A Clash of Western Civilizations

2015. október 20. 08:48

Diana Pinto
Project Syndicate

On one side are politicians like Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker, Barack Obama and Pope Francis. On the other are Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

"Images from the refugee crisis in Europe have juxtaposed smiling crowds in Vienna and Munich with grim, unwelcoming faces in Budapest. The result has been a surge of commentary about the “two Europes” – one welcoming, one forbidding. The truth is that disagreements over whether countries should take in refugees are hardly unique to Europe. The contrast on display is symptomatic of a deep rift within the Western world.

The divide cuts across the United States, the European Union, and Israel – and, equally important, across Jewish and Christian communities. On one side are politicians like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, US President Barack Obama, former Israeli Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, and religious figures like Pope Francis. On the other are Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, French nationalist politician Marine Le Pen, US Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the Cardinal of Hungary, Péter Erdő, and legions of other Eastern European clergy.

Each of the camps shares a fundamental outlook on the role refugees play in society. The first group consists of those who consider democratic values to be more important than ethnic or national identities. In their view, anyone who abides by a country’s laws can become a full-fledged citizen and contribute to the vitality of his or her adopted country.

According to this view, inclusion of “the other” – people from different countries and cultures – does not destroy national identity; it enriches it with new ideas and behaviors. Proponents of such cross-fertilization point to outsiders or their descendants who have attained high positions in their adopted countries: a Latino member of the US Supreme Court, German constitutional lawyers of Turkish origin, French prefects whose parents and grandparents arrived from North Africa, British lords and baronesses with roots in Africa and the Caribbean, and Italian writers of Indian descent. (...)

On the other side of the divide are those who fear the other as a threat to national identity. Their gut-level response is to build fences and walls, as long and as tall as possible, whether on the border between Mexico and the US, on Israel’s border with Egypt, or on Hungary’s border with Serbia (or even with fellow EU member Croatia). It is no coincidence that Hungarian and Bulgarian policymakers have turned to Israeli companies to seek technical advice on how to build their fences."
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