Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cologne and the challenges of mass dislocation

…precisely when the country needs a coolheaded conversation about the impact of Germany’s new refugee population, we’re playing musical chairs: Everybody runs for a seat to the left and to the right, afraid to remain in the middle, apparently undecided. 
The irony is that the Cologne attacks, by highlighting the issue of refugees and their culture, raise an incredibly important question and at the same time make it almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation about it.
Integration will fail if Germany cannot resolve the tension between its secular, liberal laws and culture and the patriarchal and religiously conservative worldviews that some refugees bring with them. We cannot avoid that question out of fear of feeding the far right. But integration will also fail if a full generation of refugees is demonized on arrival.
Anna Sauerbrey seems to capture the reaction in democracies to any crisis that they face these days. But yes, there are certain hard challenges associated with the immigration issue that do need to be addressed rationally and objectively, far from the fear-mongering of the far right, and the political correctness ad absurdum of the far left.

Plainly speaking, we cannot expect countries to allow more refugees to pour across their borders than their existing social systems can handle. Talk here is not about bureaucratic processing and providing the bare minimum needed for survival, but also about having enough time to conduct some necessary orientation programs, and to help refugees settle down beyond the basics, which requires access to jobs, training, education and counseling. To ensure this in Germany, perhaps more states need to be involved in hosting refugees, while in Europe, and the world as a whole, more countries need to step up to shoulder the burden. For this not just a passing phase. What we are witnessing today is the beginning of an era of major population dislocation that will be part of our lives for decades to come, spurred by a combination of environmental, political and socioeconomic drivers. The sooner we accept this fact the faster we can prepare for handling its challenges, and the more effective our responses will be. There is a nested series of opportunities and crises involved here, and we need to begin sorting things out now while we have some time before the floodgates truly open.

As for the proposed orientation programs, the macabre development in Cologne should help us realize the need for breaching certain topics, including women’s rights and differing socio-sexual mores, with the refugees that we have been loath to do previously for fear of sounding judgmental, condescending or racist, etc. The reason for orientation is not to preach or convert, but to reassert the authority of the law of the land. For, even though some red lines are intuitive, a reminder in this situation is necessary, because the trip to Germany for most migrants have included an element of flaunting the law, and have exposed many of these migrants to horrific circumstances, including serious abuses.

The behavior of the migrant gangs in Cologne was not some cultural misunderstanding. It was criminal behavior par excellence, and those who engaged in it knew it. But, I think that, in addition to drunkenness and mass hysteria, their behavior was also influenced by their inability to appreciate the existence of limits. Despite the hatred and anger that their presence had inspired in some, once they arrived in Germany, the experiences of most migrants were quite positive relatively speaking, and most people who met one they arrived were concerned with making them feel safe and welcome. For few, (since we are talking about a million refugees by now, the few could mean several thousands) some of whom might already be criminals of one type or another, while others might simply be confused and angry as a result of their journey, or what they have witnessed before their journey, the welcoming attitude might have felt as an invitation to explore the limits of the acceptable. It is for the sake of this few and for others more accustomed to a structured way of life, that orientation programs are needed, and need to contain a component asserting the authority of the law. The majority of the refugees who may not need such a program are not likely to find it as objectionable as some people on the left may think. After all, they are generally aware of the controversy and fears that their influx is causing in host countries; as such, they can understand the need for taking part in such programs.

What happened in Cologne is criminal, but it’s not a cultural misunderstanding, nor is it a simple sign of sexual frustration (rape, after all, is about power, rage and control). We will not know the ultimate motives until the key players are identified by the police, and until their specific background stories are made known, as is the case with any criminal investigation.

But, yes, accommodating migrants will not be easy, and, no, we cannot turn our backs on them. For, even if building walls to keep migrants out was a feasible proposition, eventually, walls will make prisoners of us as well. On a less philosophical note, the problem we are dealing with here is this:  over the next few decades, a set of man-made and environmental disasters, including conflicts, droughts and famine will combine to drive millions of people from their homes, in the direction of the West, and more developed nations. In theory, it is better for all concerned if we managed this situation through a series of timely, if costly, interventions, keeping people where they are and preventing violence from escalating. But since the political will for such undertakings is lacking in the West, and since countries like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among others, tend to intervene in a manner the further inflame conflicts, and, finally, since, unfortunately for all of us, there are still quite few regimes around the world boasting leaders like Assad or worse, considering all this, we are left with the difficult task of managing the influx of refugees and migrants. For our sake, as well as theirs, we cannot afford to lack the political will to do things right here.