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More controversially it is also legitimate — indeed morally obligatory — to consider the long-term effects on the assisting countries. This is crucial given the default response by donor countries, including Australia, is to provide most assistance in the form of permanent resettlement places.
We are fortunate Australia has been able to control its borders and so our announced 12,000 places can be targeted to persecuted minorities with little prospect of a decent future otherwise.
The situation is very different in Europe, which faces an influx of biblical proportions from Syria and a belt of countries from Bangladesh in the east to Nigeria in the west. There is no capacity to prioritise on the basis of need or anything else. And there is every reason to presume some very adverse self-selection. A recently translated Islamic State document refers to the Libyan coast as the “gateway to Europe”, and that organisation already claims to have put several thousand in. Boasting maybe, but what is to stop them?
Much of the discussion about this has focused on economic impacts, such as pressures on already fragile social-welfare systems. These are obviously important, but the big issue is the longer-term cultural impact of a large influx of immigrants from the Islamic world.
In 2004, Bernard Lewis, the distinguished historian of Islam and the Middle East, ruffled some European feathers when he predicted Europe would be majority Islamic by the turn of the century “at the very latest”.
Since then other authors have taken up this theme, the most cogent being Christopher Caldwell and Bruce Bawer. They base their argument on the proposition “demography is destiny”. High Muslim birthrates combined with stagnant or declining native populations ensure a Muslim majority in Europe is only a matter of time. Some youths in Sweden reportedly have taken to wearing T-shirts with the slogan “2030 — the year we take over”.
This view, often referred to as the “Eurabia thesis”, has been attacked as simplistic, since it relies on the linear projection of existing population growth rates. Critics point to evidence that growth rates tend to decline once immigrant communities become settled. Taking this into account, the Pew Research Centre has forecast a gradual rather than dramatic increase in Europe’s Muslim proportion.
But predictions of gradual change are rendered irrelevant by the dramatic events of the past few months, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s extraordinarily foolish decision to accommodate, indeed invite, the mass uncontrolled entry of people into Europe. If this policy stands it will transform the continent over the coming decades given the high likelihood of further rounds of violent conflict and exploding populations in the source regions, especially Africa. The current influx will be only the start of an essentially open-ended process.
What Europe desperately needs but, crippled by a stupefying blend of political correctness and fear, seems incapable of having is a realistic debate about the long-term implications of all this. We see a kind of docile fatalism epitomised by a notorious radio interview in which the then Swedish minister for integration, Jens Orback, talked about accommodating Muslims now so that in the event they became a majority “we go a little bit safer”.
Any suggestion there might be any problem intrinsic to Islam has to be made with extreme care to avoid being accused of “Islamophobia”, an ill-defined term that is routinely conflated with racism. The penalties for transgressions in this area can be severe and may become more so — before Britain’s general election this year Labour leader Ed Miliband undertook to make Islamophobia an aggravated offence.
A realistic debate needs to acknowledge that Islam is not a race but a belief system, with tenets that many of its followers take extremely seriously. Key among those tenets is the requirement Muslims fight to make Islam dominant over other creeds and belief systems, the latter to survive only with an acknowledged subordinate status.
Islam does not recognise separate civil and religious spheres. The modern notion of diversity is utterly foreign to it, at least in the sense of different belief systems coexisting as equals. How many, if any, of the several score Muslim-majority countries grant genuine civil and religious liberty and equality to non-Muslims? How many more severely persecute followers of other belief systems? Anyone who asks what this would mean for Europe’s Judaeo-Christian tradition is branded a right-wing nativist, but the Enlightenment and everything the Left claims to value is on the line too.
No doubt many Western Muslims are non-observant or only nominally so, and many more reject extreme, especially violent, interpretations of their creed.
The problem is it only takes a handful of fanatics to cast a pall of fear over a society. This is not a matter of a few misguided types who can be de-radicalised. As Graeme Wood explains in a recent article in Atlantic magazine, in Islamic terms the theology of Islamic State is “coherent and even learned”. Polls show extreme beliefs are more common among second and third generations than in original immigrants.
The plight of people displaced by the Syrian conflict is a matter that requires urgent action, but Merkel’s approach is the worst way to go about it. For a fraction of what Germany is planning to spend on the predominantly young, mobile, male group able to use the services of people-smugglers, conditions in the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey could be vastly improved.
The goal should be to ensure decent living conditions for all the displaced people until they can be resettled safely, preferably in the region. British economist Paul Collier has proposed the creation of a Syria-in-exile economy to provide work and dignity. The wealthy Gulf states should be pressured to provide resettlement places to their Muslim brethren, reversing their disgraceful refusal to offer any so far.
If Europe is to avert a civilisational catastrophe it must close its borders to irregular flows urgently — as humanely as possible, but decisively.
This will be difficult and unpleasant, but the Australian experience shows it can be done given the political will. It is sobering to consider the death and mayhem that would be occurring right now on our northern maritime approaches if the boats had not been stopped.
As someone who sat opposite Tony Abbott in the federal parliament I acknowledge we owe him a considerable debt of gratitude on this score.
Peter Baldwin was a minister in the Hawke and Keating governments.