Saturday, 30 January 2016

Are the Syrian Refugees Security Threats or Economic Assets for Their Host Countries?

The ISIS is indeed an international security threat, but those fleeing from it cannot be labelled as security threats, even if most of them share the same religious affiliation as the ISIS. To label all Muslims as supporting terrorism would be an extremely bigoted attitude, which is far from reality. Many of the men and women who have laid down their lives fighting the ISIS and helped rehabilitate Yazidis and Christians do happen to be Muslims – whether Kurdish, Syrian, Iraqi or Emirati. While Shias and adherents of Sufi Islam (yes, Sufi Islam does exist even in the Middle East) are branded as heretics by the ISIS and have been targeted, even very many adherents of relatively puritan versions of Sunni Islam have  refused to accept Baghdadi’s caliphate and many such tribes in Iraq have violently taken on the ISIS.

It’s not as though rightists under any religious banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch Indian movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, does demonstrate, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists make all of them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.

Terrorism, even terrorism citing a theological basis, is certainly not a Muslim monopoly. As you can see here, very many instances of terrorism globally, even in the name of religion, have been carried out by those identifying themselves as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even Buddhists, the victims of the acts of terrorists from each of these religious groupings not always being Muslims. However, just like most people of these religious groupings are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims (and not supporting terrorism even applies to even most of those Muslims with other regressive and not-so-liberal attitudes on issues like gender and homosexuality).

It is possible to quote any scripture (allegedly out of context according to its liberal adherents) to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved, an ancient Hindu scripture, is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion. This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this regard, as does this video make an interesting watch in this connection. There are Quranic verses like 2:2565:25:85:326:1086:15110:9949:1360:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and indeed preaches nothing but peace.

There is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I’ve encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that doesn’t in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people.

And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to just about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s. And, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists.

There is indeed absolutely nothing to suggest that most of the refugees are terrorists or even supporters of terrorism, and indeed, they escaped the very same terrorism that Westerners do indeed very understandably dread. Having said that, a certain degree of caution is necessary, for the nefarious designs of the ISIS do involve targeting innocent people across the globe, and so, the possibility of some ISIS members having joined the peace-loving refugees cannot be ruled out. In this regard, it is noteworthy that in the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, one of the terrorists involved was a migrant who had come in with the refugees. It would be prudent to exercise caution by cross-checking with the Middle Eastern governments and those heading the Kurdish fighters the identities of the migrants, and this has actually helped in some cases.

Terrorism apart, it is important that the refugees, even if coming from socially conservative backgrounds, do respect the culture of their host countries and respect women, even if they do not sport headscarves and wear short dresses. They cannot try to impose their own versions of piety and decency on others and the instances of crimes against women in Cologne were a disgrace, and one of the molesters displayed ingratitude, saying they shouldn’t be arrested, for they were Angela Merkel’s guests! That said, of course, the commission of crimes against women is not exclusive to any ethnicity or religious grouping and has a long history (the disrobing of Draupadi in the Mahabharat demonstrates that such occurrences weren’t unheard of in ancient India, for example), and does need to be checked by vigilant policing.

As for whether the migrants offer an economic opportunity to their host countries, on the whole, the answer seems to be in the affirmative, by way of bringing in more players in the labour market, especially unskilled labour (of which countries like Germany have a great shortage), though there are legitimate concerns about the host countries’ spending on basic facilities for migrants as also whether competition with migrants would deprive locals of jobs. However, fortunately, the evidence tells us otherwise.

The Economist points to a study in the OECD’s International Migration Outlook, which estimates the net fiscal contributions of migrants in 27 advanced countries. The net direct contribution of migrants is indeed lesser than that of the locals, but this is owing to the fact the migrants pay less taxes and not because they claim more benefits. The primary reason for them paying less tax is lower levels of employment, especially among women. The net fiscal contributions of migrants could therefore be increased by increasing their labour force participation. The overall inference is that migration is “neither a significant gain nor drain for the public purse”.

When ethnic Indians were expelled from East Africa in the 1970s, conservative British newspapers had expressed alarm, with The Telegraph talking of the “Invasion of Asians Forces Borough to Call for Help”, but forty years later, a conservative minister described them as “one of Britain's greatest success stories.” Indeed, migrants in Denmark, many of them Muslim, actually helped boost productivity and enabled local Danish people to acquire more skill sets owing to competition, as Mette Foged and Giovanni Peri have explained in a research paper dated April 2015. As a report in The Atlantic points out-

“Economists generally agree immigration is mostly good for a nation. They even have a term for it: ‘Immigration surplus’ refers to the positive effect immigration has by creating new demand for goods and services, which encourages employers to hire more people. And if migrants replace incumbent workers, even though wages are lowered, goods and services are produced more cheaply.”

According to a new report from the OECD, despite the ongoing refugee crisis, the Turkish and Lebanese economies will indeed both advance at a steady rate in the near future. Despite an influx of refugees that now amounts to more than 10% of its population, Jordan, too, is bearing up. Its GDP will rise by about 3% this year, according to the IMF.

These figures prove that even in countries facing huge influxes of refugees, the impact on the economy as a whole is usually not enormous. Indeed, there is a cost to screening, housing, and feeding the entrants, but even in Turkey, which has received more Syrian refugees than any other country, this cost has proved manageable. Turkey’s annual GDP is about 800 billion dollars. At about 1.5 billion dollars a year, the cost of resettling the Syrian refugees has been less than 0.2% of the GDP.

Another concern that has been expressed regularly about refugees, especially in Europe over the past few months, in response to the influx of refugees there, has been that refugees take jobs from native workers and reduce wages. The evidence of these Syrian refugees suggests that this is possible and even has happened on some occasions, but isn’t a very large-scale issue. In many cases, refugees take jobs that are rejected by the natives. They also set up businesses of their own and provide more customers for domestic enterprises.

 Not all the migrants are unskilled workers, however. Another study by Soner Çağaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, pointed out that many Syrian traders from places like Aleppo, which has been devastated by the civil war, have moved their operations across the border to cities in southern Turkey, boosting business there. In general, Çağaptay wrote, “Turkish business, and the country’s trademark export market, has registered remarkable success in dealing with the fallout of the Syrian crisis.”

Indeed, the Syrian crisis is a humanitarian one, and should be seen as such. Many people from the West have displayed their compassion, which is indeed laudable.

Karmanye Thadani

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