Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Roots of the Migration Crisis

The Syrian refugee disaster is a result of the Middle East’s failure to grapple with modernity and Europe’s failure to defend its ideals

By Walter Russell Mead, WSJ
Sept. 11, 2015 2:16 p.m. ET

The migration crisis enveloping Europe and much of the Middle East today is one of the worst humanitarian disasters since the 1940s. Millions of desperate people are on the march: Sunni refugees driven out by the barbarity of the Assad regime in Syria, Christians and Yazidis fleeing the pornographic violence of Islamic State, millions more of all faiths and no faith fleeing poverty and oppression without end. Parents are entrusting their lives and the lives of their young children to rickety boats and unscrupulous criminal syndicates along the Mediterranean coast, professionals and business people are giving up their livelihoods and investments, farmers are abandoning their land, and from North Africa to Syria, the sick and the old are on the road, carrying a few treasured belongings on a new trail of tears.

It is the first migration crisis of the 21st century, but it is unlikely to be the last. The rise of identity politics across the Middle East and much of sub-Saharan Africa is setting off waves of violence like those that tore apart the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries. The hatreds and rivalries driving endangered communities to exile and destruction have a long history. They probably have a long future as well.

What we are witnessing today is a crisis of two civilizations: The Middle East and Europe are both facing deep cultural and political problems that they cannot solve. The intersection of their failures and shortcomings has made this crisis much more destructive and dangerous than it needed to be—and carries with it the risk of more instability and more war in a widening spiral.

The crisis in the Middle East has to do with much more than the breakdown of order in Syria and Libya. It runs deeper than the poisonous sectarian and ethnic hatreds behind the series of wars stretching from Pakistan to North Africa. At bottom, we are witnessing the consequences of a civilization’s failure either to overcome or to accommodate the forces of modernity. One hundred years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and 50 years after the French left Algeria, the Middle East has failed to build economies that allow ordinary people to live with dignity, has failed to build modern political institutions and has failed to carve out the place of honor and respect in world affairs that its peoples seek.

(More here.)

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