Europe’s Migration Crisis: Causes and Cures

by Rich Rubenstein on November 13, 2015 · 2 comments

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EUROPE’S MIGRATION CRISIS: CAUSES AND CURES

PUBLIC LECTURE AT
THE PRESIDENT’S FOUNDATION FOR WELLBEING OF SOCIETY,
VERDALA PALACE, MALTA, 16 OCTOBER 2015

Richard E. Rubenstein

THERE IS A NEW FIELD OF STUDY THAT SOME CALL THE SCIENCE OF IGNORANCE. ITS GOAL IS TO DETERMINE WHAT WE DON’T KNOW AND THEN DETERMINE HOW TO REDUCE THAT AREA OF IGNORANCE. THIS EVENING, I AM GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE MIGRATION CRISIS – A PROBLEM THAT, DESPITE THE TITLE OF THIS SPEECH, IS NOT JUST EUROPEAN BUT GLOBAL, AND THAT IS MOST OF ALL A CRISIS FOR THE MIGRANTS THEMSELVES RATHER THAN FOR THOSE WELCOMING OR REFUSING TO WELCOME THEM.

IN DEALING WITH THIS COMPLEX TOPIC, IT IS GOOD TO BEGIN BY RECOGNIZING HOW LARGE THE AREA OF IGNORANCE IS. THE CONVENTIONAL WAY TO BEGIN SUCH A DISCUSSION IS TO DESCRIBE THE STATISTICAL DIMENSIONS OF THE CRISIS. BUT STATISTICS ARE OFTEN A WAY OF PRETENDING TO HAVE ANSWERS WHEN WHAT ONE MAINLY HAS ARE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.

FOR EXAMPLE, HOW MUCH GOOD DOES IT DO US TO KNOW THAT EUROPE WILL PROBABLY RECEIVE ABOUT 1 MILLION REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS THIS YEAR, AND THAT ABOUT HALF OF THESE PEOPLE WILL COME FROM SYRIA, WITH THE REST HAILING FROM COUNTRIES IN AFRICA, THE BALKANS, AND SOUTH ASIA? WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS NUMBER? ABOUT 33 MILLION PEOPLE, OR 7% OF THE TOTAL POPULATION, ARE FIRST GENERATION RESIDENTS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION. THE PERCENTAGE OF FOREIGN-BORN RESIDENTS IS CONSIDERABLY LARGER IN RUSSIA AND ALMOST TWICE AS LARGE IN THE U.S., WHILE IN COUNTRIES OF THE MIDDLE EAST HOUSING MOST OF THE SYRIAN REFUGEES, IT IS FAR, FAR LARGER.

MORE IMPORTANT, WILL THESE NUMBERS CONTINUE TO INCREASE, DECLINE, OR STAY THE SAME? THE ONLY WAY TO ANSWER SUCH QUESTIONS IS TO DISCUSS THE CAUSES OF MIGRATION AND TO INQUIRE WHETHER THEY ARE LIKELY TO BECOME MORE OR LESS SALIENT. FURTHERMORE, WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN IN TERMS OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF MIGRATION, IN PARTICULAR, THE POLITICAL AND ETHNIC CONFLICTS THAT WE SEE ESCALATING IN THE MIGRANTS’ NEW HOME COUNTRIES? HERE AGAIN, MIGRATION STATISTICS BY THEMSELVES ARE OF VERY LITTLE USE.

SO LET ME BE MORE SPECIFIC ABOUT THE PARTICULAR AREAS OF IGNORANCE THAT SEEM MOST IMPORTANT TO PEOPLE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT IS GENERATING MASS MIGRATION AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. FOUR AREAS ARE ESPECIALLY IN NEED OF CLARIFICATION: (1) HOW TO DESCRIBE AND TALK ABOUT MIGRATION GENERALLY; (2) HOW TO ANALYZE ITS CAUSES; (C) HOW TO DESCRIBE ITS CONSEQUENCES; (D) HOW TO FORMULATE PROCESSES OR POLICIES THAT MIGHT HELP TO END THE CRISIS.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION AND “CRISIS” DISCOURSE.

NOTWITHSTANDING THE TITLE OF THIS TALK, THE MIGRATION CRISIS IN SPATIALLY GLOBAL, NOT JUST “EUROPEAN.” THERE ARE ABOUT ONE MILLION ZIMBABWEAN MIGRANTS CURRENTLY RESIDING IN SOUTH AFRICA, NOT TO MENTION VAST NUMBERS OF MEXICANS AND CENTRAL AMERICANS MOVING TO THE UNITED STATES, BURMESE ROHINGAS TO THAILAND, INDONESIANS TO AUSTRALIA, AND MORE. TEMPORALLY, WE ARE EXPERIENCING ONE OF THE GREAT SURGES OF HUMAN MIGRATION IN MODERN HISTORY. THE MOST RECENT PARALLELS ARE THE POPULATION MOVEMENTS FOLLOWING WORLD WAR II AND THE MIGRATION OF EUROPEANS AND ASIANS TO THE NEW WORLD BETWEEN 1880 AND 1920. IN THOSE YEARS, ABOUT 40 MILLION IMMIGRANTS CAME TO THE U.S., MORE THAN THE ENTIRE PRESENT FOREIGN BORN POPULATION OF THE EUROPEAN UNION.

OF COURSE, HOW WE TALK ABOUT THE CURRENT SITUATION IS VERY IMPORTANT, SINCE THE SHAPE OF OUR DISCOURSE REFLECTS POLITICAL ASSUMPTIONS AND DETERMINES THE RANGE OF POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS. CALLING MIGRATION A EUROPEAN PROBLEM DISTRACTS ATTENTION FROM THE SITUATIONS ON OTHER CONTINENTS THAT GENERATE MASS MOVEMENTS OF PEOPLE. THIS LANGUAGE MAY ALSO PREVENT US FROM UNDERSTANDING THAT THE MIGRANTS’ OWN PROBLEMS ARE FAR MORE PRESSING THAN THOSE OF THEIR ADOPTIVE COUNTRIES.

CAUSES AND CONDITIONS OF MASS MIGRATION

WHAT GENERATES THESE ENORMOUS MOVEMENTS OF PEOPLE? THE AREA OF IGNORANCE HERE IS NOT A RESULT OF US KNOWING TOO LITTLE BUT TOO MUCH ABOUT TOO MANY FACTORS. ONE GETS DIZZY TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE CONDITIONS THAT GENERATE MASS MIGRATIONS.

CONSIDER SYRIA, WHERE A MURDEROUS DROUGHT LINKED BY MANY SCIENTISTS TO GLOBAL WARMING DROVE PEOPLE FROM THE COUNTRYSIDE INTO THE CITIES, WHERE THEY BECAME DISCONTENTED WITH THEIR POVERTY AND THE POOR LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND REBELLED AGAINST THE REGIME OF BASHAR AL-ASSAD. THAT REGIME RESPONDED BY KILLING DEFENSELESS PROTESTORS, AND MATTERS MIGHT HAVE ENDED THERE, AT LEAST FOR A TIME, IF IT WERE NOT FOR THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF THE CIVIL WAR.

THE SAUDIS, BACKED BY THE AMERICANS, THE GULF STATES, AND SOME EUROPEAN NATIONS, ARMED THE SYRIAN OPPOSITION, WHICH ALMOST IMMEDIATELY FRAGMENTED. THE IRANIANS, BACKED BY THE RUSSIANS, ESCALATED THEIR MILITARY SUPPORT TO THE REGIME. FOREIGN ISLAMIST FIGHTERS ENTERED THE COUNTRY TO FIGHT ON THE OPPOSITION SIDE AND TO SEEK CONTROL OVER OTHER OPPOSITION FORCES. THE U.S. THEN ENTERED THE WAR DIRECTLY, FLYING AIR SORTEES AGAINST THE ISLAMIC STATE FORCES, AND, MOST RECENTLY, THE RUSSIANS ALSO ENTERED THE WAR, ATTACKING BOTH THE ISLAMIC STATE AND OTHER FORCES OPPOSING THE REGIME.

THIS WAR IS RESPONSIBLE FOR APPROXIMATELY HALF OF THE REFUGEES NOW ENTERING EUROPE – WE WILL TALK IN A MINUTE ABOUT WHETHER THERE ARE ANY FEASIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THIS PROBLEM. PRIOR WARS CONDUCTED IN IRAQ AND LIBYA ALSO PRODUCED CONDITIONS COMPELLING LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE TO LEAVE THEIR HOME DISTRICTS AND COUNTRIES.

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ON THE SUBJECT OF THE CAUSES OF MIGRATION IS THAT THERE IS OFTEN A PUSH-PULL DYNAMIC AT WORK. PEOPLE ARE PUSHED OUT OF THEIR HOMES AND HOME COUNTRIES BY THE VIOLENCE OF WAR OR PERSECUTION AND BY ECOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC FACTORS THAT MAKE IT DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO MAKE A LIVING. THEY ARE PULLED IN THE DIRECTION OF RICHER AND MORE PEACEFUL NATIONS BY THE PROSPECTS OF SATISFYING BASIC HUMAN NEEDS FOR SECURITY, IDENTITY, AND DEVELOPMENT.

IN FACT, IT IS OFTEN IMPOSSIBLE TO SEPARATE CLAIMS FOR ASYLUM BASED ON WAR OR PERSECUTION, WHICH ARE RECOGNIZED AS LEGALLY ENTITLING, FROM CLAIMS BASED ON ECONOMIC DEPRIVATION, WHICH ARE NOT DEEMED TO CONFER LEGAL RIGHTS. HOW IS ONE TO JUDGE THE AFRICAN MIGRANT WHO FLEES A NATION SUFFERING FROM BOTH CROP FAILURES AND MARAUDING MILITIAS? I SOMETIMES WONDER WHETHER MY OWN GRANDPARENTS, WHO FLED THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE DURING A TIME OF ECONOMIC CRISIS AND RISING ANTI-SEMITISM, WOULD QUALIFY TODAY FOR ASYLUM.

MORE CRUCIALLY, HOW CAN WE BEST EXPLAIN THE ‘PUSH’ FACTORS IN A WORLD CONFRONTED BY ECOLOGICAL CHANGE AND THE UNEVEN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATED WITH CAPITALIST GLOBALIZATION? THE PHILOSOPHER SLAVOJ ZIZEK POINTS OUT THAT THESE FACTORS ARE STRONGEST IN THE SO-CALLED FAILED STATES, WHERE CONDITIONS OF CIVIL WAR OR NEAR ANARCHY PREVAIL. BUT FAILED STATES SELDOM FAIL FOR LOCAL REASONS. “THIS DISINTEGRATION OF STATE POWER,” SAYS ZIZEK, “IS NOT A LOCAL PHENOMENON BUT A RESULT OF INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY AND POLITICS – IN SOME CASES, LIKE LIBYA AND IRAQ, A DIRECT OUTCOME OF WESTERN INTERVENTION. IT IS CLEAR THAT THE RISE OF THESE ‘FAILED STATES’ IS NOT JUST AN UNINTENDED MISFORTUNTE BUT ALSO ONE OF THE WAYS THE GREAT POWERS EXERT THEIR ECONOMIC COLONIALISM.”

ZIZEK’S ANALYSIS RAISES THE QUESTION OF WHETHER ANYTHING CAN BE DONE TO ALTER THE CONDITIONS THAT PRODUCE FAILED STATES AND MASS MIGRATIONS. THIS IS ONE TOPIC THAT THOSE BILLED AS EXPERTS ON MIGRATION DO NOT SEEM TO WANT TO DISCUSS. PERHAPS, THIS IS BECAUSE IT PORTRAYS MASS MIGRATIONS NOT AS THE RESULT OF TEMPORARY LOCAL CONDITIONS BUT AS CONSEQUENCES OF A SYSTEM THAT NEEDS TO BE RECONSTRUCTED IF IT IS TO STOP GENERATING VIOLENCE AND DISORDER. AND SYSTEM RECONSTRUCTION, AS WE KNOW, OFTEN THREATENS THE INTERESTS OF THOSE WHO STAND TO BENEFIT MOST FROM CONTINUING THE STATUS QUO.

CONSEQUENCES IN ADOPTIVE COUNTRIES

IN ADDITION TO THE PUSH FACTORS, THERE ARE THE PULL FACTORS, AND THIS IS WHERE WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE CONFLICTUAL CONSEQUENCES OF MASS MIGRATIONS. LARGE SCALE MIGRATIONS OFTEN PRODUCE ANXIETY AND OPPOSITION ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES ‘NATIVES’ AND WHO MAY FEEL THAT THEIR JOBS OR EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS, THEIR CULTURAL IDENTITIES, AND THE PEACE AND QUIET OF THEIR COMMUNITIES ARE THREATENED BY ‘WAVES’ OF IMMIGRANTS. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A NEW PHENOMENON. PREVIOUS LARGE SCALE MIGRATIONS WERE ALSO GREETED WITH APPREHENSION AND LOATHING BY LOCAL RESIDENTS FEARFUL OF A FOREIGN ‘INVASION.’ THIS IS CERTAINLY TRUE OF NORTH AMERICANS, BY THE WAY. THOSE OF MY OWN COUNTRYMEN WHO ARE FOREVER TALKING ABOUT HOW WELCOMING AMERICANS ARE TOWARD NEW IMMIGRANTS SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO READ JOHN HIGHAM’S CLASSIC HISTORY OF VIOLENT NATIVISM, STRANGERS IN THE LAND, NOW IN ITS 21ST PRINTING.

MORE IMPORTANT, PEOPLE INTERESTED IN CONFLICT ANALYSIS AND RESOLUTION NEED TO RESIST THE TENDENCY TO REPLACE SYSTEM-BASED ANALYSIS WITH PARTISAN MORALIZING. THOSE WHO HAVE NO PROBLEM WELCOMING LARGE NUMBERS OF IMMIGRANTS INCLUDE MANY GENEROUS SPIRITS MOVED BY THE SORT OF BENEVOLENCE AND CARE FOR THE OPPRESSED RECENTLY EXPRESSED BY POPE FRANCIS. THEIR WILLINGNESS TO OPEN THEIR DOORS TO STRANGERS IN NEED IS ADMIRABLE. SINCE THE GREAT IMMIGRATIONS OF THE 19TH CENTURY, HOWEVER, THE PRO-IMMIGRANT FORCES HAVE ALSO INCLUDED POWERFUL BUSINESS INTERESTS WHOSE MAIN MOTIVE IS TO KEEP LABOR ORGANIZATIONS WEAK AND WAGE LEVELS LOW. NOT ALL WELCOMERS ARE SAINTS!

BY THE SAME TOKEN, THOSE REACTING STRONGLY AGAINST THE ARRIVAL OF IMMIGRANTS INCLUDE BOTH BIGOTED AND PROVINCIAL NATIVES AND PEOPLE SERIOUSLY CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR JOBS AND THEIR CULTURAL AND COMMUNAL IDENTITIES. WHAT COMPLICATES THE DISCUSSION OF THESE OPPONENTS, WHO HAVE TENDED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS TO ORGANIZE NASTY NATIONALIST FORMATIONS LIKE THE FRENCH NATIONAL FRONT, THE HUNGARIAN JOBBIK PARTY, AND THE BRITISH UKIP, IS THAT THERE IS SO LITTLE GOOD ANALYSIS OF THE TENDENCY TO EXPRESS SOCIO-ECONOMIC ALIENATION IN CULTURAL NATIONALIST TERMS.

SUPPOSE ONE PEERS ONCE MORE INTO THE FOG OF IGNORANCE AND ASKS QUESTIONS LIKE THESE: WHAT, IN FACT, IS THE ‘CARRYING CAPACITY’ OF OUR ECONOMY? ARE THERE WAYS IN WHICH ORDINARY WORKING PEOPLE CAN BENEFIT FROM AN INCREASING NUMBER OF IMMIGRANTS RATHER THAN SUFFER ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES? WHAT ARE THE SOCIOECONOMIC AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SOURCES OF CULTURAL INSECURITY ANYHOW? CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT THEM?

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

AT THIS POINT, THE QUESTION OF WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT EITHER THE CAUSES OR THE CONSEQUENCES OF MASS MIGRATION DEMANDS DISCUSSION. I DO NOT HAVE LOTS OF ANSWERS, BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH WE NEED TO LEARN IN ORDER TO MAKE MEANINGFUL PROPOSALS. LET ME MAKE TWO PRELIMINARY COMMENTS ABOUT THIS AND THEN OFFER SOME MODEST SUGGESTIONS.

FIRST, DISCUSSING HOW TO CHANGE LEGAL PROCEDURES IN THE SCHENGEN AREA SO AS TO DEVELOP A FAIRER AND MORE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF MIGRANTS TO VARIOUS NATIONS, AS WELL AS MORE EFFECTIVE METHODS OF HALTING THE TRAFFICKING IN MIGRANTS, IS CERTAINLY WORTHWHILE AND WARRANTED. BUT THESE PROPOSALS DO NOT DEAL WITH ANY OF THE LARGER SOCIAL ISSUES RAISED BY MY TALK SO FAR. AS A RESULT, THEY TEND TO FALL AFOUL OF DEEPER-ROOTED ANXIETIES DRIVING THE BLOC OF NATIONS OPPOSED TO ACCEPTING IMMIGRANTS WHOM THEY DEEM RACIALLY OR RELIGIOUSLY ALIEN.
SECOND, THE GENERAL UNWILLINGNESS OF EXPERTS AND SPECIALISTS IN THIS AREA TO DISCUSS WHAT THEY DO NOT KNOW AND WHAT NEW RESEARCH IS NEEDED MAINTAINS THE ZONE OF IGNORANCE. MIGRATION IS ONE AREA IN WHICH A CRASH PROGRAM OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH — A ‘MANHATTAN PROJECT’ AIMED AT ILLUMINATING THE CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF MIGRATION — SEEMS CLEARLY NEEDED. WHEN MY COUNTRY WAS RIVEN BY CIVIL VIOLENCE IN THE 60S AND 70S, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT FUNDED TWO MASSIVE STUDIES ON THE CAUSES AND PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE KNOWN AS THE KERNER COMMISSION REPORT (1968) AND THE EISENHOWER COMMISSION REPORT (1969), EACH OF WHICH GENERATED IMPORTANT POLICY CHANGES. I BELIEVE THAT THIS SORT OF EFFORT IN EUROPE TODAY WOULD QUICKLY REPAY ITS COST.

NOW LET ME MAKE THREE BRIEF SUGGESTIONS.

1. CONVENE PROBLEM SOLVING WORKSHOPS.
IN ADDITION TO FORTHRIGHT RESEARCH, WHAT SEEMS TO ME AN ESSENTIAL NEXT STOP IS THE CONVENING OF WHAT WE IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION CALL PROBLEM-SOLVING WORKSHOPS. THESE ARE FACILITATED DIALOGUES BETWEEN REPRESENTATIVES OF THE GROUPS MOST DEEPLY INVOLVED IN THE CONFLICT — THOSE WHO NEED TIME, SPACE, AND ASSISTANCE TO THINK MORE DEEPLY ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THE PROBLEM AND TO IMAGINE THE WIDEST POSSIBLE RANGE OF OPTIONS THAT MIGHT PRODUCE A SOLUTION.

SIMPLY TAKING SIDES BETWEEN GROUPS WELCOMING AND OPPOSING INCREASED IMMIGRATION, OR TRYING TO IMPOSE SOME ACCEPTABLE COMPROMISE SOLUTION FROM ABOVE, WILL NOT PRODUCE THE SORT OF RESULTS ONE HOPES FOR. WHAT IS NEEDED ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PARTIES TO ENGAGE IN JOINT ANALYSIS OF A PROBLEM THAT CONCERNS ALL OF THEM, TO THINK CREATIVELY ABOUT POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS, AND TO SEE IF THERE IS SOME WAY THAT THEY CAN WORK TOGETHER TO PRODUCE MUTUALLY ACCEPTABLE POLICIES. THIS SORT OF DIALOGUE SHOULD ALSO INVOLVE REPRESENTATIVES OF IMMIGRANT GROUPS – AND THERE ARE GOOD REASONS, IN MY VIEW, FOR CONDUCTING IT INDEPENDENTLY RATHER THAN AS A GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED ACTIVITY.

2. INVESTIGATE AND CONTROL THE MULTINATIONALS.
ALTHOUGH THERE IS NO TIME TO DISCUSS A SECOND SUGGESTION IN DETAIL, IT IS THIS: THE UNITED NATIONS, PERHAPS USING THE U.N. GLOBAL COMPACT ORGANIZATION AS A CONVENING BODY, SHOULD LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE ROLE OF MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS, PARTICULARLY THOSE IN THE EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES, IN GENERATING INTERNAL ANARCHY AND MASS MIGRATION IN SOCIETIES LIKE THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO. THERE IS A SCRAMBLE FOR WEALTH IN AFRICA AND ELSEWHERE GOING ON AT PRESENT THAT HAS NO PARALLEL SINCE THE PERIOD OF THE 1880S AND 1890S. IF WE DO NOT BEGIN TO PAY ATTENTION TO THIS DEVELOPMENT AND DEVISE MEANS TO CONTROL IT, WE WILL BE DISABLED FROM REDUCING THE ‘PUSH’ FACTORS DISCUSSED EARLIER.

3. IMMEDIATE CEASE FIRE IN SYRIA. FINALLY, THERE IS AN OBVIOUS NEED TO MAKE PEACE IN SYRIA, A STEP THAT WOULD HALVE THE NUMBER OF REFUGEES HEADED TOWARD EUROPE AS WELL AS SAVE VAST NUMBERS OF LIVES. IF THERE WERE EVER A NEED FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION AS A MEANS OF SOLVING A HOST OF RELATED PROBLEMS, THIS SITUATION ILLUSTRATES IT. ALMOST SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SYRIAN STRUGGLE, THE VIOLENCE THERE, KILLING AND DISPLACING MILLIONS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE, HAS BEEN EXACERBATED AND SPREAD BY FOREIGN POWERS SEEKING TO ADVANCE THEIR OWN IMPERIAL, POLITICAL, AND RELIGIOUS AGENDAS. WHAT IS NEEDED NOW IS AN IMMEDIATE CEASE FIRE WITHOUT ANY PRECONDITIONS, FOLLOWED BY PEACE TALKS INVOLVING THESE SAME FOREIGN NATIONS AS WELL AS THEIR LOCAL CLIENTS. ONE CAN ONLY HOPE THAT THE LATEST MOVES BY VLADIMIR PUTIN AND JOHN KERRY TO SETTLE THIS TRAGIC CONFLICT WILL FINALLY BEAR FRUIT.

I AM GRATEFUL FOR YOUR ATTENTION. IT IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO TALK TO A MALTESE AUDIENCE ABOUT ISSUES OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION, SINCE MALTA’S HISTORIC ROLE HAS BEEN TO HELP THE WORLD’S PEOPLES MAKE SUSTAINABLE PEACE. ENDING THE MIGRATION CRISIS IS DIFFICULT, BUT FAR FROM IMPOSSIBLE, SO LONG AS WE ARE WILLING TO MAKE PEACE A HIGHER PRIORITY THAN NARROW GROUP INTERESTS IN POWER AND PROFITS.

THE FLOOR IS NOW OPEN FOR YOUR QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Aslam Kakar November 17, 2015 at 5:52 am

Incredible piece professor!

But how would you comment on the role of Muslim world regardless of the interventionist policies of the US and its European allies in the region? Aren’t many Muslim countries responsible themselves for creating massive-scale displacements, both internally and externally, of their populations?

Aren’t unjust economic and political institutions, corruption, unfettered authoritarian rule, political and state violence, radical Islam, and other factors the main causes of peoples’ discontents and their eviction in majority of the Muslim countries?

Most importantly, has the Islamic world, especially the relatively stable states like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and others, ever tried to come together and find solution to countering threats of terrorism for example form Qaeda or now IS?

In my understanding, the role of the entire Islamic world with minor exceptions is pathetic, not only in reforming their decadent, corrupt, unjust, and lawless regimes but also in being united one to defeat the real threats of IS, Taliban, and Boko Haram (which are partly the product of these systems). And when they are not willing to do things on their own, the US and its allies automatically get pulled in the region’s politics.

Notwithstanding this reality, I do acknowledge the impact of western colonialism and imperialism and its legacy on many countries’ present circumstances in the Middle East and South Asia. But, for how long are they going to hide their own weakness and flaws under the pretext of harsh and bitter colonial experiences?

Looking forward to your reply!

Reply

Rich Rubenstein November 17, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Aslan, your comment makes many good points. I should have noted that the policies or lack of policies of many regimes in the Muslim world contribute to the outflow of migrants. But I do not think that the internal problems you correctly point to (which I also advert to in my recent post on the Paris attacks) and the imperialist/colonialist role in the region constitute an either/or. They are two aspects of the same reality! The unjust, corrupt, authoritarian, and violent regimes you criticize are, in important cases, bought and paid for by Western patrons.

It is perfectly true that the response of “relatively stable states” to the IS and other violent groups has been “pathetic,” as you say. I think this is because many of these rulers have thought they could use the jihadists for their own narrow purposes. (Think of Turkey allowing them to cross the Syrian border or Pakistan’s complicity in Afghani extremism.) But, until quite recently, this sort of thing has been part of the price the West was willing to pay for maintaining otherwise compliant regimes in power.

You are right: these mis-leaders should not hide their weaknesses and crimes behind a veil of colonial victimization. But a key to getting rid of them is convincing both the rich nations and the Muslim masses that neo-colonial domination, continuing right now, perpetuates these problems and generates both state violence and terrorism.

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