The Dangers of Denial
We have profound differences with the FPÖ. But we must also be honest enough, and humble enough, to admit that they may be correct about this.
Two years after the start of the refugee crisis, some hard truths and daunting challenges can no longer be ignored Since 2015, when over a million refugees flooded across EU borders, it has been nearly impossible to have an honest conversation about what was at stake. It all happened so quickly; the numbers were mind-boggling – some 98,000 applying for asylum in Austria. It was thanks to the volunteers that the thousands were fed, clothed, sheltered and counseled, while the overstretched social machinery geared up to take over. Even harder was talking about it. So much got in the way: the guilty cloud of the Holocaust, the Catholic Church's tradition of charity, and the deeply-rooted values of Europe- an social democracy – of open societies, of fairness and respect for human rights, which we believe should be extended to all. So if refugees behaved badly, no one was supposed to notice. Police were counseled to be lenient; violence and sexual assault in the shelters went unreported. That the incidents occurred was hardly surprising as 73% of the refugees were young men with energy to burn. But if home was so dangerous, where were the parents, sisters, wives? (“They send the sons ahead,” one volunteer told me. “Then the family just buys a plane ticket.”) The media bent over backwards to show the refugees in a positive light so as not to turn the public against them. With preference for Syrians and Iraqis, among others, lying was common, and piles of discarded passports were found in the woods. One Croatian volunteer remarked with a sigh that it had taken his family eight years to get through the process. How was it these people could simply walk in? But a blanket of denial lay over public discussion. Most of all, over discussion of Islam. Only the FPÖ seemed willing to talk about it – even if crudely – voicing the anxieties of an ever-wider public tired of being told they were racist simply for bringing it up. Two years later, we know a lot more. According to two recent studies, Muslims in Austria – whose number has doubled since 2001 – all too often “refuse to integrate,” and over 30% have little or no contact outside the community. More than half of male refugees and 40% of Turks would not offer a hand to a woman – confirming a common complaint of Austrian officials and schoolteachers. A full third believe that Austrian law “does no apply” to observant Muslims, and many think of Israel as the enemy. Even in the second generation, many do not speak native German. It's hard to know what to expect from the new government: The new Education Minister Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) is optimistic and wants to provide intensive language tutoring – “perhaps three hours a day” – outside of regular classes. The new Interior Minister, Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) sees through a far darker glass: “Through the policy of open borders… [Austria and Europe] have pushed the western achievements of the Enlightenment, tolerance and even of social equality to the brink.” With these figures, unfortunately, it’s hard to argue. Decisions like deporting integrated families or denying foreign graduates of Austrian universities the right to stay and work are surely off the mark, misguided and wasteful. We have profound differences with the FPÖ. But we must also be honest enough, and humble enough, to admit that they may be correct about this. We should have paid better attention before; we must pay attention now.
Dardis Mcnamee Editor in Chief