Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

January 5, 2001

Immigration and "Toleration" – The Times War on Bigotry

Thomas Hobbes's sovereign was famously free from the laws he imposed on his subjects. In the same way, the New York Times – avatar of the contemporary liberal mind – is free from the restraints it insists others adhere to. The Times accuses people of racism as casually as ordering coffee refills at a diner. Yet it does not hesitate to practice racism itself. In the noble cause of fighting racism, apparently, everything is permissible. Entire nations are to be denounced for being – horror – "nationalist." Europeans, of whatever shape or hue, are almost always in the dock. They can be Germans, Spaniards, Dutchmen, Danes or Italians. They can be Catholic or Protestant. Yet they are one and all "xenophobic." They are all guilty of reprehensible atavistic impulses.

The chief purveyor of the fable of the morally reprobate European is Times correspondent Roger Cohen. Week after week he seems to find some excuse or other to file a story to illustrating European anti-immigrant sentiment. A couple of Sundays ago, apropos of nothing in particular, the Times' "Week in Review" section led with his article "Europe's Love-Hate Affair with Foreigners." The "love" in the title was a misnomer, since there was no reference to it in his piece. "It is no longer Communism that haunts Europe," he declares in the very first paragraph, "it is the outsider." This apocalyptic statement tells us what we need to know about those terrible Europeans. Who does not like the "outsider"? Why, narrow-minded bigots, of course. "Say immigrant and the word 'problem' – not 'potential' – tends to flash into people's minds," Cohen continues, "Immigrants cost money as they benefit from generous welfare systems; they build mosques whose minarets are unwelcome beside church spires; they take but do not give. All these accusations are frequently made. But something deeper, it seems, is at work. The European nation, often forged in repetitive bloodletting, was created against the outsider; it was not forged from the amalgam of diverse outsiders washing up on its shores as in North America. At some level, this history inhabits people's minds, marking one of the fundamental transatlantic cultural divides." This is standard New York Times hooey. The European nation is as much an "amalgam of diverse outsiders" as the United States. It so happens that the process of absorbing newcomers took centuries, rather than decades as over here. Moreover, up until recently the United States also saw itself as a nation, not as an employment agency for the rest of the world. Immigrants had to become Americans. That is what public education used to be about. Cohen assumes that his readers – like him – have no time for this talk of "nation." "The nation was a unifying idea imposed on diffuse history, and the German imagination – like that of many other European states – still longs for homogeneity, whatever the abundant evidence to the contrary." Cohen does not explain what he means by "homogeneity," though he knows that evidence against it is "abundant."

"Europe is full of immigrants and needs more if it is not to become moribund," Cohen continues, "But governments are also aware of an uncomfortable truth: surrounded by countries like Turkey and Morocco, with high birth rates and huge youth populations, Europe is certain to face immigrant pressure over the coming years that may be uncontrollable." One lazy assumption follows another. It is self-evident to Cohen that Europe "needs" immigrants. It is self-evident that immigrants as "outsiders" are good for the European soul. But then it doesn't matter whether Europeans agree with him or not. Immigrants are here to stay, and more are on the way. Cohen typically never attempts to make the case that economic growth is contingent on high levels of immigration. Clearly there are economic benefits to immigration. On the other hand, there are also costs. A hardworking dishwasher from Morocco may be good for the restaurant business and thus for Europe's GDP. But he may well be a net cost if his family needs medical treatment and his children go to school. He will help drive wages down and housing rents up. Moreover, the record shows that Europe enjoyed high growth rates since 1945 without having to import labor from the rest of the world. Japan has enjoyed the most spectacular economic growth rates while maintaining tight restrictions on immigration.

"Europe will…be involved…in the global quest for the best and the brightest – whether Sri Lankan or Nigerian – that characterizes an information economy," Cohen rhapsodizes in that insufferably smug tone familiar to readers of Thomas L. Friedman's ravings, "But the readiness to confront, let alone embrace, these realities appears limited. Indeed the politics of xenophobic innuendo are enjoying a revival." Americans have become used to this kind of nonsense. There is no evidence whatsoever that Europeans or Americans are unable to meet the supposedly extraordinarily stiff requirements of the so-called "information economy." Or that Nigerians and Sri Lankans hold the key to its future development. What is true is that computer specialists from Nigeria or Sri Lanka are ready to come to Europe – and to the United States – and work for a fraction of the income that their European (and American) counterparts. Moreover, faced with the constant dread of deportation they are likely to be far more docile than the natives. Like all immigration enthusiasts, Cohen see nothing wrong with affluent Europe appropriating specialists that countries like Nigeria and Sri Lanka have devoted precious resources to educating and need more desperately than Holland, say, or Spain.

The villain of the piece, as always, is Germany. Reporters long ago abandoned all pretense to covering German political and cultural life in any serious way. Germans apparently do nothing but beat up immigrants and dream of marching under Hitler's banner again. "This has been the year of renascent German pride, or patriotism, or bigotry – the distinction is not always clear." That's nice. One would have thought Germany had much to be proud of, not least for absorbing relatively painlessly 17 million people mired in Communism. But for the New York Times any German who is not abjectly apologizing for events that took place long before he was born is already demonstrating dangerous "bigotry." "The opposition Christian Democrats…speak of Leitkultur, or guiding culture – a potpourri of Christian and Enlightenment values to which immigrants are being asked to conform," Cohen writes, "The message is clear enough: a complicit wink to that broad swath of Germans who do not like living with more than two million Islamic Turks, believe such 'guest workers' should go home one day and still think the German Volk is defined by blood." Note the sneering reference to "potpourri of Christian and Enlightenment values." Which Christian or Enlightenment values does Cohen find objectionable? Or does he find objectionable the idea of asking anything of immigrants other than to work cheaply? And is there something wrong about expecting "guest workers" to go home? A guest, presumably, is someone who comes to visit and then leaves. One wonders how Cohen would respond if his dinner guest decided he liked his host's home so much that he would make it his own.

And then there is the horror of the "German Volk defined by blood." (Note the capitalized "v"!) This should sets our hearts fluttering about Hitler, Goebbels, Albert Speer, Alfred Rosenberg and the rest of the gang. It is of course total nonsense. Most countries define national identity according to blood. If your parents are American then you are an American. There are other ways of qualifying for citizenship: Marriage, lengthy legal residence, and so on. What differentiates Germany from the United States is not the issue of "blood" but the high standard potential German citizens have to meet. Up to very recently foreign-born immigrants and their German-born children could apply for German citizenship provided they had legally resided in the country for 15 years and were prepared to renounce their original citizenship. In 1999 Chancellor Schroder's government changed the law. Foreigners now have the right to apply for German citizenship after eight years of legal residence. Children born in Germany to foreign parents will acquire German citizenship at birth, provided at least one parent has lived legally in Germany for a minimum of eight years. Children acquiring German citizenship at birth will have to decide before their 23rd birthday whether they want to retain their German citizenship or their parents' citizenship except in special circumstances. There is still no dual citizenship. Even under the dispensation it is harder to become a German than an American. But why should it be easy? It is surely the mark of a proud nation that it expects a lot of its potential recruits.

Cohen complacently contrasts the European economy unfavorably with that of the United States: "Comprehensive welfare lifts wage bills, so unemployment has remained high, even as the European economy has picked up over the past year. About 15 million people, or 9.2 percent of the population, remain out of work. In this context, the foreigner often appears as a threat. Contrast this with an America of full employment where employers clamor for more foreign-born workers." This is standard guff the US media constantly parrot. It is always assumed that high unemployment is the worst economic condition imaginable. But is it better to live in a country where people receive generous welfare benefits or in a country that boasts of "full employment" but where workers are paid $2 a hour? "Full employment" is actually more than a little misleading. The Bureau of Labor Statistics excludes from the "unemployed" anyone who is out of work but not exactly breaking doors down looking for work. It excludes the two million behind bars. It excludes anyone who is classified as "disabled." It excludes anyone who has been laid off and forced to take early retirement. It excludes anyone who only works "part-time." Small wonder then that the US Government is able to come up with these near-miraculous unemployment figures. However, even if Cohen's claims about the United States were true, they would be irrelevant. It is up to Europeans to decide how they want to live. If they want to live under "cradle-to-grave" welfare regime there is very little point in lecturing them about the supposed wonders of the American economic model. Americans are just as uninterested in listening to tales about the alleged greatness of the British National Health Service. Moreover, there has to remain a question as to what Americans really want when only 50 percent of them bother to show up at the polling booth.

Cohen concludes by wondering "how a nascent United States of Europe hopes to further the peace and prosperity that the European Union has brought without overcoming the enduring prejudice that divides Christianity and Islam and without burying, once and for all, the ethnic bigotry that has little basis in a multinational history and has so repeatedly plunged the continent into war." Note the assumption that it is Europe that has to overcome "prejudice" and "ethnic bigotry." In Indonesia today, as in many other parts of the world, Moslems massacre Christians. Contemporary Islam has become a byword for intolerance, religious zeal and persecution. Perhaps Europe's reluctance to sanction large-scale immigration has something to do with wariness about importing fanaticism. Cohen seems completely oblivious to this as he rushes around secular, liberal, social-democratic Europe hunting down "bigots."

The New York Times' campaign against the supposedly racist, xenophobic, nationalist, bigoted Europe is part and parcel of the US imperial agenda, but it is made to order for liberals. Xenophobic Europe obviously has to be let out of its intolerant wilderness by the "tolerant" example of the United States. Over the past decade the US took over one Balkans statelet after another justified this by making up tales of the dastardly Slobodan Milosevic. Today, America will justify its increasingly desperate attempts to cling to NATO, and thereby ensure its continued domination over Europe, by absurd stories about Europe's supposed perpetual flirtation with bigotry.

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