The deepening public anxiety in the wake of the escalating wave of terror attacks across Europe is only the most visible manifestation of immigration policies gone wrong. Along with the worry has come a crisis of public confidence in elites’ ability to govern, which has fueled the rejection of establishment political parties and the liberal elite consensus. At the core, the public anger is driven by a justifiable fear that unless governments undertake an urgent course correction on immigration policy the most rudimentary security of European societies will be compromised. With each jihadist attack, the official reassurances that governments are doing their best to stop the violence ring more and more hollow, as do the hair-splitting debates over what constitutes “extremist ideology.”
The root causes of the accelerating jihadist terror wave across Europe are not economic inequality, racism, or Islamophobia—the usual shibboleths invoked after a terrorist attack. But while radical Islam provides the ideological rationale for jihadist terror, another important enabler is the emergence of an increasingly permanent chain of “suspended communities” nesting within nations throughout the West. As these ethnic and cultural enclaves consolidate, they also grow more and more disconnected from the national community, with daily business transactions often being the dominant form of contact maintained with the larger host nation.
The ethnic and religious diasporas that are to varying degrees the norm across Western Europe today—be they in the suburbs of Paris, the districts of Hamburg, or in towns such as Luton in the United Kingdom. These communities are in essence a petrified version of the once-temporary way stations for migrants, from which the inhabitants eventually ventured forth to become French, German, British, and so on. In contrast, today’s suspended communities freeze the immigration process part way, demanding only a partial uprooting from the original culture and marginal acculturation into the host society. The current immigration pattern into Western Europe, reinforced by decades of misguided multicultural ideology and elite disavowal of the nation-state, lacks a key ingredient of past immigration policies: the finality of acculturation and societal absorption.
To put it differently, migrants arriving in Europe today are not confronted with the urgency to acculturate in order to survive and thrive. Rather, they can opt to anchor themselves in a relatively insular ethnic or religious diaspora and remain there for generations. Unlike the U.S. immigrant communities from the past—in which a “Little Italy,” pockets of Irish settlement in Boston, Polish settlements in Detroit, or German settlements in Milwaukee served as pathways to subsequent absorption of immigrants into the larger culture—Europe’s suspended communities have broken the traditional pattern of second-generation immigrants departing their neighborhoods to merge with the society at large. Today many inhabitants of suspended communities will live out their entire lives interacting with fellow migrants in their mother tongues, learning only enough of the national language to conduct business or interact with the government. Often even the second and third generations lack a sense of the larger nation “out there,” of which they need to be a part if they are to be fully integrated citizens of a democratic polity.
Today’s modern version of Völkerwanderung into and across Europe needs to be placed in the larger context of overall global population flows. It is estimated that there are more than sixty million people currently “in transit” across state borders, and nearly 250 million people living outside the country of their birth. To appreciate the scale of global migration, one need only compare the current number to the mere 79 million living and working outside their place of birth in 1960. In addition to last year’s wave of migration into Europe, the EU is expected to absorb more migrants this year. In short, although the West has always absorbed migration, the pace of the current movement of people into Europe is unprecedented.
The magnitude of current global mass migration makes it imperative for European governments to craft new immigration policies that will dismantle suspended communities and integrate them into the larger society. The emergence of these enclaves, reinforced by elite policies of multiculturalism, group identity politics, and the deconstruction of Western heritage, has contributed to the fracturing of Western European nations and has weakened the overall sense of mutual responsibility for one’s fellow citizens. Debates over how to deal with immigration have featured paeans to multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity, and nearly absolute tolerance of non-native cultures. There has been little research into the question of how mass migration has displaced the notion of citizenship from its central place in European democracies. Despite the persistence of ever less regulated and ever greater migration flows, governments have focused not on larger national culture and citizenship but on ethnic and religious community markers.
There has been precious little appreciation of the impact of suspended immigrant communities on the overall cohesion of Western societies. One cause of this neglect is that the kind of balkanization they engender rarely registers where it matters most: on the cohesion of the nation-state. Suspended communities retard the immigrant acculturation process and thereby, most importantly, weaken the bonds of common citizenship within the society at large. In the age of identity politics, Western elites have largely shunned talk of demanding acculturation of immigrant communities, especially those of the second and third generations, in part for fear of being branded intolerant or racist. The net result has been the deepening alienation of the inhabitants of suspended communities and the waning of larger markers of common national cultures.
Today, the debates over immigration into Europe reflect the lack of consensus on the fundamental question of what comes next: Will the new immigrants continue to create insular diaspora settlements, or will they integrate into their host nations, accepting their values and embracing the attributes of democratic citizenship? The intensity of the argument is underscored by a deepening disconnect on immigration policy between Europe’s West, where five decades of Muslim immigration has significantly changed the ethnic make-up of societies, and newer EU members from largely mono-ethnic post-communist Europe, which has all but rejected the idea that EU solidarity should entail “adapting” to the patterns established in Western Europe. Hence, Europe has yet to come to grips with the consequences of accepting millions of immigrants without a policy in place to ensure that they become not just fully integrated in society, but engaged citizens of their adopted nations.
European democracies urgently need a new set of clearly defined guidelines on immigration, ones that ensure the preservation of their nation-states and the transmission of core principles of mutuality and engaged democratic citizenship. New policies must include civic education as a precondition for citizenship, lessons on the nation’s history rather than the group identity politics that currently dominates school curricula, and the insistence that immigrants assimilate into the mainstream national culture.