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How Europe's refugee inaction threatens to undermine its own security
By Joé Majerus
In every generation there comes a time when the calls for humanity and solidarity can no longer be ignored. When they demand to be answered with a single voice on a broad and united front. When the cries of millions for foreign aid and a minimum degree of humane treatment following years of unconceivable misery and adversity must not be silenced or rejected. When instead they must be received with open hearts by all nations not as veiled attempts by the impoverished to gain illegal access to the riches of western societies, but as desperate screams for helping them overcome the agonies of protracted warfare, material devastation and ethnic displacement. Such are the calls that reach European countries by the thousands each day as a result of the aggravating refugee crisis confronting the continent at this very moment, and they must no longer be allowed to fall on deaf ears.
For one, both morality and historical experience require nothing less of us than rendering these sorrow-stricken people our full and unrelenting assistance in the most trying stage of their lives. Just as important, however, failure to help them while we still can might also entail dire long-term consequences for our own long-term safety and security, notably by presenting Islamic extremists with the very means, mindsets and social environments necessary for waging war against us on a trans-national scale. Accordingly, this is the time for all of us—citizens and politicians alike—to rise up in a common effort to the arguably most daunting and formidable challenge facing Europe in this day and age. This is the time for giving back to other fellow human beings in need of our support just a little bit of that relative comfort, security and ease which we ourselves have been enjoying for so long now and which we all too often take for granted as being but our own god- given birthright or prerogative. This is the time to realize that most of the people now seeking shelter and refuge with us from the anguish and unimaginable horrors in their native countries have no intention whatsoever to forcibly wrest away our economic privileges, nor to undercut our established values and modes of living. That instead they merely wish to share in the same basic human rights we all hold so dear—peace, stability and, above all, freedom from fear, want and persecution. And, finally, this is also the time to link the current refugee crisis more closely to distinct geopolitical issues and concerns, notably by more systematically considering the wider strategic setbacks likely to be incurred in the event that national leaders prove unable to devise applicable solutions to the real human suffering endemic to this harrowing tragedy.
First of all, however, this is the time to remember where we ourselves came from, how we got to this state of comparative wealth and domestic security, what tremendous difficulties we had to conquer and what massive obstacles we had to vanquish on the long and rocky path that progressively led us into this era of unprecedented economic integration and political cooperation. Most important of all, this is the moment to recall the goodwill and assistance we were ourselves initially afforded by other peoples in our noble endeavour to build a better and brighter future for us all. To remind ourselves once again of the undeniable truth that, as John F. Kennedy so eloquently put it, "of those to whom much is given, much is required."1 For given much we were indeed, whether we like to admit it or not.
Regardless of whatever arguments critics may advance in order to not grant an ever increasing stream of refugees asylum in Europe, nobody can ultimately dismiss or refute the historical
reality that less than three generations ago, Europeans were themselves among the most necessitous beneficiaries of foreign aid the world had ever witnessed. Now that we have all grown so accustomed to lives spent in material affluence, we too often forget (or conveniently overlook) the fact that modern European countries and the many social amenities their citizens benefit from would never have thrived or come into being in the first place had it not been for the kindness and generosity which other nations bestowed upon us in the wake of the second World War. True, European societies might eventually have recovered of their own accord, yet most definitely not in such rapid and comprehensive a fashion as they ultimately did thanks to the enormous level of external help and support received from other countries. During that period, vast tides of refugees and uprooted communities swept the continent from one end to the other, fleeing military occupation, political reprisals, lawlessness, economic deprivation, or simply the near total lack of prospects at ever again leading a charmed and peaceful existence in their homelands on account of the chaos left behind there by years of incessant warfare and destruction.2 Not all of them were permitted to stay in their chosen place of refuge; still, millions eventually were despite vocal opposition from all sides over admitting such large crowds into recipient societies. In time, they were all successfully integrated and not seldom even became an essential and indispensable part of the larger socio-economic fabric of these countries.3
Thus not only did refugees find a new home in culturally different societies, but hardly any of these nations could, moreover, also have rebounded all by itself from material devastation had they not been given the requisite means and financial wherewithal to reconstruct in the immediate post-war years. Accordingly, charitable aid agencies such as the only recently created UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) provided bitterly needed assistance to millions of homeless people by taking care of them in numerous shelters and reception centres throughout Europe.4 More significant still, however, the continent as a whole could likewise never have recuperated of its own from the systemic shocks inflicted on it by the war. The truth of the matter is that without substantial funds and grants from other nations, above all from the United States of America, our forefathers would just plain and simply have lacked the required capacities to forge a more stable and prosperous Europe to begin with. Specifically, America's monetary contributions, culminating in the 1947 Marshall Plan5 (a programme which at a combined expenditure of over 100 billion in today's dollars cost considerably more than the fiscal burdens projected for abating the current refugee crisis),6 altogether played a major and critical role in alleviating the plight endured by millions of European citizens in those desolate days.7 In so doing, they not only helped to set entire nation-states back on the road to economic recovery, but also presented them with the freedom and opportunity to create for their subjects an environment free from inter-state warfare, political instability and/or internal strife.8
Freedom and opportunity—these two solemn words are key to understanding why it should be the moral obligation of this generation to welcome in our midst every single person attempting to escape internecine violence and bloodshed in his or her home country. Because after all, freedom and opportunity stand at the very heart of what we are today, embodying like no other virtues the essence of what a united and conflict-free Europe should look like. Freedom and opportunity not only constitute some of our most esteemed values and ideals; they also form the basis of nearly every other positive aspect of the varied lives and careers we are able to pursue today. No matter what anyone of us may have achieved through personal sacrifice and dedication; no matter how much effort we may have put into our daily activities, either at school, university, in our jobs or in some other professional capacity; no matter how much pride we may take in the fact that we attained financial independence and wealth entirely through our own ingenuity and devotion to a life worth living—in short no matter how much we may think that we owe nothing to anyone else on this planet, the indisputable actuality nevertheless remains that ultimately we all would be nothing today if at a particular moment in our own recent past someone would not have made the deliberate decision to help us out in our arguably most darkest hour. If we had not been furnished with the elementary freedoms and opportunities to make all subsequent developments and accomplishments, all future individual gains and advantages possible in the first place. In other words, the conditions to prosper and diversify our options at a better life were not solely of our making, but ultimately only arose due to a sizeable measure of help from the outside.
Benevolent assistance of various forms and types enabled us to move beyond the carnage and destitution surrounding us, invigorating and encouraging us in our quest for lasting peace, security and sustainable economic growth. Consequently, everything we achieved thereafter would never have been feasible in such an impressive manner if we hadn't been extended the same kind of external aid which nowadays far too many of us are about to deny foreign people flocking to our shores and cities in search of no more than permanent relief from the same atrocities that once afflicted our own ancestors. A relief which at the time soon was to become the original source of our enduring safety and well-being. A relief which allowed European nations to fashion a robust system of institutional norms and mechanisms to prevent an entire continent from being plunged anew into the mutual slaughtering of its peoples, conditions which Syrians, Iraqis and other tormented ethnicities still experience on a daily basis. A relief which back then signalled to war-torn communities everywhere 'You are not alone in your trials and ordeals', and 'We stand united in our joint struggle to create a better world.' A relief that single-handedly spelled hope and liberty not only for contemporaries living through those days, but for generations thereafter as well. A relief that stood symbolically for the possibility of finally breaking the vicious cycle of resurgent conflict and belligerency, substituting it with the ideal of bringing people, even former enemies, together in the hour of their greatest hardship and distress. A relief that was before long vindicated by the peaceful evolution of a continent growing ever closer together and which, as a result, has since been seen by so many of the oppressed and battered peoples on this earth as a genuine sanctuary of freedom and opportunity.
A relief which now must be widened beyond our own internal borders, reminding us once more that we could not possibly have attained a position in international affairs where we are called upon to act as kind-hearted benefactors to broken individuals if at a much darker time in our own history we had been left entirely to our own devices, without being given the assistance we so desperately needed then. Assistance for want of which none of the things we treasure today, not least of all our own lives in unparalleled abundance, would have fallen to us in the first place.
The necessity to ensure an orderly resettlement of refugees into nations unravaged by war and human suffering is, however, not only on ethical grounds the right thing to do. Although for any righteous and upstanding person with only so much as one tiny little shred of decency and integrity left within himself or herself such a moral imperative already ought to be more than enough incentive for lending these strangers a helping hand, we moreover also have good cause for doing so out of a less altruistic sentiment. For reasons directly relating to our own long-term safety and security, the relocation of displaced persons is after all far more in our own national self-interest than most of our elected representatives presently seem to grasp. In that regard, much has recently been made in printed media, online blogs and various news outlets of the supposed security dangers involved in allowing huge numbers of mostly middle-eastern nationals cross our frontiers each day.9 In a nutshell, the central argument put forward against permitting such a vast influx of foreigners usually goes like this: as it is impossible to perform adequate background checks on all individuals entering our domestic spheres, local authorities are ultimately unable to accurately determine their political, ideological or religious affiliations.10 This, in turn, invariably increases the risk of Islamic fanatics, if not outright terrorists acquiring easy and unfettered access to the vulnerable infrastructures of western societies. Admittedly, there can be no guarantee that such fears and anxieties might not indeed prove legitimate in some cases, given that extremists posing as helpless refugees could always slip through the cracks of criminal surveillance and/or immigration control. Importantly, however, the prospect of allegedly facilitating the entry of jihadist elements into Europe as a result of more open and inclusive EU policies ultimately constitutes a far lesser evil than the developments that might realistically ensue if we deny dislodged ethnicities permanent shelter from war and oppression. Put differently, the threat of terrorist infiltration essentially pales in comparison to the negative and utterly pernicious ramifications that could follow in subsequent years if we categorically reject the requests of asylum seekers and instead compel them to return to failed states rife with sectarian violence and civilian turmoil.11
For amid all the public outrage and inflammatory speeches heard of late in stark and shameful opposition to plans for accommodating more refugees,12 hardly any of those in power truly appear to comprehend the true nature and dimension of the terrorist menace facing the international community these days through the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Particularly, it is a serious fallacy to believe that the most acute and worrisome danger in regard to these jihadist networks merely concerns the possibility of their operatives masquerading as victims of war and persecution plotting to de-stabilize western polities. Instead it lies in the largely unspoken hazards of providing them with the human tools and assets needed for carrying out their nefarious schemes in the first place.13 This above all else is the one seminal observation which the West has got to come to grips with if it ever wants to stand a reasonable chance at decisively disrupting the activities of these terrorist groupings.
As outcries over taking in additional refugees show, however, this unfortunately is a matter which political leaders have yet to not only appreciate, but also incorporate into their overall approach to the intensifying crisis. Otherwise they would already long ago have recognized that aiding refugees find personal safety away from the desolation of their ruined home countries is not only going to offer them a renewed sense of hope and opportunity, but will before long also result in definitive strategic gains for our own long-term security and well-being. Yet in order to fully perceive and understand this irrefutable reality, one first has to see contemporary terrorist organizations for what they actually are. With a view to further illustrate this pivotal aspect, it may therefore be appropriate to employ an analogy which arguably serves like no other to accurately describe and identify the peculiar nature of trans-national terrorist networks.
Accordingly, ISIS and Al-Qaeda can best be compared to a lethally infective disease, analogous to a scattering and extremely resilient cancer that primarily affects those areas of the international system least immunized to it and which, in consequence, are most susceptible to transmitting its deadly pathogen.14 Granted, the many conflicts presently being fought in Africa and the Middle East might ultimately all have originated over very diverse national grievances. But at the same time it is also true that embedded terrorist groups typically do not have a distinctively nationalist agenda limited to only those countries.15 Particularly, they do not initially ally with any one local faction out of some purely political or ideological affinity with the latter.16 Rather they engage in those regions for only one single reason: because violence and civil disunity are by far their most powerful weapons in pursuit of their ultimate objectives, notably the overthrow of governing regimes and the incremental disintegration of an ostensibly western-imposed system of beliefs.17
To that end, they essentially exploit and prey upon the many instances of social unrest and sectarian killings which at this moment western nations appear either incapable or unwilling to stop through a more active form of intervention of their own.18 For even though terrorist insurgencies may occasionally be quashed, such temporary victories will ultimately hardly suffice to deter other groups from retaking their place.
1 John F. Kennedy, "Address of President-Elect John F. Kennedy Delivered to a Joint Convention of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," (speech given at the State House, Boston, Massachusetts, 9 January 1961). http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/OYhUZE2Qo0- ogdV7ok900A.aspx [accessed 18 September 2015].
2 Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (London: The Penguin Press, 2005), pp. 22-26. On the postwar refugee crisis, see in particular Ben Shephard, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (London: Bodley Head, 2010).
3 Judt, Postwar, pp. 26-32.
4 George Woodbridge, UNRRA: The History of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950); Susan E. Armstrong-Reid and David Murray; Armies of Peace: Canada and the UNRRA Years (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2008).
5 On the European Recovery Programme, see especially Michael J. Hogan, The Marshall Plan: America, Britain and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947-1952 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
6 Barry Machado, "A Usable Marshall Plan," in: The Marshall Plan: Lessons Learned for the 21st Century, edited by Eliot Sorel and Pier Carlo Padoan (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2008), p. 5.
7 Judt, Postwar, pp. 89-98.
8 See also James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations. The United States, 1945-1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 129-133.
9 Chris Hughes, "Jihadis enter Europe disguised as refugees fear terrorism experts," Mirror, 21 June 2015. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jihadis-enter-europe-disguised-refugees-5924643 [accessed 22 September 2015]; Lori Hinnant, Sarah El Deeb and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, "Refugee surge to Europe raises fears about 'disguised terrorists'," The Denver Post, 16 September 2016. http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_28820355/refugee-surge-europe-raises-fears-about- disguised-terrorists [accessed 22 September 2015].
10 Elizabeth Whitman, "ISIS in Hungary? As Refugees Enter Europe, Officials Fear Islamic State Militants Could Be Among Them," International Business Times, 9 September 2015.http://www.ibtimes.com/isis-hungary-refugees-enter-europe-officials-fear-islamic-state-militants-could- be-2088752 [accessed 22 September 2015]; Jamie Dettmer, "Analysts: IS Poised to Exploit Refugee Crisis," Voice of America, 18 September 2015. http://www.voanews.com/content/islamic-state-poised- to-exploit-refugee-crisis/2969641.html [accessed 22 September 2015].
11 On the causal links between failed states and terrorism see, for example, Robert I. Rodberg, State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2003); Ken Menkhaus, "Quasi-States, Nation-Building, and Terrorist Safe Havens," Journal of Conflict Studies, Vol. 23:2 (Fall 2003), pp. 7-23; Stewart Patrick, "Failed States and Global Security: Empirical Questions and Policy Dilemmas," International Studies Review, Vol. 9:4 (Winter 2007), pp. 644-662;
12 Jess McHugh, "How the EU Migrant Crisis Is Fueling Right-Wing Politicians and Refugee Policies in Europe," International Business Times, 27 August 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/how-eu-migrant- crisis-fueling-right-wing-politicians-refugee-policies-europe-2071326[accessed 21 September 2015]; Michelle Martin, "Rebel Crisis Arouses Fear and Fury on Germany's far-right," Reuters, 17 September 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/17/us-europe-migrants-germany-rightwing- idUSKCN0RH0KX20150917 [accessed 21 September 2015].
13 On ISIS's recruitment successes, see, for example, Yonah Alexander and Dean Alexander, The Islamic State: Combating the Caliphate Without Borders (Lanham, MA: Lexington Books, 2015).
14 Corine Hegland, "Global Jihad," National Interest, Vol. 36:19 (2004), pp. 1396-1402; J. Majerus, The Threat of Al-Qaeda after Osama Bin Laden (München: Grin Verlag, 2013), pp. 8-9.
15 Oliver Roy, Secularism Confronts Islam (in German) (München: Siedler Verlag 2008), p. 162.
16 Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Bombing (New York: Random House, 2005), p. 104.
17 Walter Lacqueur, No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century (in German) (Berlin: Ullstein 2004), pp. 80-84.
18 "1000-strong Syrian rebel brigade defects to Islamic State," RT News, 11 July 2014. http://www.rt.com/news/171952-thousand-strong-defect-islamic-state/ [accessed 21 September 2015]; Roy, Secularism Confronts Islam, pp. 162-63.
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