By Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University
The nations of the European Union and the United States are justifiably concerned about Islamic extremism. At the heart of this dilemma is what has been called a clash of civilizations. While there are certainly many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world, there is also a radical element that seeks to destabilize the EU and ultimately to replace it with a caliphate.
The stated intent of this radical and increasingly powerful minority is the destruction of Western culture in Europe. The causes of the current crisis are rooted in colonial and post-colonial immigration from former colonies into Europe due to war and the continuing instability in the Middle East since 9/11.
The European Great Powers and Colonialism
One could easily write a large book on European colonialism and its effects. This has been done numerous times. Suffice it to say that in 1914, the European Great Powers ruled a very large part of the world. The colonization of Africa in the 19th and early part of the 20th century was indicative of that trend.
Under that system, the European powers took raw materials from the underdeveloped parts of the world and sold them finished goods. This clearly rapacious system harmed many emerging nations and discouraged immigration from these colonies to Europe.
This system continued until the end of World War II when it crumbled as more and more colonial entities began to choose independence from their European masters. Once countries in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world were free, immigration to Europe increased as emigrants left poverty and corrupt governments in hopes of finding a better life abroad.
Unfortunately, many immigrants to Europe seeking advancement and a better life lacked the skills necessary to ensure their success in a highly industrialized society. The socialist states of Europe provided the immigrants with the basic life necessities, which only encouraged more immigration. The civil war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) spurred the most recent wave of immigrants to the EU.
Assimilation or Deliberate Separation?
The main topic of debate on refugee immigration to Europe today is the question of assimilation or deliberate separation? Historically, in both the U.S. and Europe, immigrants sought to assimilate into the host culture while maintaining their cultural and language heritage. Maintaining one’s heritage and assimilation into a host culture are not opposing goals.
The threat to Western societies comes from those who immigrate to the EU with no intention of assimilating, those who wish to enforce a deliberate separation from the host culture. This immigrant population (small in number, but ruthless and increasingly powerful) seeks to overthrow the existing host culture and replace it with its own views on ethics, religion and justice that are far removed from Western norms. This is a problem with militant migrants today particularly in the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
The Great Debate between Left and Right
What to do about mass migration and radicalization of some immigrants living in the EU has been debated for years. The Pew Foundation broke down European views on the refugee crisis into a series of five charts.
The Left claims that globalism and cultural relativism teach us that societies must embrace all people. This perspective, as well as the opposing mainly isolationist view, have been extensively debated in Europe. Some Europeans who wish to keep immigration at a high level, even though there are many problems, have been labeled as apologists. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been accused of this position.
Others have been labelled right-wing extremists for taking the opposing view. Some might consider the Polish EU Member of Parliament Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a rightwing extremist. Then there are those who changed their minds on the issue due to events such as British Prime Minister Theresa May. At first she was quite supportive of the Muslim population in Britain. However, the Manchester bombing and the London Bridge attack seem to have changed her mind somewhat. Having been roundly defeated in last week’s snap election, we don’t know what her next steps will be, if she manages to retain power.
Are There Any Viable Solutions?
Recent research by the Pew Research Center suggests that much of the European body politic is not pleased with how the EU has managed the refugee crisis. But there are no easy solutions. There are three primary perspectives on how to solve the problem. As noted above, there is the view of the liberal left, the view of the conservative right, and those who hold to a more moderate stance.
One of the disturbing issues is that the terms “nationalism” and “populism” are seen as negatives in the immigration debate. While Europe has a very long history of nation-state conflicts, there is certainly nothing wrong in love of one’s country and culture, and wishing to preserve them. Populism is also necessary at times.
In the U.S., the recent presidential election highlighted that perhaps a sizable portion of American voters were simply tired of what they saw as cultural elitist stances by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Populism can disturb the status quo, as we’ve seen in Senator Bernie Sander’s 2016 populist campaign in the U.S. presidential election and the recent victorious campaign by President Emmanuel Macron in France.
Indeed, populism can lead to positive changes either by replacing traditional parties or causing those parties to modify their positions for the public good. Only time will tell how the immigration crisis in the EU will be decided. But if history is any indicator, there will be an end to it one day.
About the Author
Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. He holds a B.A. in law enforcement from Marshall University, an M.A. in military history from Vermont College of Norwich University and a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in criminal justice from Northcentral University. Jeffrey is also a published author, a former New York deputy sheriff and a retired Army Captain, having served over 20 years in the U.S. Army. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate classes on global terrorism.