Thinking Through the First Two Questions

by:  Katie Gartner

Unsurprisingly, the migrant crisis has not abated over the past few weeks. Approximately three weeks ago, a highly divisive EU vote passed, creating mandatory quotas by a qualified majority. Directly affecting national sovereignty, the vote received intense support from Germany, France, and Italy, while the UK and Denmark have opted out of the plan, voluntarily making their own resettlement plans. Two nations who previously objected to the idea of mandatory quotas, Latvia and Poland, voted with the majority. The discussions and negotiations continued yesterday, as European leaders met again in Brussels to consider questions of security around the borders of the European Union. Considering these developments, my previous questions deserve more attention.

  • Does Europe’s “culture of guilt” as described by Christopher Caldwell in his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe influence the initial spirit of hospitality in many nations?
    • Yes, absolutely! Seventy years ago, Germany was synonymous with Nazism, hatred, and intolerable acts of unimaginable bigotry-fueled cruelty. During this crisis, while right-wing extremists may protest Germany’s acceptance of so many migrants, the overwhelming sentiment among Germans is one of welcome. I read an article a few weeks ago, an opinion piece, which discussed this change, using Munich as a case study. In World War II, the concentration camp at Dachau was a mere ten miles outside of Munich, and the Nazi leadership referred to the city as the “Capital of the Movement.” Now, Munich wants to be seen as the “city of protection and help.” A friend of mine is currently studying abroad in Munich, and has said that the German newspapers echo other Western media. Having declared themselves willing to accept 800,000 migrants, the consensus within Germany is that they must act decisively to ameliorate the situation. I have no doubt that Europe’s tragic history and Germany’s antagonistic role in the first half of the century have influence the German desire to set an example of welcome for the rest of the continent during this crisis.
  • How many of the limitations placed on migrant movement result from a nation’s lack of capacity to accept migrants, and how many result from a centuries-old European fear of Islamic culture?
    • I knew when I wrote this question that it was controversial, and I certainly hesitate to try to answer it now. In Samuel Huntington’s famous essay, The Clash of Civilizations, he discusses the origins of cultural (or civilizational) conflict. He outlines differences in history, language, culture, tradition, and religion as the key components of different civilizations, arguing that these varying perspectives will continue to create conflict well into the future. From the time of the Crusades to the Spanish expulsion of the Moors in the seventeenth century to the long struggle of European Christendom against the Ottoman Empire, the historically Christian Europe has been unable to come to terms with the increasing influence of Islam within its bounds. Today, while the continent-wide adherence to Christianity is much diminished, its effects are still felt. This struggle between two titanic religions has shaped European culture. With this in mind, I find myself divided in answering this question. I do believe that the limitations placed on migrant movement result from a lack of capacity to accept migrants, but I also believe that some of the reluctance to make sacrifices to accommodate the influx stems from historical discomfort with Islam.

These are not complete answers to these questions, nor do they amount to expert opinions. While I have other questions from my original post that I have yet to answer, I have been returning to these two questions the most frequently as I watch Europe’s evolving reaction to the migrant crisis. In the coming weeks, I will begin to organize my thoughts on the last few questions, hopefully providing some food for thought if not definitive answers.