The haunting picture of a little Syrian boy’s body being carried up a Turkish beach has intensified demands that the West admit millions more refugees from the Islamic world’s violence, tyranny, bigotry, corruption and poverty. How much of the problem is Islam in general? Or is the main problem simply some Muslims' savage adherence to some of its harsh 7th Century scriptures?
The West is the best place. See where people flee to. Its democracy, tolerance, rule of law, free inquiry, ingenuity and energy have produced what are the world’s most humane and prosperous conditions, along, it is true, with sybaritic excesses. Of course, since we’re told to respect “multiculturalism’’ (whatever that means) it’s politically incorrect to say that some cultures are better. And, yes, non-Western societies have some admirable elements, some of the finest of which the West, the most open culture, has adopted.
But everybody wants a piece of the West. For example, when Muslim Arabs get very rich, many live in, drink in and have bank accounts in Europe and North America.
However, the West’s success could be its undoing. The economic and political refugees pouring into Europe include many (nice and not-so-nice) people who don’t share many of our values. Many will continue to adhere to Islamic ideas antithetical to Western societies.
Many, perhaps most, Muslims drawn to the West’s wealth and security don’t accept our full separation of religion and the state. They’ve been indoctrinated to believe that Islam ( “submission’’) should replace other religions. (A minority of the refugees are Christians, increasingly brutalized by Mideast Muslims. Will a few of the Muslim refugees become Christian out of gratitude to their rescuers?)
Mull how negatively many, perhaps most, Muslims confront such Western causes as equality for women, gay rights (including gay marriage) and freedom of religion and speech – including the right to criticize the murderous bigotry encouraged by some Muslim scripture. The presence of so many Muslims in Europe has already led to growing self-censorship from fear of being murdered by Islamic fanatics. Yes, there’s violent barbarism, bigotry, extreme sexism, etc., in the Bible, mostly in the Old Testament, but very few Jews or Christians follow those archaic directives anymore.
Some Muslim immigrants, especially those young men who find getting a job more difficult in Europe than they had thought it would be, will grow angry when they discover the streets aren’t paved with gold. Then a few will become the same sort of fanatics who have terrorized swaths of the Muslim world daily and from time to time the West.
It would generally be better if most Muslim refugees were permanently resettled as new citizens in Muslim states, particularly the rich Arab states on the Persian Gulf and (non-Arab) Turkey. But with the callousness that most Arab nations have long displayed in refusing resettlement of Palestinians in their lands, the Gulf dictatorships are loathe to accept waves of Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, Afghan and Pakistani refugees, though they do provide financial aid to temporarily assist some of them.
And the big nearby corrupt police states of Russia and Iran won’t take the refugees, though they have plenty of room. The latter, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, doesn’t want Sunnis, and the former fears adding more Muslims who might fuel Islamic separatism in Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic empire.
Many Westerners, even as their heartstrings are pulled by so many desperate people trying to escape the Muslim world (while planning to remain Muslims), are understandably anxious about the influx. Their anxiety is fueling right-wing and even fascist responses that, along with so many people coming from an undemocratic and intolerant tradition, could threaten European democracy.
What to do? Refugee applications should be decided case-by-case. But the West must do what it can to stem the tide of refugees if it wants to remain, well, the West. This would include creating safe areas, supplied with massive, open-ended foreign humanitarian aid, in Syria and Iraq – such as “no-fly’’ and other protected zones. There people could live relatively safe from Islamic State killers and rapists and in Syria, also from Bashar Assad’s barrel bombs and poison gas. Further, the West should apply much more pressure to get rich Muslim countries to take in their co-religionists and let them become citizens.
And it would be both humane and in the interest of the West’s security for Europe, Canada and the U.S. to provide much more aid in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt to help those nations host the millions of refugees there, within the Islamic world.
Meanwhile, Europeans better think more clearly about the future they want. How many intolerant refugees can a nation accept before that nation becomes intolerant too?
Robert Whitcomb (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Providence-based writer and editor, is a former editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal, former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.