “medium” scenario. In such a scenario, Muslims could rise to 14% of Europe’s population – nearly triple of its current percentage – in the space of three decades. Equally important, there would also be significant differences between the overall demographics of each country, with countries such as Germany, Sweden, France, the UK, Italy and Norway maintaining a percentage above the medians in both the medium and high scenarios.
To this extent, it isn’t entirely incoherent for individuals in Europe to be showing uneasiness about the demographic prospects of the continent and aligning themselves with parties on the political right since these appear to be the only ones directing attention to this issue. Sidestepping this conversation or tainting these apprehensions only as xenophobia, racism or bigotry is not just intellectually lazy but it is also fueling other more extreme views. Notwithstanding, concerns over demographic replacement are just the tip of the iceberg. What a substantial segment of the peoples of Europe appear to be genuinely concerned is over the failures of integration and the rise of parallel societies and values; the push to embrace multiculturalism; and if Europe takes in the world, will it end up resembling Europe or the rest of the world?
In his 2017 best-selling book ‘The Strange Death of Europe – Immigration, Identity, Islam,’ Douglas Murray often divulged with sorrow how commentators and detractors alike devoted themselves to the factors of Immigration and Islam, while completely disregarding or evading his thesis on the Identity component.
Mr Murray makes use of the analogy of the ship of Theseus to depict this conundrum of the identity of Europe. Like the ship in which Theseus sailed faced decay, the Athenians replaced the original parts with new ones. In this thought experiment, the question of identity is raised. If all the original components of the ship were replaced, does it remain fundamentally the same object? At what point do these changes make the original object unrecognizable? Along these lines, Mr. Murray argues that with the changes the continent is undergoing, at what point in the future will Europe stop being Europe and become something else? Perhaps we should think of our societies less as these flexible structures that can withstand any amount of transformation and still maintain their integrity intact, and more like fragile ecosystems that might easily break down if we start fragmenting them.
Garett Jones, author, senior scholar and professor, has written extensively about immigration and how the receiving countries change in the process. He asks several questions:
“What happens in the very long run? As immigrants shape the culture of their new homelands, will they import more than just new ethnic cuisines? Will migrants make the countries they move to a lot like the countries they came from?"
As Douglas Murray describes in The Strange Death of Europe:
“To wander the district of Saint-Denis today is to see a district more resembling North Africa than France. The market square outside the basilica is a souk more than a market. Stalls sell different styles of hijab and radical groups hand out literature against the state. This area has one of the highest Muslim populations in France, around 30 per cent […] The same feeling will strike anybody travelling through certain towns in Northern England, or neighborhoods of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Today it can also be experienced in the suburbs of Stockholm and Malmö. These are places where the immigrant live, but they bear no resemblance to the areas inhabited by the locals.”
Besides this point of immigration shaping surrounding areas so that these appear more like the countries many have left behind, Gareth Jones’ research focuses on other more significant reactions of immigration. In particular, the apparent situation in which many migrant attitudes persist on to their descendants and that these together tend to influence the attitudes of their new fellow citizens, so that all groups in society become at least a bit like each other. In this osmotic process, both parties would exchange knowledge and culture, hopefully culminating in a process in which the two would change, grow and prosper.
Although cases of synergy do invariably happen, we also need to be cognizant of where they don’t, or what exactly is Europe willing to forfeit in this assimilation. The first is a consideration that has eluded politicians and more left-leaning journalists alike. Specifically, individuals who arrive in Europe aren’t blank slates, which immediately incorporate the norms, values, culture and progress in ideas and concepts that have occurred throughout the West. Much more likely is the scenario in which immigrants bring their particular realizations and views of the world, and that these might be more resilient than assumed and even antagonistic to the foundations of the continent. As Mr Murray affirms in the Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris:
“To just walk into Europe and to immediately breathe the air of Voltaire and St Paul, Dante, Goethe and Bach, it seems highly unlikely. [It is assumed] that everyone who comes, arrives at the same point that we are at in regards to our views on religion, the separation of church and state, or the views on all sorts of humans rights questions. It seems very implausible.”
Undoubtedly, this is only made worse if immigrants are impelled to resist assimilation as it was the case at a rally in Cologne back in 2008, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (then Prime-Minister), addressed Turks living in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands and said:
“I understand very well that you are against assimilation. One cannot expect you to assimilate. Assimilation is a crime against humanity. Yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don’t assimilate yourselves. Our children must learn German but they must learn Turkish first.”
Or as the American of Palestinian descent Linda Sarsour instigated:
“Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community. It is not to assimilate and to please any other people in authority. Our obligation is to our young people, is to our women, to make sure our women are protected in our community, and our top priority, even higher than all those priorities, is to please Allah and only Allah.”
Furthermore, President Erdogan urged the masses to not just be guests in their receiving countries but to take an active role in politics, to gain influence and wield a ‘constitutional element.’ As a result, and according to Jones’ work, migrant attitudes eventually are taken into the voting booths. However, what kind of ‘attitudes’ could be deemed problematic? For instance, one could certainly argue that despite of not having a consistent agreement throughout the continent regarding women's, minorities or same-sex rights and the extent of our freedom of speech, it indeed becomes a more arduous task if Europe opens its borders to individuals who harbor views and attitudes that really should be non-negotiable in the 21st century.
For this reason, on a debate at Cambridge University, Douglas Murray argued against the motion, “Islam is Compatible with Western Liberalism.” He explored an array of opinion polls on British-Muslims, a community that is highly regarded as being among the most progressive on the entire world. In detail:
Regarding Free Speech, Channel 4, in 2006, found that 78% of British Muslims thought the publishers of the Danish cartoons should be prosecuted.
BBC poll in 2015 found that 27% had, “some sympathy” for the people who went into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed the cartoonists, editors and journalists there.
Channel 4 poll from 2016, found that only 1% of UK Muslims think that publications should have the right to publish cartoons of Muhammad.
A poll by Channel 4 regarding women’s rights found that nationwide 5% of the British population agreed with the phrase “wives should always obey their husbands.” That number rises to 39% among British Muslims.
An ICM poll carried in 2016 found that 52% of British Muslims think homosexuality should be made illegal.
A YouGov poll from 2015 found that, nationwide, 16% of the population think that homosexuality is morally wrong. The number raised to 29% in London, where there are more people with a foreign background.
A Gallup poll carried out in the UK in 2009 found that 0% of Muslims think homosexuality is acceptable.
In yet another debate, this time for Intelligence Squared and titled Europe on the Edge, Mr Murray insists:
“We had a nice liberal agreement in recent decades over being gay, and now we imported a community that actually thinks, not just that they are not on board with being gay, but thinks it should be made a lockable offense.”
He goes on to add:
“One poll showed 50 per cent of British Muslims would not go to the police if people around them were involved in ISIS activities and another one showed 2/3”.
And concludes by asking:
“What the hell are we doing ignoring that?”
Finally, in an interview for Jewish-TV, Dr. Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society challenges Mr Murray to make a case for the rise in anti-Semitic sentiment, the violence against individuals of the Jewish faith and how that relates to immigration:
“Most of the migrants coming to Europe in recent years are of Muslim background, and we know that the Muslim world is the only part of the world since the II World War where anti-Semitism is tolerated and indeed encouraged and taught. And we know this even in Britain, its Muslim community which have been here for some decades now, themselves have a serious anti-Semitism problem. We know that because the British Muslim journalist Mehdi Hassan wrote for the New Statesman saying: “It pains me to have to admit this, but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community, it is routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article will know what I’m talking about. It is our dirty little secret.””
All in all, Sam Harris concludes by connecting these problems of immigration to the inability of the political left to properly discuss and handle them:
"The hypocrisy on the left is breathtaking. The same people who are most concerned about women’s rights, gay rights and even other niche concerns such as transgender rights or getting your pronouns straight, these are the very people who seem quite happy to import millions of people into their society for whom the very notion of women’s rights and gay rights and to say nothing of transgender rights is not only foreign, but an anathema. When you look at the most vulnerable people in these immigrant communities, the liberal Muslims, and the gay Muslims, the apostates, the Muslim reformers, the people who threaten their lives are not by in large the fascists, the neo-Nazis, the bigots and the xenophobes, it’s the intolerant Muslims who are being brought into the same communities.”
The push to embrace multiculturalism and the negative press that ‘nationalism’ in the West is getting is also drawing more support to the ‘populist’ sentiment and creating a rift in European societies. Although the term ‘populism’ has its problems, the general definition is the emphasis on the idea “of the people” against “the elite” that are acting contrary to their interests. Furthermore, the perception goes that the ‘the elites’ tend to gain with globalization and the constriction of the relevance of the nation-state. All of these issues are connected to immigration, and there is quite a lot to untangle here. First, the argument that globalization is an unstoppable force and a part of our fate. Mr Murray in The Strange Death of Europe:
“But if globalization really has made it impossible to prevent people travelling to Europe from across the world, it is worth nothing that this global issue does not affect other countries. If the cause is economic pull, then there is no reason why Japan should not currently be experiencing unparalleled waves of immigration from the West. Despite being a larger economy than any in Europe, Japan has avoided a policy of mass immigration by implementing policies that stop it, dissuade people from staying there, and make it hard to become a citizen if you are not Japanese. Irrespective of whether one agrees with Japan’s policy or not, the country shows that even in this hyper-connected age it is possible for a modern economy to avoid the experience of mass immigration and show that such a process is not ‘inevitable.’”
Together with the globalization argument comes the incitement for the multiculturalist approach. In the same way, individuals who resist these attempts are labelled negatively. To demonstrate, this interview with Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó for BBC Newsnight epitomizes the state of the discussion. Journalist Emily Maitlis says:
"- You use this question of an influx [of immigration] when it really comes down to something more simple with your government. When looking at Victor Órban’s words he has compared immigration to a flu epidemic, he has talked of Muslim invaders, he has talked of Christian Hungary, mixed populations with no sense of identity and he has called the people coming in potential terrorists. So, this isn’t about immigration, this is about xenophobia.”
- Péter Szijjártó: “No, I have to reject that, and I take it as an insult what you just said, because we Hungarians, we do have the right, and no one can take that away from us. We have the right to make our own decision, whom we would like to allow to enter the territory and whom we don’t want to allow […] I have always shown respect to everyone, and I expect the same respect for the people of Hungary I represent, and calling a country xenophobic it’s an insult. Yes, it is our intention to keep Hungary a Hungarian country, and yes, we don’t agree with those who say that multiculturalism, is by definition good. If you say that, we respect it […] if people in this country think so, we respect that, but please don’t put pressure on us.”
Still, Mr Szijjártó isn’t the only political representative to hold such views regarding multiculturalism. Chancellor Merkel said the following in her 2010 speech in Potsdam:
“Of course, the approach to build a multicultural society and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other has failed, utterly failed. [That’s why] integration is so important.”
Similarly, then Prime-Minister of the UK, David Cameron affirmed:
“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream… We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values”.
The then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy followed these comments with his own:
“The truth is that in all our democracies we have been too preoccupied with the identity of those who arrived and not enough with the identity of the country that welcomed them."
Although such insistences appear to be directed to criticism of large-scale immigration, that wasn’t the case, because none of these leaders acted to restrain the flow. What they were chastising was ‘multiculturalism’ or how Mr Murray distills it:
“Multiculturalism was the idea of the state encouraging people to live parallel lives in the same country and particularly in living under customs and laws that stood in opposition to those of the country they were living in. The European leaders appeared to be calling for a post-multicultural society in which the same rule of law and certain societal norms applied to everybody.”
Finally, the association of nationalism, love for one’s nation and fellow citizens as inherently fascist and xenophobic is also kindling the flame of discord, ‘populism’ and the search for political alternatives. Accordingly, not just attracting people to the perilous fantasies of a past with more similar demographics, but also to justly question the benefits of unrestrained immigration.
For instance, the historian and world-renowned author Yuval Noah Harari spoke at the Central European University on The Bright Side of Nationalism. After explaining how nationalism can fall into the extreme but also how it provided communities that were facing a too sudden population growth for individuals to maintain common bonds with each other by caring for strangers, thus benefiting the nation in the end, Mr Harari then turned to the debate on immigration and said:
“The importance and fragility of nationalism also raises questions about the wisdom of trying to absorb too many immigrants too quickly. People who favor immigration often discount the very real problems that mass immigration poses to the national unity of countries, or else, they discount the dangers of undermining the national sentiment. They often fail to appreciate the deep historical connection between nationalism and democracy, and the fact that in the absence of nationalism, democracy is constantly in danger of descending into tribalism. So perhaps, the most important thing to say about the immigration debate in Europe is that both sides have legitimate views. Those who favor immigration are wrong to depict their rivals as immoral racists, while those who oppose immigration are wrong to depict their rivals as irrational traitors. It would be wrong, I think, of any government to force mass immigration on an unwillingly population. Immigration is a long-term, difficult process and to succeed you need the support of the local population.”
On the whole, I have attempted to put on display some of the more compelling precursors which are guiding the motivations of the peoples of Europe. Notwithstanding the disagreements that readers might surely have with some of these views, it is vital to understand how the scale and speed of immigration are relevant to more than the conventional subjects of economics, ‘ageing’ societies and enhanced cuisine. To the end that I proposed advocates of the sustainable population movement to consider, size up and to the best of one’s abilities, to empathize with these perceptions and impressions, there is still one last point that requires examination. In my view, it is the one that is more likely to broaden the divide between these two groups, but at the same time, if done right, it is where the SPM could sit at the table and share their knowledge and insights, hopefully, to educate people on subjects that are effectively being distorted by incomprehension and insensitivity. I’m talking about population growth and regress on matters of women’s bodily autonomy, empowerment and the pro-natalism that has accompanied the political rhetoric in many of the countries alluded to so far.
Ever since the 70s, efforts to bring down total fertility rates (TFR) have been an enormous success in many European countries, the United States and Japan. Those accomplishments are on display in our present day, with 83 of the 201 countries examined by the United Nations presenting below-replacement rates (2.1 TFR). Unfortunately, 62 percent of those nations also have policies to raise their fertilities, and that number increases to 66 percent when examining the countries of Europe. Yet, when it comes to the subject of declining fertility rates, there seems to be no downside for politicians to partake in the debate and share their ambitions of raising the populations of countries, be it on the liberal left through relaxed border control or on the conservative right through a challenge of family planning and women’s reproductive rights.
As previously described, unrestrained immigration on top of native declining fertility rates is inflaming an uneasiness of population replacement. Politicians have seized and exploited this restlessness as an opportunity to upgrade and distort something that should be welcomed by nations as a favorable circumstance into a full-blown existential crisis. This is especially striking in the politically conservative and religious right, which have taken this opportunity to revive ancient dogmas that challenge the accomplishments of women’s empowerment and autonomy.
Examples abound in the form of incentives to procreation, such as the move of Italy’s government to reward parents who reach a third child with free farmland; no income tax for Hungarian women with four or more children; Russia’s government introducing a set of measures such as the “day of copulation,” in which citizens are discharged from work to effectively contribute to an increasing population; Poland’s conservative Law and Justice Party proposing the “500+ Families” plan, which attributes about $150 per month for every child after the first, or as the EU candidate, Turkey, which has openly stated its goal to raise birth rates and condemning family planning as a conspiracy to eliminate the nation.
It is just a slippery slope to move from pro-natalistic incentives to coercive forms of fertility control. For instance, governments encouraged by right-wing forces have, in the past, included prohibitions of abortions and penalizations to women over 25 who did not bear children, such as in Romania’s Ceausescu regime. Today, conservative religious parties wage war against women’s reproductive freedom, namely in Trump’s Republican administration, in Poland, or in Brazil, to name a few. Still and all, it isn’t just political parties that further pro-natalistic policies, condemning women to serve as procreative machinery and resisting the natural progression for populations to decrease. Examples of pro-natalism and backtrack from gender-equality successes thrive in the media just the same.
However, just as Douglas Murray expresses:
“The idea that Europeans have simply stopped having enough children and must as a result ensure that the next generation is comprised of immigrants is a disastrous fallacy. First, the assumption that a country’s population should always remain the same or indeed continue rising is a mistaken assumption. The nation states of Europe include some of the most densely populated countries on the planet. It is not at all obvious that the quality of life in these countries will improve if the population continues growing. What is more, when migrants arrive in these countries they move to the big cities, not to the remaining sparsely populated areas. And so a constantly increasing population causes population problems in areas that are already suffering housing supply problems and where infrastructure like public transport struggles to keep up with swiftly expanding populations.”
Mr Murray consummates his argument with one of the most factual assertions of the entire book:
“Anybody concerned about quality of life for Europeans would wonder about how to lessen their populations, not substantially increase them.”
Curiously, Mr Murray’s views tend to resonate more with those on the political right of the spectrum, seeing that he identifies as a conservative. Then again, his position on population dynamics appears to elude most of his readership and adherents, since the demos portrayed throughout this essay is inclined to favor a reverse of the demographic trends that have been occurring in Europe for decades now. It might just be anecdotal evidence and the product of a biased testimony, but from my experience in platforms that echo the issues alluded here, the dominant narrative is one of a proclivity to return to a big-family model, limitation of women’s bodily autonomy and the promulgation of ‘family values.’ What is undoubtedly amiss here is education.
The scientific literature has been converging into the verdict that without a serious transition into a voluntary small-family model, the human population will continue to increase, and with it the transgression of every planetary boundary - including climatic changes - that sustain life on this planet. To focus solely on changes in consumption and on modifying the economic model will not bear the sustainability nirvana that humanity requires to survive this century if we keep sidestepping the population issue. Besides, most people aren’t even aware of the scale of personal austerity needed to conform to a “sustainable lifestyle,” and what it means to have a finite planet with finite resources where the share of the pie keeps diminishing as the number of hands demanding a share grows. In such a manner, the dominant narrative of changes in behaviours is flawed since it is very likely that humans will not forego their top-of-chain consumptive demeanor without coercive action.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the only contemporary instance in which people have in large numbers, voluntarily relinquished their acquired material wealth and higher living standards in exchange of a more “sustainable” life was when thousands of privileged Westerners flocked to Syria to pledge their alliance to the Islamic State. I think we can all agree that isn’t a desirable climate policy to pursue. Thus, we neglect the population issue at our own peril.
Still, sustainable population advocates have been campaigning on these issues for decades. They have championed the objectives of economic and social empowerment of women, their education and freedom as well as the removal of barriers for women to manage their reproductive decisions. All of these are closely tied to reductions in poverty and better health since women’s ability to determine the number and spacing of children are a fundamental right. Furthermore, the efficiency of these methods cannot be understated. Countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Indonesia, Costa Rica or Iran have all evinced how empowering women and providing for reproductive and family planning can go a long way to reduce fertility rates without coercion.
Although I subscribe entirely to these goals and other purposed solutions, I also consider that the urgency and scale of the problem demand more pro-active and out-of-the-box thinking while we continue to invest in these. One idea that has captured my attention comes from a paper in the Journal of Population and Sustainability from the Greek professor Theodore P. Lianos of Athens University of Economics and Business. In this paper, Prof. Lianos upholds a concept he describes as a market of human reproductive rights. Without going in too deep into this idea since I only need to make its outlines clear, this would be a policy in which every couple (or individual, this is debatable) is granted three shares by its government, with each share corresponding to the right to have half a child. These shares would be tradable in a world market, for example, a couple in France that wished to have two children could buy one share from a couple in Portugal. According to the author, this is a proposal that would treat all couples/individuals as equals and would probably work as a program of income transfer, most likely from relatively rich people to the poorer, within each country and between them. One other particular reason that I find this proposal captivating is that it also benefits and incentivizes couples/individuals to remain childfree while allowing them to transfer their shares to others.
Let’s imagine for a second that nations do agree to implement such a market of reproductive rights, with the determinative goal of reaching a global TFR of 1.5. It is evident that not all countries will face the same challenges in reaching such an objective. Portugal, Spain or Italy, with their current TFRs of 1.31; 1.39 and 1.49, respectively are in a better position to engage and maintain this transition since their citizens have grown accustomed to that reality, than other countries with the some of the highest TFRs like Niger, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively of 7.1; 6.1 and 5.9. Furthermore, this will also imply that the transition to 1.5 TFR will take longer (assuming it is equally possible for every nation) for some nations than others. It is safe to expect that the countries currently hovering just above the 1.5 goal (for example Austria; Romania or Macedonia) will struggle less to attain it than any of the top 30 highest (the first 29 are located in Africa, the #30 is Afghanistan with 4.4 TFR). Correspondingly, it suggests that some nations will be locked in substantial population growth while others are close to replacement or already decreasing their populace. In effect, official forecasts are projecting 2.3 billion additional people to be born between 2019 and 2050. They will be spread unevenly among the continents, roughly by 1.3 billion in Africa, 0.7 billion in Asia, and 0.3 in the rest of the world.
Effectively, the EU’s figures reveal that the continent had a TFR of 1.59 births per woman in 2017. This means that the EU is at least very close to attaining the sustainability goal of a 1.5 global TFR. However, what about the rest of the world? If Europe were to agree to abandon its misguided attempts to boost native fertility rates as well as reducing its primary source of population growth – immigration - and embrace this model of a slowly declining population, what guarantee would any citizen of the continent have that rest of the world would equally follow suit?
If one were to examine the population forecasts in the graphic below, ‘business-as-usual’ trends indicate that in a few decades, Europe will have to the East a continent with more than 5 billion people (up to 600% of the total population of Europe). Equally important, to the South, a quickly-rising population of more than 3 billion by 2050 and close to 5 by the end of the century. More relevant still, are the opinion polls done throughout the African continent that already depict a population that is willing to emigrate between African nations and immigrate beyond its confines, into Europe. Currently, 29 percent and 27 percent ponder such views, respectively.
Speaking at the Tikvah Israel's Israeli Conservatism Conference, Mr Murray accentuates a harder problem:
"It is worth finding the hardest bit of the problem, identifying it and see what you can do. At the height of the migration crisis Theresa May said this is why we need to improve living standards where these people come from. Here is the hardest part. If you improve living standards in sub-Saharan Africa more people will move because they will have more money to pay to the smuggling networks, which is the fastest way out. This I stress is not a reason not to improve living standards in poor countries, but it is a heck of a challenge. That is the sort of discussion I would like to see at a major political level. How can we help the poor and dispossessed of the world, and not encourage them all to move to London? "
At any rate, making predictions is always a byzantine task. Nevertheless, if there is one thing we can be sure is that an unstable climate; ecological and environmental poisoning and collapse; food and water insecurity; elevated levels of youth unemployment resulting in threats to peace and security will propel millions, if not hundreds of millions of refugees and economic migrants to seek more welcoming shores. The Guardian’s columnist and environmentalist George Monbiot (who unfortunately still denies the role of human population growth in magnifying all of these problems) has a splendid quote:
“If global warming is not contained, the West will face a choice of a refugee crisis of unimaginable proportions, or direct complicity in crimes against humanity.”