On Immigration, You Can Only Dismiss the Dissenters for So Long

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Once again, France has been terrorized. The BBC reports:

An 84-year-old priest was killed and four other people taken hostage by two armed men who stormed his church in a suburb of Rouen in northern France.

The two attackers, who said they were from the so-called Islamic State (IS), slit Fr Jacques Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass, officials say.

One of the hostages is in a critical condition in hospital.

President Francois Hollande, visiting the scene, said the attackers had committed a “cowardly assassination” and France would fight IS “by all means”.

Expressions of horror are all well and good, as are blanket vows to destroy one’s enemies. And yet Hollande’s words are beginning to sound a touch . . . hollow. 

Clearly, terrorism is a extremely complex issue, and reasonable people can disagree as to how it can be prevented and fought. Moreover, as with any problem, there is no inherent virtue in one’s saying “do something, anything,” or in one’s pretending that twilight struggles can be overcome by bluster. But it would be enormously helpful if the West’s ostensibly resolute leaders would level with their voters as to the nature and source of the threat, rather than treat them as children who need to be kept in line.

When a country is attacked, the issue of immigration is inevitably going to come up. If it is homegrown, terrorism will raise legitimate questions about long-term immigration policy and the degree to which outsiders are assimilating. If it is imported, terrorism will raise questions about a country’s border control or its attitude toward refugees. And that’s fine. Indeed, that’s democracy. The primary function of any government is to keep the people it represents safe from outside threats. As such, if a polity sees those threats multiplying they will — and should — ask its representatives what can be done. A responsible government would welcome such inquiries, and then make the case for its policy as best it could, acknowledging in the process that any course of action carries with it a set of costs, and that immigration is no different. A responsible government would be a responsive government.

Are Western governments responsive? As far as I can see, they are not. Rather, their typical reaction is to pretend that there are no possible downsides to our existing systems, and to imply that anybody who thinks otherwise is a bigot. Time and time again, those who have proposed that immigration brings problems as well as benefits is accused of racism; of anti-Semitism; of xenophobia; and they are told — in brutal, mocking tones — that there is no chance at all that adopting a more open approach will cause trouble. In the United States, those who argued against the admission of more Syrian refuges were compared to anti-SemitesIn Germany, which has taken more refugees than any other country in Europe, Angela Merkel’s first instinct has been to silence, rather than to heed the backlash. In Britain, the arrival of immigration as a hot-button electoral issue has yielded sighs of pain from the Left, coupled with the dismissal of anybody who dares dissent as a “little Englander.”

Has this deliberate myopia worked? Of course it has not. And why not? Well, because people have eyes, that’s why. Bluntly put, when you tell people that there will be no problems at all as a result of a given policy and then the news reports a litany of problems as a result of that policy, the people you tried to dupe are liable to get rather cross. 

Here’s the BBC again:

The governor of Bavaria has urged the German government to address public concerns about security and immigration after a spate of terror attacks.

Germans are “riled up” and “full of fear”, Horst Seehofer told a press conference, after four violent attacks in Germany in less than a week.

In the latest, on Sunday, a Syrian immigrant detonated a bomb, killing himself and injuring 15 people.

A gun attack in Munich was the deadliest – with nine people killed.

Quite what to do about this is not within my area of expertise, so I shall say no more now than that negative things tend to flow from both over- and under-reactions. What I do know, however, is that if Western governments do not start acknowledging that their immigration policies have serious downsides — and, for that matter, that it is not “racist” or “xenophobic” to say so – they are going to face a series of full-scale revolts, the likely beneficiaries of which will be political parties that do not take the “nuanced” view that the hushers and the name-callers believe themselves to be protecting.

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