Postmodern Paradise had a fatal weakness: it wasn’t prepared to fight for itself or its values.
Perhaps the most famous lines, if not necessarily the most poignant, within the American Declaration of Independence are the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” There is something to be taken from the acknowledgement of a logical valve in this project – one which while instilling such a foundational freedom as the pursuit of happiness, does not axiomatically impart an obligation on the state or even society to realise the end of that pursuit for any individual. I believe that this principle may be applied to the issue of migration, in that a right to emigration does not self-evidently imply a right to immigration – my right to leave my country in the pursuit of a better life (so long as I am not fleeing genuine persecution as a refugee) imposes no requirement on any nation to accept me. What follows is not an argument for any particular position on immigration, but it is a call for an honest realisation of links, causes and effects.
As a rationalist, I try to do my best in order to ensure that my beliefs are held proportionately to the available evidence. Honest and natural consequences of this position include an absence of belief in any gods, goblins or ghosts, or in the soul and any implied afterlife. I believe that death is the end of the line, and that the life that we find ourselves living is the only one we’re going to get. That a belief in an afterlife is made somewhat understandable with the consideration of good fortune’s starkly uneven spread throughout the world, naturally leaves a blunt and humbling appreciation for one’s lot, assuming that their life is comfortable enough to allow time for such reflections, as mine is.
My mother and I immigrated to the United Kingdom during my infancy, and we did so in search of a better opportunity – in pursuit of happiness. Though I was too young to understand this at the time, I am now in a state of sincere appreciation and perpetual acknowledgement of the following truth: there is an obvious tautology that in leaving for something better, that being left behind must by that very fact be worse. There is no shame in admitting this; it makes as little sense to feel pride or shame in the country of one’s birth as it does to for the colour of one’s skin. We should take pride in the positive effects which we bring, not in the arbitrary labels which we did not and could not choose. The time at which it becomes appropriate to take pride in one’s home country, coincides with the point at which one has an opportunity to leave, and chooses to stay. As Salman Rushdie wrote in Shame: “Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths sprouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes think, are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our place.”
Cultures throughout the world have advanced at different paces. I entertain no notion of relativism on this point; the West has climbed the escalator of civilisation at an exponential pace and those who might wish to argue from some other notion of ‘civilisation’ must first contend with John Rawls’ veil of ignorance; the account of which beautifully argues that a just society would be one where its laws were designed by legislators who, knowing that they would die and be reincarnated into the world they were designing, would be so without knowing in advance what lot they would draw. A civilised society is one where the caprice of your nature and its manifestations in unchosen features such as race, sex, sexual orientation and disability, do not determine whether your rights exist, or the degree to which they might be infringed upon. Where on this planet would you choose to be born gay, or without a Y chromosome? Where would your rights as a human – nothing more, nothing less – be best protected?
The question of when to be born also prompts an axis of luck which deserves a nod. Our ancestors endured entire millennia, where the available technology, life-expectancies and likely causes of death were indistinguishable from the start of those thousand years, to the finish. It is thanks to the projects of philosophy and science that, as we have come to understand more of our origins and our unspectacular position within the universe, we should now intuit a certain place for respect for one another. We are extraordinarily lucky to be living in a period where there exist nations within which we might discuss policies and ideas freely, without fear of persecution; and in which there exists a means by which we might communicate between these nations and others at speeds unimaginable to our grandparents. With the progression of secular philosophy came the principle of the freedom without which all others fall: that of free expression, for which I recently heard a wonderful argument with the point expressed, as always, very eloquently by Sam Harris when he put it thus: “The moment you make that move [ban offensive speech], you put a brick wall at the horizon of human conversation; and there’s really no telling how bad that could be . . . And the only way we can move forward morally and scientifically, and culturally . . . is to have conversation be open.”
I, as many immigrants did, came to the United Kingdom in order to benefit from the incredible work done by great men and women, and from the terrible sacrifices of others. The absolute least that I might do in my allotted time in this life would be to see that those freedoms are upheld, and to refrain from contributing in any way to their erosion. This is for our posterity: A society grows great when old men plant trees, the shades beneath which they know they shall never sit. The only available hope for any concept of immortality lies in securing memories worth cherishing, within the minds of our loved ones who are left behind to keep the project going for their own. When immigrant communities fail to even strive to achieve this bare minimum in the communal effort, thoughts must turn to the plight of the Western goose which lays the golden eggs of liberty, secularism and human rights.
In the thirteenth chapter of Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali identifies and lucidly demonstrates an important difference between Islam and Christianity, and specifically between “moderates” from each faith. She writes that “Anyone who identifies himself as a Muslim believes that the Quran is the true, immutable word of God. It should be followed to the letter. Many Muslims do not actually obey every one of the Quran’s many strictures, but they believe that they should.” Conversely, moderate Christians acknowledge that the Bible had many authors. “They don’t seek to live exactly as Jesus Christ and his disciples did. They are actually critical of the Bible, which they read in their own language and have revised several times. There are parts they find inspirational and parts they deem no longer relevant.” Even fundamentalist Christians have rationalised the barbaric laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus so as to no longer apply following Christ’s ‘new covenant’. It is in Hirsi Ali’s contention that Muslims believe that they “should” follow the Quran to the letter, that a significant appeal to Salafism and Jihadism is found.
“Extreme” is the wrong word as it denotes an exaggeration. Jihadism is neither infra nor ultra; it sits (granted, at an end, but certainly) within our visible spectrum of Islam. And what’s more; it holds the advantage of requiring no interpretation or context in order to be lifted plausibly from the scripture. Jihadism can arise from a literal reading of the Quran with none of the cognitive dissonance which comes with believing that the Quran is the unadulterated word of the creator of the universe, and having to contextualise it so as to live within a democratic society. It advances a challenge to Muslims on the grounds of their faith, asking how true they are to the teachings of a man who recorded the word of God perfectly. If Hirsi Ali is right on the point of distinction between Islam and Christianity, a very serious question arises: to what degree will Muslim immigrants, born and raised in Muslim countries, be committed to common Western values such as free speech, democracy, equal rights between sexes and liberalism?
In the interest of falsifiability, I propose to word the question as follows: what would Europe look like if Muslim immigrants did have issues with accepting and embracing such Western values? I submit that it would look very much like it actually does. Another tragedy is that one has to account for the media’s abject reluctance to actually report the pertinent facts for political reasons which ought to fall far outside its brief in any case. But alas, the media may be a reflection of society in this case; and this was demonstrated by the reactions to the notorious ‘skittles’ tweet from earlier this year. All that the pandering responses reading “not a skittle” while invoking a heart-breaking image of a child victim of war or risky sea-crossing served to demonstrate was either an inability or a refusal to understand an analogy.
It is also important to note that Islam is inextricable from politics. The religion boasts to be the final revelation from God, and seeks to do away with any need for questions by providing the answers for everything – sex, marriage, finance, inheritance, justice and punishment. It isn’t sufficient to do right by one’s version of Abraham’s overlord in this life in some expectation of a round to follow; the Quran contains instructions to subjugate the unbelievers in this life. The existence of Sharia courts in the United Kingdom is a de facto example of the erosion of human rights, specifically those concerning gender equality. That such changes can be made through ridiculous notions of political-correctness and cultural sensitivity would be laughable if it wasn’t so abjectly tragic. A return to basics is sorely needed – a return to a consideration of what it truly means to live in a civilised society. Multiculturalism has failed, and it has come at the expense of the culture which could have, under more principled circumstances, actually allowed for pluralism and true liberalism to exist.
The only reasonable conclusion therefore, is that Islam does have serious issues with Western values. These can be expectedly compounded by an order of magnitude when the vessels of the ideology have breathed nothing but it for their entire life, and have likely been exposed to, and desensitised by, degrees of violence and abuses of human rights that would seem thankfully alien in the countries into which they are immigrating in unprecedented numbers. Make no mistake, I acknowledge wholeheartedly that such circumstances are tragedies in themselves, and these individuals are just as much victims of their own circumstance. Ultimately however, a simple acknowledgement must be made that eventually (arguably already), such efforts will come perhaps irrevocably at the expense of the structures of the very societies and principles which serve to be of assistance in the first place.
Any calls for completely open borders, as some have made quite loudly, are calls for a race to an ultimate and undesirable equilibrium. People will continue to emigrate from less prosperous areas to areas which are more so, until there is nowhere more prosperous left to aim for. In the meantime, economies will no doubt collapse, justice systems will be eroded into abasement and corruption and any notion of peace will be non-existent. Some moral philosophies may well produce arguments for exactly such a circumstance based on some perverted socialist principle. What such a philosophy will certainly be however, is myopic in its perception of time; and overvaluing of the current generation. As a species we have demonstrated our humanity in breaking from the fetters of impulse and establishing societies in which we are free to strive to make the best lives for ourselves and our families. As we have benefited from the goose as preserved by our parents so that we might keep the project going, we owe the same to our posterity so that they might have the chance to do the same.