Gwynne Dyer: The EU, asylum-seekers, and the limits of tolerance

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      The language of the immigration debate in Germany has got harsh and extreme. German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the anti-immigration movement in her New Year speech, saying its leaders have “prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts.”

      The “anti-Islamization” protests all across Germany on Monday (January 5) fizzled out in the end. 18,000 people showed up at one rally in Dresden, where the weekly protests by the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) began last October, but that hardly counted because there are few Muslims—indeed few immigrants of any sort—in Dresden.

      Anti-immigrant sentiment in Western countries is always highest where there are few or no immigrants. In big German cities like Hamburg, Berlin, and Stuttgart that do have large immigrant populations, the counter-demonstrators outnumbered the Pegida protesters 10-to-one. But the debate is not over.

      Germany is taking in more immigrants that ever before: some 600,000 this year. That’s not an intolerable number for a country of 82 million, but it does mean that if current trends persist, the number of foreign-born residents will almost double to 15 million in just 10 years. That will take some getting used to—and there’s another thing. A high proportion of the new arrivals in Germany are Muslim refugees.

      Two-thirds of those 600,000 newcomers in 2014 were people from other countries of the European Union where work is scarce or living standards are lower. They have the legal right to come under EU rules, and there’s really nothing Germany can do about it. Besides, few of the EU immigrants are Muslims.

      The other 200,000, however, are almost all refugees who are seeking asylum in Germany. The number has almost doubled in the past year, and will certainly grow even larger this year. And the great majority of the asylum-seekers are Muslims.

      This is not a Muslim plot to colonise Europe. It’s just that a large majority of the refugees in the world are Muslims. At least three-quarters of the world’s larger wars are civil wars in Muslim countries like Syria (by far the biggest source of new refugees), Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya.

      Many of these refugees end up in other predominantly Muslim countries (like Lebanon, where between a quarter and a third of the population is now Syrian refugees.) But Europe is relatively close, and a much better place to be if you can get there: each asylum-seeker who is accepted by Germany gets free accommodation, food, medical care and clothing. Adults also get $160 a month. Moreover, if they make it to Europe, the war cannot follow them.

      Every country has an obligation to accept and protect legitimate refugees seeking asylum, but in practice some dodge their responsibilities. Last year the United Kingdom, which has 65 million people, accepted less than half as many refugees as Sweden, which has 10 million people. But even the best-intentioned countries, like Germany, are starting to show the strain.

      It’s easy to mock the fears of Germany’s “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”—only five percent of Germany’s population is Muslim. But nine percent of the children born in Germany in recent years have Muslim parents because of the higher birth rates of Middle Eastern immigrants.

      If the current wave of asylum-seekers continues—and there is no particular reason to believe that the Syrian civil war will end soon—then Germany will add another two million Muslim immigrants to its population in the next decade. And they too will have higher birth rates than the locals.

      With its current asylum policy, Germany could be 10 percent Muslim 10 years from now. You might reasonably ask: what’s wrong with having a 10 percent Muslim population? But it’s hard to think of a Muslim country that would welcome the relatively sudden arrival of a 10 percent Christian minority with equanimity.

      And special thanks to the Islamist thugs who committed the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris today (January 7) for making it even harder for Europeans to see the difference between terrorist fanatics and ordinary Muslims. Most Europeans still try to see things in proportion and not judge all Muslims by the acts of a few, but they are failing more frequently. People are people, and their tolerance has limits.

      Even in Sweden, the most heroically open country in Europe, where they are expecting more than 100,000 asylum applications this year, former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said just before last September’s election: “I’m now pleading with the Swedish people to have patience, to open your hearts, to see people in high distress whose lives are being threatened. Show them that openness, show them tolerance.”

      Once more, the Swedes did that. The mainstream parties, all of which share that vision of Sweden, have formed a coalition government that is pledged not to slam the gates shut on asylum-seekers. But the anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, more than doubled its vote and became the third-largest party. Even in Sweden, time is running out on tolerance.




      Jan 7, 2015 at 5:13pm

      Permit me to add a few observations to Gwynne's European Immigration column.
      1. If Europeans are distressed over an inordinate number of Muslim refugees coming to Europe then they should address the primary cause which is the perpetual NATO+{US} warmongering in the Middle East. Peace in the Middle East would go some way in solving the Muslim outflow.
      2.Europe has been economically stagnant since 2008 with low growth and high unemployment and is likely to enter into recession if not depression soon. This again is a result of adopting American neoliberal economic policies and financialization which are socially ruinous. Indigenous unemployed do not tend to be tolerant of foreigners with whom they must compete for scarce jobs.
      3.A massive media campaign which has identified some Muslims with "terrorists" in their own occupied or destabilized countries which has resulted in a negative brand for every Muslim living in the West. The word "Terrorist" should be eschewed and replaced with "resistor" or terrified refugee in the minds of Europeans.
      4. The birth rate of Muslims in Europe will fall as they become economically integrated and more successful as citizens of Europe. In the Middle East they have a high mortality rate due to war and poor health care so high birthrates are natural under the circumstances.
      5. Similarly the rise of xenophobia, the rise of extreme Right wing parties and increasing social unrest in Europe comes as no surprise due to the excessive inequality brought on by out of control banking elites and predatory capitalism.
      Yes, things are still better than in the Middle East and Northern Africa but they are getting worse. It will take a revolution against the governing European elites to improve the situation for the people but in the meantime the elites prefer to blame and direct the discontent toward resident Muslims and foreign refugees. Banning or destroying them won't solve their problems!

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      Jan 7, 2015 at 9:45pm

      Whoa there time for a Reality Check on Muslim refugee numbers into the EU.

      Of the 9 Million Syrian refugees a small fraction have applied to the EU (how & where can they apply it ain't easy!) even the UN has only asked for 130,000 refugee spots from the 28 member EU States.

      EU, who have yet to commit and/or actually receive large numbers of Syrian Muslims being slaughtered by the Syrian Dictator kept in power by the West.

      Sure Syria & Iraq are civil war trouble spots but EU Countries hardly take large number of them in.

      As for Muslims in the EU most are from prior Colonial occupation, like from Pakistan, North Africa etc.


      1. Civil War due to long term Western / EU / US / NATO supported Dictators,

      2. The Arab Spring has finally started toward the path of self-government but this takes time & displaces people, think the Civil Way of 1776 in the USA it's taken the better part of the 20th Century for the US to stabilize & grow it's Economy to where it is today,

      - These Countries are going to take several generations from to stabilize both Politically & Economically,

      4. The problem is that the EU and indeed we in the US & Canada economically dump heavily subsidized goods, e.g., agricultural, clothing and even Auto's (Auto's being one of the most subsidized goods recently). Kills local economy!

      5.All the while putting high trade barriers for these developing countries in the middle easy and Africa (North Africa has a high proportion of Muslims seeking EU residency) in particular.

      Finally pointing to Murdering Criminals "Religion" (when in reality these people are far removed from ANY Main Stream Religion) is like reporters on TV highlighting a Criminals ethnic background only when they are Coloured aka Black whenever a Criminal Act is carried out.

      Tarring the 1.3 Billion Muslims as Terrorists is as logical as tarring all good
      Christians as either Nazi's (Nazi's were big on the Church their warped Neo Nazi extreme Christian view). Most members of the Nazi Party, however,were Christians.

      Lets not forget Nazi's killed 7+ Million no Hitler did not do this alone.

      Or as logical as tarring all Norwegians as Terrorists because of this self proclaimed "Christian".

      "Anders Behring Breivik is the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway Terror attacks."

      Should all Germans/Norwegians be banned from Travel? No, illogical. Shootings happen "Muslim" or Not!

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      Jan 8, 2015 at 7:43am

      Much hay is made with the high Muslim immigrant birth rate, which is a fact. However, retention of religious beliefs in second generation Muslims in secular countries is likely no higher than with other religions. Anecdotally, the friends I have who grew up in Muslim households are no more likely to practice it than others, and are certainly not more socially conservative than average.

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      I Chandler

      Jan 8, 2015 at 11:34am

      Dyer: "Every country has an obligation to accept and protect legitimate refugees seeking asylum."

      In German suburbs there are signs in the windows of homes saying “I have a bed for Ed.”

      Dyer: "countries like Syria (by far the biggest source of new refugees), Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya."

      Gambia could have been added to that list , but someone forgot to "release the country’s most dangerous prisoners to inflict a frenzy of carnage and chaos" :

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      Jan 8, 2015 at 3:44pm

      I'm always willing to tolerate the tolerant.

      It's not a happy thought but maybe the time has actually come for a pledge of allegiance: that if you're going to move to the West, you should be prepared to abide by Western legal concepts such as human rights of the individual and the right to free speech, and to be advised that in the West, there is no such crime as blasphemy, which we merely consider to be somewhat assholish.

      If people are too religious (of any religion) to sign this pledge then, oh well, guess they can't come in.


      This is not to say that terrorism arises from a void. It doesn't. There is always some inspiration and smart people look at those causes squarely. The method of protest may be completely unacceptable but the protest itself should be understood and then addressed.

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      Jan 9, 2015 at 8:37am

      On the brighter side the Europeans need fresh immigrants to keep their economies going - I mean barring an AI "Robot" revolution, someone's going to have to care for all those old people who failed to have enough kids. Don't these things sort themselves out? When you need the bed pans changed or the cheap, cheap nanny suddenly our tolerance for foreigners goes way up.

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      Jan 9, 2015 at 9:01am

      "if you're going to move to the West, you should be prepared to abide by Western legal concepts such as human rights of the individual and the right to free speech"

      Radical Islam is many things, but it is not entirely stupid. Is it violent and reactionary? Certainly. But the West no longer respects western values, and any dispassionate observer could see that. Voltaire was locked in the Bastille for saying things that the Powers that Be didn't like. Those Dalhousie students might be expelled for having told some jokes on their own time. So the West no longer understands Western values. As distasteful as you feel jokes might be, part of our freedom as westerners is that we can make fun of anything. There's nothing off limits. Not the King, not the Pope, not GOD Almighty.

      The problem isn't the _content_ that is banned; the problem is radicals who think they have a right to police other people's speech, to reduce them to a state of bondage. Granted, in the West today, most of that bondage is exclusionary, rather than being locked in the Bastille like Voltaire was, for insulting a Prince, but this is like arguing we are better off losing hands than legs. We're still losing our hard-won freedoms.

      I don't side with any violent radical groups, not ones who want to exclude dissident voices from Universities, not ones who want to exclude satirical newspapers from France. But to deny the commonality is at this stage intellectually indefensible. What's really scary is what "Reformed Islam" might look like: all of the creepy illiberal PC values of the West being enforced under the banner of Allah. Think it couldn't happen? I bet if you asked people in the wake of WWII if people would ever be expelled from University for telling racy jokes, the answer would have been "what? We just fought a war against the sort of Nazi bullshit! No way!"

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      Jan 9, 2015 at 10:07am


      That's an interesting argument, but I don't see the Dalhousie situation (or "political correctness" in general) as being in opposition the rights of an individual. Regarding speech, Canadian criminal law prohibits threatening and counselling violence, and that seems like a reasonable limit on speech.

      Whether or not you agree that "misogynist" and "hateful" speech are sufficiently akin to threats or counselling violence is a matter of debate, but I think you would agree that the intent is to reduce harm against people.

      Blasphemy laws, on the other hand, are in my view very readily distinguishable in that they attempt to prevent harm against a religious perspective. The protection is being given to the set of precepts.

      That's a huge difference.

      I grant you that my own university experience included a certain amount of regrettable (from my point of view, which naturally inclines to a get-along, live-and-let-live mildness) confrontation with utterly dogmatic political people who seemed to believe that the rights of the(ir) minority had to be advocated with the utmost of vehemence, and that PC doesn't necessarily make you feel free.

      However. The intent is different.

      And, frankly, so is the expression. Being criticized, denounced, called old-fashioned, being linked to the hegemonic ideation of the patriarchy etc is an acceptable risk of living. Having your clit cut off, being murdered for apostasy, being stoned or shot for blasphemy is not.

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      Jan 9, 2015 at 4:47pm


      Wrong. Europeans don’t need fresh immigrants to keep their economies going. Increasing technology especially in the robotic sector means even less of a workforce will be needed in Europe in the upcoming decades.

      Even if populations lower, it’s not necessary to replenish their numbers. So, if a nation’s population lowered from 40 million citizens down to 30 million, it wouldn’t hurt that country. The media is teaching us that it’s necessary to stabilize lowering populations. That’s just plain ridiculous.

      And if falling birthrates are a problem, the answer would be for European governments to implement policies which induce the established ethnic population to have more children, as has been done in Russia with measurable success.

      The German people are not altogether enthused about immigration. Thilo Sarrazin’s 2010 book criticizing Muslim immigration (Deutschland schafft sich ab — Germany Does Away with Itself) became a huge best-seller by saying what many people were thinking.

      You post is the same old tripe posted by open border advocates the world over.

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      Jan 9, 2015 at 9:53pm

      "Canadian criminal law prohibits threatening and counselling violence, and that seems like a reasonable limit on speech."

      I agree. The problem is that a joke is not threatening or counselling violence. I suspect that no criminal charges will be forthcoming against the Dalhousie students. Granted, I haven't followed it that much, but there weren't any against the UBC students who were disciplined for a similar thing, a chant or something. The University punished them, even tho there is no legislation that they violated, just a "University policy."

      Universities do not use anything approaching due process. In a criminal court, one will have an independent judge of both the facts and the laws. If you tried to get an information issued in a criminal court on the basis of a University policy, even if it got past a JP who took one too many Critical Theory courses, it would be quashed by a judge as an offense unknown to law.

      Radicals of all stripes feel that their special position gives them the right to legislate over others and to enforce their legislation. I am not opposed to society imposing regulation through legislation; the problem is that Universities are not legislatures, and the idea that you check your freedom at the door when you register is the sort of illiberality I am calling out. And many people in Universities argue that the traditional conception of freedom is arbitrary, oppressive, etc. That is fine. But if you asked most people who aren't academics what they do in Universities, they would think it is more about "maintenance" than "social engineering."

      As for the intent, the intent is to dominate people, because radicals are fearful personality types that are really afraid that if not for their actions, the world would collapse/get worse/not get better. The radical tends to be utterly convinced that, whatever his or her radicalism is, it is necessary and that all people would adopt it, if only they were as reasonable/smart/faithful/whatever as the radical. They then take on a messianic duty to propagate their radicalism, and this is very much more easily accomplished by excluding people who will say "you're just a radical who wants to dominate others. Why won't you chill?"

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