Ex­o­dus to Europe’s promised lands

The pop­u­la­tion trans­fer is a symp­tom of an un­treated pathol­ogy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clifford D. May

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants are leav­ing the Mid­dle East, head­ing to what they see as the promised lands of Europe and, if pos­si­ble, Amer­ica. No­tice where they are not go­ing. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion (OIC) has 57 mem­bers. Though Jor­dan, Le­banon and Tur­key are serv­ing as way sta­tions, no OIC states are of­fer­ing to per­ma­nently re­set­tle their co-re­li­gion­ists. The Arab League has 22 mem­bers. They, too, ap­par­ently re­gard this as not their prob­lem.

In fact, I’m find­ing not a word about the ex­o­dus on the Arab League’s web­site. On the OIC home page, if you look care­fully, there’s a brief item about an “emer­gency meet­ing to mo­bi­lize ef­forts to ad­dress the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis.” I’m sure it will be pro­duc­tive.

The Western media are re­port­ing on the mi­gra­tion as a hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sue, which it is. Western po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are re­spond­ing to it on that ba­sis as they should. But to ig­nore or even give short shrift to the long-range geostrate­gic ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this pop­u­la­tion trans­fer from the blood-soaked Mid­dle East would be a mis­take of his­toric pro­por­tions.

The deep roots of the cri­sis trace back to the de­feat, in the early 20th cen­tury, of the Ot­toman Em­pire and the dis­so­lu­tion of the caliphate. World War II col­lapsed the Euro­pean colo­nial experiment that fol­lowed. At­tempts to es­tab­lish a vi­able na­tion-state sys­tem in the re­gion since then have been less than suc­cess­ful.

As for the prox­i­mate causes: In 2011, or­di­nary Syr­i­ans be­gan to peace­fully protest the dic­ta­tor­ship of Bashar As­sad, a pup­pet — or to use the Per­sian-de­rived word, a satrap — of the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic of Iran.

The As­sad regime ruth­lessly sup­pressed that dis­sent. Civil war en­sued. Euro­pean na­tions did noth­ing. Pres­i­dent Obama thought it suf­fi­cient to proph­e­size that “the time has come for Pres­i­dent As­sad to step aside.”

Iran’s rulers saw the sit­u­a­tion dif­fer­ently, back­ing Mr. As­sad to the hilt — send­ing in Hezbol­lah, their Le­banese proxy mil­i­tary forces, as well as elite units of their Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps. Be­fore long, Is­lamic war­riors claim­ing to de­fend Syria’s Sun­nis from Mr. As­sad and his Shia pa­trons emerged on the bat­tle­fields as well.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, dec­i­mated dur­ing the Amer­i­can “surge,” re­vived soon af­ter Mr. Obama with­drew all Amer­i­can troops from Iraq. It mor­phed into the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS and ISIL — the lat­ter sig­ni­fy­ing its in­tent to con­quer all the coun­tries of the Le­vant. It then be­came the Is­lamic State, declar­ing it­self the new caliphate, heir to the great and pow­er­ful Is­lamic em­pires of the past.

Fight­ing among these groups has killed hun­dreds of thou­sands and forced mil­lions from their homes. Chris­tians and other mi­nori­ties are be­ing threat­ened with an­ni­hi­la­tion. These hu­man­i­tar­ian crises have not been seen as a high pri­or­ity by the “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.” (We’ll leave for another day why that is.)

Right now, mi­grants are stream­ing to the West not only from Syria and Iran but also from the failed states of So­ma­lia and Libya, from war-torn Afghanistan and, as word spreads that Euro­peans are open­ing their doors and wal­lets, a grow­ing num­ber are leav­ing such bleak lands as Eritrea, Nige­ria and Pak­istan.

The cri­sis will get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter — if it gets bet­ter. What is now a wave could be­come a tide or a tsunami. The new im­mi­grants will strain Europe’s al­ready-over­stretched wel­fare sys­tems. They will not be easily as­sim­i­lated in part be­cause Euro­peans have em­braced mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism — not to be con­fused with tol­er­ance and plu­ral­ism, and the po­lar op­po­site of the old Amer­i­can ideal of E pluribus Unum.

The vast ma­jor­ity of new im­mi­grants are not Is­lamic su­prem­a­cists. Some will un­doubt­edly be­come out­stand­ing cit­i­zens of their adopted home­lands. But, as we should have learned by now, if even a small per­cent­age turns out to be mil­i­tants, the im­pact will be sig­nif­i­cant. Think Char­lie Hebdo. Now mul­ti­ply. Al­ready there are re­ports in the Euro­pean press of Is­lamists in Ger­many re­cruit­ing Syr­ian refugees in the shel­ters where they are be­ing housed and the mosques where they are go­ing to pray. The Saudis have pledged to help — by build­ing more mosques.

Among the new ar­rivals, the birthrate is likely to be high for at least a gen­er­a­tion. Euro­pean birthrates, by con­trast, will re­main low. Chil­dren of the im­mi­grants who grow up alien­ated and ag­grieved — ex­pect a large num­ber — will at­tempt to fun­da­men­tally trans­form Euro­pean cul­ture.

So far, at least, no ev­i­dence sug­gests that the lead­ers of the Is­lamic State, al Qaeda or Iran en­gi­neered this cri­sis. But their abil­ity to think strate­gi­cally should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. The Is­lamic State, we now know, was never a JV team. Re­ports of al Qaeda’s death were at best pre­ma­ture. Per­haps, as Mr. Obama ap­pears to be­lieve, Iran’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary cler­ics will soon be­come mod­er­ates, but I’m bet­ting that judg­ment is dead wrong as well. And these Is­lamist lead­ers, Sunni and Shia alike, are smart enough to rec­og­nize the op­por­tu­ni­ties the mi­gra­tion cri­sis of­fers them.

Mean­while, Vladimir Putin is doubt­less view­ing the dis­tress of the NATO al­lies with some­thing akin to glee. He is sharply in­creas­ing Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syria. He in­tends to re­set re­la­tions — though not in the way Mr. Obama had hoped.

Euro­pean and Amer­i­can lead­ers face a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge. Are they up it? Do they un­der­stand that the mi­grants are a symp­tom of patholo­gies that will spread — in­clud­ing in Western coun­tries — if not more ac­cu­rately di­ag­nosed and more ef­fec­tively treated? Do they have the diplo­matic skill to per­suade Arab and Mus­lim lead­ers to be­come pro­duc­tively en­gaged? Will they de­vise cre­ative so­lu­tions be­fore sub­stan­tial dam­age is done? I’m afraid these ques­tions an­swer them­selves. Clifford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Washington Times.


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