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The ostrich and the owl: a bird's-eye view of Europe

October 22, 2006|Ayaan Hirsi Ali | Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch legislator from Somalia, now lives in the U.S., where she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

IN AFRICA, we sometimes used animals to say things on sensitive issues to avoid discussing the messenger instead of the message. So I shall use the ostrich and the owl to sketch the two most important positions on immigration and pluralism in Europe.

The view of things in Europe today, as the ostrich sees them, is bright. He sees an open market of 450 million people with an amazing potential. He sees a thriving economy and the free movement of people, goods, money and services. Immigration, to the ostrich, can only be viewed as an opportunity for an aging native population. Borders are better open than closed. Islam is a faith like Christianity, and Muslims shall adapt their religion to life in Europe.

According to the ostrich, very soon there shall be a European Islam, signs of which are already visible in the young women in tight jeans; high heels; black, sleeveless, tight tops and matching head scarves, all designed by Prada. This Prada Islam will replace the old rural one and function as a vaccine against the Wahhabi Islam of the Saudis.

The overrepresentation of migrants in all the wrong statistics -- such as unemployment, unfinished education and crime -- is to the ostrich merely a temporary affair. It's a phase that all groups from underprivileged backgrounds go through, and it will be short, as long as there is economic growth.

According to the ostrich, the wealthy natives should stop whining about the backwardness of immigrants and concentrate on the benefits. The ostrich points to the nurses, nannies, construction workers, grocers, bag carriers, cleaners, factory workers and a host of other jobs natives won't do but are necessary to keep the economy going.

The ostrich is not worried about the flow of migrants transforming the culture and society of Europe in any negative way. He sees only one thing as a setback: the xenophobia of native Europeans. If only the inherently racist white society could overcome its fear of what is alien, it would notice how migrants have improved the cuisine, the music, the arts and the economy of Europe.

Then there's the owl, which is a night bird and gets, more often, a glimpse of the dark side of things. Europe is healthy and wealthy, but the owl worries that it may not be so wise.

The shadow side of the free movement of people, for instance, is the trade in women and children for the ruthless sex industry. Also, weapons go unnoticed from hand to hand, from country to country. Some of these weapons could be biological, chemical or worse.

The old owl sees how poor migrants are exploited by cruel employers who provide little or no pay and hire and fire the migrants at will. The owl can't help but notice that even after the recent amnesty, Spain has an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants. Britain has roughly half a million. France, 200,000 to 400,000, if you trust the French. I think there are more. Germany has about 1 million.

The owl acknowledges unreservedly Europe's aging populations, its decreasing population growth and its need for migrants -- but also sees that selection of migrants is not always based on who is useful for the economy.

The owl sees that Islam is not Christianity and that not all Muslims understand or want to share in any European future based on European values of freedom, tolerance and an attitude of live and let live.

The owl sadly looks on as poor kids are taught to view themselves as victims, and the society in which they live as the enemy. He can't help but notice that Muslim migrants are receptive to the seduction of the Islamist movement. Even worse, there are now natives converting to this brand of totalitarianism.

Nor can the owl ignore the growth of the extreme right-wing movements and parties. He fears that the debate on pluralism in Europe will be hijacked by two uncompromising extremes: whites' power fascism and Islamic fascism.

The owl thinks that the ostrich is right: We should always look on the bright side of life. But he also thinks we should be careful not to get delusional.

Foretelling the future can be fun for astrologists and crystal-ball gazers. For academics, it is not. If you get it right, you're damned like Samuel Huntington. If you get it wrong, you're called a certified idiot. So instead of predictions, we draw rough sketches of a best-case scenario and a worse-case scenario.

In a worst-case scenario, the warnings of the owl will not be heeded. The optimism of the ostrich will be abandoned. The monopoly of force that is now exclusive to states will be challenged by armed subgroups. European societies will be divided along ethnic and religious lines. The education system will not succeed in grooming the youth to believe in a shared past, let alone a shared future.

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