COLONEL John HughesWilson claims that there are barbarians at Europe’s gates (Cyprus Today, December 1). Invoking the fall of Rome as an example, Colonel HughesWilson argues that just as Rome fell to the hands of barbaric invaders in the past, Europe if not careful would suffer the same fate, the only difference this time being the identity of this barbaric invader — with immigrants from Africa and the Arab world replacing the Huns and Germanic tribes of the fourth century as the new barbarians.
Listing four reasons for the collapse of Rome, Colonel Hughes-Wilson theorises that Europe finds itself at a similar defining moment. He goes further to state that “Europe is sleepwalking into a complete re-ordering of society from unchecked mass immigration . . . the danger to Europe — as we know it — is staring us in the face. The question is, will Europe go the way of Rome, 2000 years ago . . . ?”
Upon first glance, and to the innocent mind, Colonel John Hughes-Wilson’s thesis might be taken as a literary masterpiece which invokes the history of the fall of Rome as a valuable lesson for today’s politician vis-à-vis the migration crisis. In fact, Colonel Hughes-Wilson would have us believe that the fall of Rome was largely due to a crisis of migration, what he refers to as “barbarians at the gates”. But he is wrong. In fact, the brilliance of his piece lies not in its historical accuracy, but in his ability to ignore, intentionally or unintentionally, the main reasons which led to the destruction of Rome, while focusing on the invasions which led to the undoing of an empire which had long been “dead” from the inside. The invasion of the Huns and Germanic tribes was the “final nail in the coffin”, not the beginning of the collapse of Rome.
It is important to begin any rebuttal by tackling the very essence of HughesWilson’s piece: the fall of Rome. He states four reasons explaining the collapse of Rome; weak defences, taxes being spent on luxurious lifestyles, a dwindling Roman economy, and immigration. In as much as the four reasons stated above might have contributed to the fall of Rome, they were at best trivial. In fact, there were other factors which accounted more for the collapse of Rome.
Overspending would be one. By the fourth century, Rome was overspending on military expeditions around the globe. A second would be political instability and government corruption within Rome itself — a factor which Colonel Hughes-Wilson mentions, although very little attention is paid to the role it played in the collapse of Rome. One cannot underestimate the effects which political instability and infighting had.
Perhaps the most compelling reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire have been given by Dr Patrick Hunt of Stanford University and Dr Kara Cooney of the University of California. Dr Hunt has since succinctly posited that if a system is built on looting and acquiring slaves, then it will eventually collapse because it will run out of territory to conquer. This is exactly what plagued the Roman economy by the turn of the third century; a cash flow problem. A similar position is echoed by Dr Cooney, who argues that the Roman system broke because it became too expensive to keep. She goes further to state that, in fact, the socalled barbarians which many historians refer to were ex-members of the Roman army, trained by the Romans and used during its wars of expansion around the globe. Yes, pacifism, luxury, decadence, weak defences and invasions from Germanic tribes contributed to the fall of Rome, but the root cause was not these invasions, but this simple truth: “a system based on exploitation of others will always collapse”. This is the real lesson which one should take away from the fall of Rome.
This being the case, the premise upon which Colonel Hughes-Wilson builds his case is very shaky and as such needs to be revisited. The danger to Europe is not the immigration crisis by and of itself, but the sociopolitical and economic dynamics within Europe.
Debunking the premise of his thesis is not sufficient, however. It is important that the hypocrisies of some of the other claims made in his write-up are addressed. There is a need to first challenge the notion of “barbarians”.
“Barbarians” in the sense of “unlike us” is quite understandable, but when understood as “uncivilised” becomes problematic. In most cases, it is understood and used interchangeably to mean both, and this I find very problematic. Who sets the standard for civilisation? An example would be the Romans claiming to be the “civilised ones” even though it was an empire built on the practice of slavery and slave trade which one should not consider as a civilised practice. I am not sure that the gladiators who fought to the death in the Colosseum saw this as a civilised practice either. In today’s terms, Colonel Hughes-Wilson refers to immigrants as barbarians; uncivilised, dirt poor, uneducated, backward, extremists, etc. This is not only a stereotypical way of thinking, but the usage of such racist and xenophobic language in itself is dangerous and reminiscent of language used by Nazi Germany. In today’s increasing globalising world, such vile “othering” is in itself a major problem which needs to be addressed. If we stop seeing ourselves as better than others, then perhaps we might begin accepting and understanding that our differences are not natural but socially constructed.
The hypocrisy of the piece also lies in the fact that its author fails to address European migration in the past. In fact, the history of Europe and the world between the 17th century and the early 20th century is replete with Europeans migrating to other parts of the world — the Americas, Africa and Asia — fleeing from religious persecution and wars, and in search of better lives. In fact, it is estimated that between the 1800s and 1930s, about 60 million Europeans emigrated to the Americas alone. Therefore, the claim that this “African exodus” will be of biblical proportions is false in the sense that in the past, there have been similar movements, and in larger numbers too.
Yes! I agree that Europe is facing a crisis, but not in the sense that the numbers of Africans and Arabs fleeing to her shores are astoundingly high or that this is a novel occurrence, but in the sense that “it is the refugees and migrants who are confronted with a crisis of Europe”, using Natalie Nougayrède’s words. Europe is facing a crisis; an identity crisis with its people being misled to forget their history of “constant population movement” and “mixing of cultures”.
There is no denying the fact that in today’s world, there is a crisis of migration. Europe is certainly one of the destinations for thousands of persons fleeing war, poverty and hunger, as well as those searching for a better life, but it is hardly the main destination. In order to solve this crisis of migration, we must collectively address the root causes of migration (wars, poverty, political instability, famine, hunger, corruption, governance and institutional failures etc) rather than the “final rings of the chain”. Addressing these issues should be our main focus, and in doing so, we must look at the root causes; socio-political and economic crises in the host nations of migrants/refugees. Many Western powers, France in particular, which Colonel Hughes-Wilson claims is facing a “great replacement” by Muslims, still controls the lives of millions of Africans through neo-colonial economic policies which should be illegal. You would be surprised to learn that up to “50 per cent of the monetary reserves of 14 African countries is still under full French control”. Of this 14, none of them have control of their monetary or macroeconomic policies. These monetary policies imposed by France through colonial treaties and ignored by the EU have discouraged exports and encouraged imports which benefit eurozone companies, particularly those of France at the expense of these countries. Worse still, the money in the so-called “French reserves” is lent back to these African states at exorbitant interest rates.
You might also be surprised to learn that 61 per cent of the 76 coups in Africa have taken place in former French colonies and been led by French legionnaires. It is hypocritical to destabilise the economies and societies of these countries and expect their people not to move/flee in search of a better life. Migration, put simply, is a necessary response to various forms of violence and adversity (Heide Castañeda).
Perhaps immigration might change the demography of Europe, but this is not something to be scared of; rather, this diversity should be embraced. The example of the French multicultural squad winning the World Cup in Russia could serve as the way forward for us all.
So to answer your question, Colonel HughesWilson: the danger to Europe lies not in the immigrants fleeing to its shore, but the refusal of Europe to address its identity and economic crisis. If one is to learn anything from the fall of Rome, then it should be that a system based on exploitation of others will always collapse. The recent strikes organised by the “gilets jaunes” in France come to mind.