BERLIN -- The refugees from Syria seeking asylum in Europe are changing the geopolitical and geo-cultural landscape. The famous words of Emma Lazarus etched into the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor now apply to the Europe from whence many of America's immigrants once came:
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
What we are witnessing today is the first of the long predicted "migration of nations," a circumstance that in itself has the capacity to change many realities we all grew up with. Mass emigration on this order has been predicted as a result of climate change, droughts and dearth.
But the current exodus is due to a terrible war that is shaking up an already roiling region -- the Middle East.
One must not forget: the Islamic State terror regime is enslaving a horrendously large number of girls and women, killing political opponents and homosexuals and destroying irreplaceable works of art and landmarks of our common human history. This is not just "a" war, but a return to the terrors of barbarism that Westerners today could scarcely have imagined might become a reality in the 21st century. It is essential to always recall this as the desperate refugees we see pressing against European borders are literally escaping the worst nightmare history has to offer. It may be comparable to the apocalyptic images that the sheer mention of the Norman invaders conjure up in the collective memory of Europeans.
Little Common Understanding in Arab World
Europeans themselves had little common understanding of each other for the longest time, fighting two world wars rooted in the enmity of neighbors in the 20th century alone. This seems even more true today of Arabs across wide swaths of the Middle East. So there is not much easy solidarity there with the Syrian refugees.
So while the pope in Rome urges every parish and every monastery in Europe under his command to take at least in one refugee family, the guardians of the sacred sites of Islam refuse to take in their brothers and sisters. This especially holds true for the rich Gulf states. Rather than offering them shelter in their countries, the rulers of that region have reportedly suggested instead that they would pay for 200 mosques in Europe for the refugees.
Rather than offering them shelter in their countries, the rulers of the Gulf States have reportedly suggested instead that they would pay for 200 mosques in Europe for the refugees.
This offer only fans the fears of an "Islamization of the Christian West" claimed by right-wing parties all over the continent. Far from helping the Syrian refugees, this idea does them a disservice that will make integration more difficult.
In an ideal world the gestures of compassion from European nations and the papacy would help to finally demolish the nonsense among those Islamists who see a world divided among infidels and true believers. Yet, one can easily imagine that these same people see in the exodus to Europe a divine plan that will result in the conversion of the West to Islam.
Who Is Responsible?
The stripping off of responsibility evident in the attitude of the Gulf states leads directly from the leaders in the Arab world to the United States, which claims the refugee crisis is a "European problem." But it is the opposite: The destabilization of the region, the refugees not only from Syria but also from Iraq and Afghanistan, testify to the failed American policies and unjust wars in the wake of 9/11. For almost a century the British had the privilege of unsettling the Middle East; for 14 years now the baton has been in the hands of the U.S. Helping to clean up the violent mess could be seen at least as a part of a necessary penitence -- something all the presidential candidates in next year's election precisely want to avoid.
The American's lack of enthusiasm for taking in the present crush of Muslim immigrants runs parallel to that of some European nations, such as Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, which only want to take in refugees of the Christian faith.
Behind this there is the fear that their native culture could be destroyed for good and, in the case of Muslim migrants, they could be inviting in violent conflicts of the future. And, in fact, Palestinian refugees for instance have not won any integration award in Europe. Jewish life in France has been beleaguered by angry young men who want to play out the conflicts of their homeland on the streets of Europe. But what would be the alternative in the face of the war in Syria and people suffering? Try to give an answer that would not sound cynical.
Germany's Defining Moment
The refugee crisis is a defining moment for Germany. It will change Germany's geopolitical position and, in the long run, alter its power economically, and therefore politically. For decades large parts of the German population have resisted calling their home anything close to a nation of immigrants. But, with the lowest birth rate in the world, Germany not only should be a country of that sort; it will be.
Ten years ago, well-educated immigrants would strive to head to the United States or Canada to start a new life; the less trained would try to go to Europe as a second choice, allegedly because of its social welfare system. Now it is different: the refugees shout "Germany, Germany" when stranded elsewhere in Europe, some even carrying photos of Chancellor Merkel.
The emergence of something called a 'German Dream' is as startling as it is new.
Germany today may become that sort of haven, at least for the Syrian refugees, that the United States had been for Europeans in past centuries. The emergence of something called a "German Dream" is as startling as it is new.
But this can only prevail if it becomes a "European Dream." Europe is the beacon of hope for refugees because of its promise: whosoever reaches our shores will be fully embraced by the blessings that the rule of law and the freedom of -- and from -- religion. The dignity of man as the main achievement of the European modern era applies to every single person who enters the continent.
Who would have thought that the hopes of desperate refugees would provide Europe with the defining moment it has been searching for in its stumbling efforts toward a unifying narrative? Perhaps Americans devoted to the values Europe now stands for will dedicate a new Statue of Liberty to the continent. That would mark a reversal of history and the seal of a new geopolitical order.
Earlier on WorldPost: