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Religion and Society

If Europe does not have a policy

Migration is a social force that can contribute to the politicisation of ethnic markers and thereby to the emergence of ethnic conflict. This holds true for migration both within and across national borders. All migration, regardless of its source, produces social tension because it involves socio-structural change and hence the question of redistribution. This phenomenon also occurs in culturally homogeneous societies, e.g. when the rapid movement of population from rural to urban areas, or other forms of economically instigated change, disturbs traditional patterns of settlement. Social tension as a result of large-scale, war-induced transfers of population is particularly well known, e.g. the German refugees from German territories annexed by the Soviet Union and Poland at the end of Second World War and the Nationalist Chinese who fled to Formosa after the Communist victory in mainland China. Yet, even where Germans sought refuge among Germans and Chinese among Chinese, i.e. in the absence of ethnic and cultural cleavages, the interests of the refugees differed from those of the local population, and it took years for the groups to integrate socially and economically. In societies with different ethnic, religious or language groups, the consequences of internal migration are incomparably more explosive.



The Emergence of Ethnic Conflicts



Although such groups may have co-existed peacefully for centuries, the advent of modern economic development renders the traditional ethnically-based division of labour obsolete and triggers a flight from the land and rapid urbanisation. Members of different groups now interact as competitors. As a rule, this competition is not perceived as competition between individuals but between ethnic groups. Individuals seldom attribute failure to their own deficiencies, but to discrimination against their group or in favour of another. To survive such competition, it helps to have the support of a group. The creation of ethnic blocs is thus a thoroughly rational expression of interest aggregation. This is particularly true when access to political power is crucial for the allocation of opportunity, i.e., when ethnic affiliation goes hand in hand with privilege and discrimination.


Crises also arise when demographic shifts lead people to question the existing balance of power between ethnic groups. The most critical groups are, on the one hand, the lower strata of formerly dominant groups, as they face social decline, and, on the other, the ambitious elites of formerly disempowered groups. Both tend to utilise ethnic mobilisation to promote their own interests. What in homogeneous societies remains social conflict can in plural societies rapidly degenerate into ethnic conflict. Whereas social conflict is primarily concerned with the distribution of negotiable goods, ethnic conflict revolves around indivisible principles and their symbols. It is easier to compromise on the former than latter.



Mechanisms of Regulation



There are historical and contemporary examples of peaceful regulation of intra-state ethnic conflicts. Two forms of conflict regulation are particularly common: consociational democracy, in which the different groups share power and its benefits on the basis of proportionality or parity, and open democracy, in which privilege is decoupled from ethnicity; all ethnicities, religions and languages are treated as equal in law and their practical expression is left to the autonomy of the groups concerned, which reduces their significance as objects of conflict. Whereas consociation peacefully regulates co-existence among different groups it politically institutionalises and perpetuates group differences, open democracy depoliticises these differences. Both forms of conflict-regulation fulfil democratic criteria and have stood the test of time in different countries.


Examples of successful consociational democracies are Belgium and Switzerland; two slightly flawed, but ultimately functioning, cases are Malaysia and the Lebanon. The most prominent example of a functioning multiethnic open democracy is India, by far the most populous democracy in the world. South Africa, too, has also managed to depoliticise ethnicity for a decade or more.


In short: while ethnic conflict may be more difficult to regulate than social conflict, the above-mentioned examples attest that power-sharing between ethnic groups as well as open democracy are in a position to either domesticate or to depoliticise ethnicity.



Transnational Migrations



Like internal migration, international migration need not automatically lead to ethnic conflict, as has been proved by the classic immigration countries. Their integration processes have never been free of tension; integration, like immigration, has always taken place in waves and over many decades, and on-going immigration continues to create new challenges. The United States, Canada, and Australia demonstrate that equal rights in an open democracy are a sufficient basis for peaceful co-existence between very different groups of old and new immigrants.



On the other hand, international migration processes have also triggered extreme conflict. In Fiji the colonial power imported Indian workers and their families. Within a few generations Indians outnumbered the indigenous population, which insists on retaining traditional economic and political privileges, by military force if necessary. Co-existence remains precarious.



In recent years, the Ivory Coast has become a battleground between armed militants of the indigenous population and immigrants that have been arriving from neighbouring countries for generations the first open 'guest-worker war'. Several international interventions have achieved little more than a series of temporary ceasefires. Immigration has also been a major factor in the wars in the Congo since 1996: economic migrants and war refugees brought the conflicts between the Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi into the Congo, where they have claimed four to five times as many victims as the genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda and Uganda also use the conflicts to justify further intervention, and to systematically loot their neighbours' raw materials. Here, too, international intervention has achieved little more than unstable ceasefires. Common to these and other examples is the unintended but fatal social costs of international migration processes initiated without considering the consequences.



For almost a century migrants have been heading for Western Europe. These strong migration processes differ from those of the classic immigration countries in two fundamental points. The first is demographic: the USA, Canada and Australia attracted young immigrants to young societies. Western Europe also attracts young immigrants, but they arrive in aging countries. Aging countries have many advantages, but innovativeness is not one of them: as a rule, older people resist change in their social environment. Though urgently needed to shore up social welfare systems, immigrants are disliked because they personify unwelcome change.


The second, even weightier, difference is political: until very recently Western European states in general and Germany in particular refused to accept that they were immigration countries. A country that does not want to be an immigration country will not design an immigration policy. The corollary is the de facto acceptance of unplanned immigration.



The consequences of unplanned and unmanaged immigration are obvious in all European countries: xenophobia among the less educated and economically vulnerable autochthons, the rise of populist parties, and self-imposed cultural isolation on the part of immigrants and particularly their European-born children in response to a perceived rejection by the majority society. Only the urgent need to deal with these consequences in their own interests has forced most European governments to think about the need for integration policies.



Reducing Conflict Potential



One should beware of overestimating the conflict potential of migration in Europe in no country do conditions even faintly resemble the situation in Fiji, the Ivory Coast or the Congo, or even the conditions surrounding past internal migration, with which all European countries successfully coped. In principle, international migration is less challenging than internal migration. Why? People who move to a foreign country are generally willing to moderate and privatise their own culture, i.e. they are more willing to integrate than internal migrants.



The history of classic immigration countries shows that although immigrants initially form 'parallel societies', if the majority society is open to integration they will gradually modify much of their traditional behaviour, and learn the languages of their new country and work place, before losing their own. Within a few generations all that most migrant families retain are their traditional cuisine and above all their religion. If the latter prescribes religious endogamy, there will be little intermarriage with locals of other confessions for several generations as was still the case between internal migrants in Europe's confessionally mixed societies even two generations ago. In addition to the adaptability of international migrants, another factor facilitates integration policies.



Today, migrants may account for a sizeable proportion of the population in most European countries, but nowhere are they close to a majority. For the foreseeable future the majority population will have a monopoly on policies for the foreseeable future: they can decide the form of co-existence. Of course, if this majority fails to use its power to structure politics, in the long term it risks losing it.



In Europe, political inactivity in two areas in particular threatens integration: economics and education. Initially, international migration fills jobs that locals reject. The consequence is an inequitable ethnic division of labour that can lead to ethnic pillarisation and ultimately politicisation.



The only way to counter this development is by giving migrants' children educational and specifically vocational opportunities. Laissez-faire in educational policies for migrants is often presented as tolerance of the migrants' cultural heritage, but is in fact an excuse for indifference and an unwillingness to explain to voters the need for higher education expenditures for 'foreigners'.



People who behave in this way bear responsibility for growing xenophobia among autochthons and for mounting ethnic militancy among third-generation allochthons who feel excluded from society.



Normative Considerations



The normative ideal of migrant integration is complete assimilation into the society and culture of the host country; nineteenth-century France is a successful example of this. There are three conditions for such assimilation: the majority society must be willing to accept new arrivals and treat them as equals; it must be in a position to offer assimilees economic advantages; and the new citizens must be willing to relinquish their original cultural identity. As a rule, the third condition follows if the first two are fulfilled.



Many immigrant societies are comfortable with less than complete assimilation. They accept the continued existence of cultural distinctions if migrants accept the fundamental values and constitutional order of the host country. Immigrants should be satisfied with this differentiated form of integration because it offers them the opportunity of retaining traditions without foregoing civil equality in one or two generations this may well lead to complete assimilation.



However, for integration to succeed, it is crucial that the majority society does not define itself in ethnic or more bluntly, zoological terms.

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