Toward a more inclusive Europe
In the op-ed “Europe Has Fallen” (March 31), Shaoyan Liang criticized the integration project of the European Union, characterized the EU’s immigration policies as a failure and linked them to the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris perpetrated by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. He also regarded second-generation European citizens with family ties in the Middle East and North Africa as a potential threat to the EU. By claiming that Europe had fallen, Liang’s article stoked the flames of fear and division that terrorist groups are trying to ignite around the world.
Liang’s assertion that the EU’s integration project has failed altogether on the basis of terror attacks perpetrated by a few violent extremists residing in Europe is not only false, but it also discriminates against an entire population that has worked hard to be included and to succeed in Europe. The terrorists who committed the Paris or Brussels attacks do not reflect the sentiment that the majority of immigrants to Europe possess. According to Political Islam and Middle East scholar Olivier Roy, most extremists come from low-income backgrounds, lack education and are unemployed. They do not engage in their immigrant community and have often served time in prison, where they become easy targets for radical Islamists and terrorist networks. All seem to share resentment directed at society and a narcissistic need for recognition, which ISIS then exploits to plant the seeds of hatred and revenge.
Not only do the terror attacks not represent the sentiment of the immigrant population, but empirical research at George Washington and Temple Universities shows that the immigrant population has an overall positive impact on employment across Europe. Immigrants and refugees, whether high- or low-skilled, boost the economic performance and create new jobs by increasing production, easing the upward mobility of native workers and taking jobs that would otherwise not be filled. Furthermore, with a rapidly aging population, the demographics of many European countries would directly benefit from a large influx of motivated young workers.
In the past 30 years, the EU has striven to promote “multiculturalism” through its constitution and an integration policy that values and protects immigrants’ native cultures, religion and languages. The EU’s intent with this policy was admirable, as it showed willingness to respect the immigrants’ cultural and religious backgrounds. However, the emergence of low-income districts around cities like Paris created host communities where these populations, often first- or second-generation immigrants, soon felt disenfranchised of their chance to succeed in the societies that had received them. This phenomenon was not a failure of ideals, but rather a lack of infrastructure and opportunities that led to many immigrants’ sense of estrangement and alienation from the mainstream population.
The terrorist attacks of the past year present an opportunity for Europe to craft policies that will enable it to better embrace the challenges of immigration, particularly the refugee crisis. In this time of xenophobia and fear, the EU should strive toward a policy of inclusion, improving educational and professional opportunities for immigrants, respecting these people’s home cultures, religions and languages and promoting better understanding between the local population and the incoming one. Through such policy changes, the EU would decrease the feeling of isolation that immigrants may experience, and in the long term improve their chance to succeed in their new countries. The EU might not be able to take all refugees, but neither should it completely turn its back on people leaving war-torn areas. Instead, it should take this opportunity to educate its citizens, reinvigorate its population and walk towards a more inclusive Europe.
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