On November 29th 2016, yours truly participated in the “High Level Meeting” between the European Commission and faith leaders. Twice a year such meetings take place, once with faith leaders and once with secular thinkers. The theme of this year’s meeting was how to deal with the integration of migrants. I must highlight that the questions put before the faith leaders were themselves representing teh political bias of the parties in control of the EU Commission, which, truth to be told, is legitimate. Thus, the question was not whether to take in more refugees, but how to better do so. That said, all participants felt an ethical duty to act humanely. Below are my slightly edited prepared comments to the assembled dignitaries. Part I was presented. Part II was spontaneously adapted to the discussion and thus was not fully presented, however it did form the basis of some of my comments when I was later interviewed by Radio Vatican.Dear EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans,
Dear excellencies, highnesses, honorable members of this assembly, political and faith leaders alike,
Before I begin my comments, I join in with the other invitees to express my gratitude at having been invited to this august assembly.
I. In our invitation we were asked „How can integration be better anchored in European fundamental values, and what would building more inclusive and cohesive societies require?“
I believe that what‘s needed is paradoxical. We need to be more welcoming, but by being more welcoming, we unwittingly encourage those who want us to be less welcoming to take action to thwart our plans, be it peacefully, through the ballot box and newspaper editorials, or less peacefully, through hateful actions.
As Vice President Timmermans reminded us, François Mitterand said: “The difference between a patriot and a nationalist is that a patriot loves his country, while a nationalist hates all other countries.” Well, we need to move both those afraid of or resisting the integration of migrants and the migrants themselves to become patriots, rather than nationalists of either their present country of the culture they came from. We need to inspire dreams, as you say, Mr. Timmermans.
What is needed is a strong identity around which we can rally. One that validates the identity of the old Europeans, and yet incorporates the new Europeans so successfully, that they become part of the myths and the identities that forge a national character.
This may sound impossible, a paradox, an unbridgeable chasm, but it isn‘t, for it has been done before. Despite the conflicts that broke out during the run up to the latest presidential elections in the United States of America, the US remains the nation that has most successfully nurtured a foundational narrative about itself, validating the identities of its founding populations, and yet has also provided a path for inclusion and a narrative for including millions and millions upon millions of immigrants from the four corners of the world.
But that did require the USA, despite its federal structure, to think as a nation, not as a supranational entity. If Europe wants to succeed, it will need a similar approach, act culturally more like a single diverse nation, and less like a supranational entity.
In fact, I dare say that the failures of the EU, such as, for example the ballot box victory of the Brexit camp, stem exactly from the EU‘s failure so far to embrace a mythology that can unite us. Though far smaller than the EU, we can look at Switzerland for a model of how that could work. The Swiss cantons enjoy a very far reaching autonomy, including even taxation and citizenship, which is handled at the cantonal level and is unusual within a single country. Yet despite their fiercely guarded mutual independence, the 26 Swiss cantons are united not just by a federal government, but more so by a common foundational narrative.
To make Europe accept the immigrants it needs, it will have to make the immigrants embrace its foundational narrative and myths, as well. I say this with trepidation, for such narratives can be very exclusionary, and as a Jew I am only too aware of how often the foundational national narratives and myths were interpreted such as to justify terrible and even violent discrimination against my brethren throughout history. So these narratives need to be properly curated, chosen and interpreted, but I fear that without them, we may fail at uniting the diverse populations that make up Europe.
Cultural actors are best poised to play a major role in this, but do they want? They may have their own political biases (they do), which makes them choose to address only that sliver of the population that consumes their cultural creations. We will need to recruit diverse cultural actors to become convinced of this cause and overcome their biases.
I want to suggest that our foundational myth can be based on the Thirty Years War, the peace of Westphalia that concluded it, and the understanding that the wars of religion had been too bloody and senseless. Instead arose the novel idea that people have freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Europe needs to become synonymous with conscience and with freedom of conscience. That means respecting those who disagree with us while expecting all to respect these freedoms. Of course, that will also mean reigning in the imposition of certain tendentious very secularist values upon an unwilling population, even upon an unwilling minority. Just as there should be limits on religious and traditional people imposing their way of life upon others, there also need to be limits on secularists imposing their values and way of life upon others, including upon religious and traditional people. This will express itself in many areas. We will need to struggle with animal welfare, sexual education, religious education, practices such as circumcision and more.
Right now, we have a certain balance in Europe, and it is constantly shifting. It isn’t always shifting in the direction needed for a more tolerant Europe, especially, as one the one hand we are witnessing the influence of radical preachers and teaching materials, and on the other hand, a more radical extreme left seeking to impose its ever stricter new morality upon conservative masses, and that’s seeking to also undermine and delegitimize the more traditional and conservative outlook of those less secular than them, as well as a radical right on the third hand, which seeks to impose its unwelcoming and unwelcome values upon the public. All three need to be reined in to create the European space we crave for.
II A corollary of the question of how to create a more cohesive Europe is the question of „How can the fears among mainstream society as well as among minorities be better addressed?“
Well, the fears among mainstream society and among minorities are not always out of place. Though they may sometimes prompt reprehensible reactions in some people, the questions and fears may still be legitimate. By not taking the voters‘ concerns seriously, we push them in teh hands of populists. I think that we need a grand societal impulse for politicians of mainsteam parties to reconnect with voters, to try to convince them of what is necessary, win them over to causes, rather than trick them into facing faits accomplis. It also means that not every political wish will become reality, because not every such wish will find support among voters, and convincing takes time and effort. We also generally need to reignite the desire to converse with each otehr across political isles. The echo chamber effect of social media has exacerbated the problem whereby we only hear the opinions of those who think like us, but civil society needs dialogues between those who disagree. Politicians are well poised to play a major role in this.
Additionally, we need to recognize that some groups preach competing narratives that are so radical and so reprehensible that they justify the concerns of citizens. As a result, we must tackle not just actual hate speech, but the appearance of a culture of hate and non- integration.
Imam Palavicini remarked that “A European policy of integration helps deradicalisation.” To this I dare add that the converse is true, as well: A European policy on fighting and restricting radicalisation helps also integration, and profoundly so (though it also needs to be matched by a greater willingness to accept and integrate those who want to be integrated).
German crime statistics indicate an interesting and worrying statistical surprise. Despite worries about the criminal potential of many refugees, the war refugees have shown themselves less likely to engage in various crimes, which is good. But nonetheless, second and third generation migrants from certain areas have shown themselves significantly overrepresented in crime statistics, and I do not mean as victims.
The possibility that the children and grandchildren of people who were succesfully integrated have themselves become de-integrated is very worrisome, and it means that many more means need to be invested in maintaining integration through the second and third generation. Evidently, some cultural factors have made the de-integration possible, and that needs to be dealt with urgently, so we do not create today the unmanageable failures of twenty years from now.
Finally, it was stated that „Our society’s glue lies in its core: a sometimes silent majority of people of good will, who favor a social contract founded on solidarity.“
I am sorry, but I am not convinced that our silent majority feels such a strong solidarity. I am afraid that that is part of the foundational mythology of the left parties, of the labor unions, and it was once true. But I am afraid that solidarity is far weaker nowadays than we care to admit. It is something that needs to be rebuilt, and for that, we need a mythology and a narrative that unites us.