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Ethnic identity and mass immigration in the European Union: part two.

THE six 'case profiles' I presented in Part One (March, page 9, Vol. 294, No. 1704), and many more examples that one can adduce, show clearly that throughout the six decades after World War II the vitality of historical nations and ethnic groups continued and in many cases their resurgence was expressed in an extremist and often violent manner. The extremist forms of expression of nationalism or ethnic and religious sentiments are characteristic of not negligible sections of populations in Europe. Apart from the six cases mentioned, there are many countries in Europe where similar extremist sentiments and organized groups exist, such as in Britain, Hungary, or Sweden. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that the nationalist, ethnic or religious sentiments exist not only among the extremist elements in the populations, but are far more widespread and probably engulf the vast majority, albeit the latter hold such sentiments much more moderately. What has heightened such sentiments in the last few decades has been the new phenomenon of mass immigration into many European countries, especially from Asia and Africa. The internal population movements within the European Union, such as from East European countries to Western Europe, seem to be not necessarily permanent, and because of many common cultural facets among these populations the ethnic factor may play a less acute role in the adjustments between the newcomers and the native residents.

On the other hand the influx of millions of non-white immigrants, adherents of non-Christian religions, has made an impact, often a negative one, on the native population of Europe. Statistical sources show that of the 200 million immigrants around the world over 70 million are in Europe. In 2005 a United Nations report (1) gave 31 million as the number of immigrants in the five leading West European countries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. The numbers will be much higher by the second or third decade of this century. In most of these countries the immigrants account for 10 per cent or more of the total population, and it is estimated that 'by mid-century in most of the major European countries, foreign origin populations will be between 20 and 32 per cent'. The reason why we must rely on estimates rather than on exact demographic data is that the mass immigration to Europe has taken place through several channels: immigrants per se; asylum seekers; guest workers who often can change their status to permanent residents; foreign workers from outside the EU who enter illegally, and many of whom stay on permanently; and migrants who enter these countries on the basis of family reunification. Of course, there is a central demographic factor that changes the balance between native citizens and the immigrant population, and this is the disparity in the rates of population growth between these two groups: the native population in EU countries is ageing due both to longer life expectancy and to the below replacement level of the birth rate, as against the immigrants who constitute a much younger population with a high birth rate. Thus, the native population, influenced by secularism and post-modern conditions, has a birth rate of 1.6 which is far below the replacement level of 2.1; whilst the immigrant population who are more traditional and many of whom adhere to religious principles, such as the Muslim immigrants, have a birth rate of around 3.3, which is typical of substantially growing populations. Demographics in this respect is akin to 'principal plus compound interest'. Thus, even if immigration would be halted completely the balance will still change greatly in favour of the non-native immigrants and their descendants. This process could go on for a long period, unless quite rapidly a process of assimilation sets in among immigrants, bringing down their birth rate substantially and with it their population growth. Such a scenario does not seem to be realistic.

The dynamics of the mass immigration to Europe from underdeveloped countries, and the effect this had on the economies, the residential patterns it created, and the socio-cultural relations that developed between the native population and the immigrants, has roots in the post-Second World War needs of the West-European countries. The re-building of their economies could not succeed with the diminished work-force in Europe, which the initial baby-boom would take a couple of decades to replenish. As the 'echo' booms showed diminishing birthrates later, it became clear to the governments and the leaders of the economies that the solution was to invite guest-workers, especially from Asia and Africa, to remedy the situation by employing them in manual low-grade jobs to which the native population was not attracted. This worked for a while and started the avalanche of mass immigration. Eventually a shortage of personnel in certain middlea- and high-class occupations, such as doctors, chemists and other occupations linked to other social service areas attracted more immigrants. However, economic downturns as we neared the end of the twentieth century left many of the immigrant labouring classes unemployed. This in fact disproved the idea that the younger immigrant population would also contribute to the upkeep of the social services which were already burdened with the ageing native population. On the contrary, the unemployed immigrants added to the burden.

As for the residential pattern of the immigrants, this was affected by the re-building of the economy which raised the standard of living of large sections of the native population. As a result, the latter moved out of the poorer areas in the cities and industrial towns and moved into more desirable suburbs. The immigrants moved in very large numbers into the poorer areas since there were no better alternatives; this also meant that they could stick together, and thus practice communally their religion and continue with their social traditions and culture. The end result was that they became ghettoized and thus less assimilable, and among the Muslim immigrants the younger generation became more inward-looking and religiously more extreme, leading to fanaticism and to being anti-Western in its outlook. The poor conditions and unemployment also contributed to lawlessness. All this was detrimental to the cultural and social adjustments that immigrants and the native population have to make towards each other for an orderly transitional period and eventual integration. Instead, the racial and ethnic relations began to deteriorate well before the end of the millennium.

Many researchers and writers dealing with this problem point to immigrants of the Muslim faith as the least adjusted and tending towards radicalization. Whatever the exact numbers may be, the entrenchment of Muslims in Europe has shown signs of non-assimilation and non-integration into West-European culture, which in turn has produced antagonism among the native population, even to the extent that governments have passed laws, such as the forbidding of building new minarets for mosques in Switzerland, or the banning in public places in France of the burka (worn by some Muslim women). Muslim immigrants complain that such measures are discriminatory and alienate them from West European culture and society. The outcome of this kind of clash could be multiculturalism, that is the acceptance and promotion of a number of cultures within a nation-state, the latter being a framework which provides an equal status to the cultures of a diversity of ethnic and religious groups. However, several political leaders in Western Europe have argued against such a development, espousing the full integration of immigrants into Western society and culture, which they regard as central and as the ultimate aim.

Do these ethnic and religious divisions signal a renewal of the struggles between Christianity and Islam. a new clash of civilizations? Radicalization has led to extremism and actual violence, as in the case of transit bombings in England and Spain. The 11th of March 2004 bombings of the commuter train system in Madrid, Spain were apparently carried out by mainly Muslim terrorists, and the 7th of July 2005 bombing attacks on the London underground train system and on a London bus were carried out by 'homegrown' Islamic suicide terrorists. The overall result, according to Christopher Caldwell, has been the creation of 'parallel societies' by the immigrants, and especially among Muslim immigrants who have shown antagonism to many aspects of Western culture. West Europeans, who left their colonies in Africa and Asia after the Second World War, have enabled, within a few decades, the establishment of 'ethnic colonies' in their own lands. (2)

The vitality of the ethnic and religious factors and their divisive effects, whether those ingrained in European societies for long periods of time, as exemplified in the 'case profiles', or those which became apparent among the new minorities in the last few decades, had to be faced by the countries of the European Union, even whilst the latter was deepening its unification and widening its area. Since 2007 the EU includes 27 sovereign member states. As we know, the fundamental aim of the unification was that of eradicating the long-standing divisions leading to numerous and destructive wars among European nations, the impetus for unification stemming from a wish to eliminate the centuries-old animosity between France and Germany. Yet strong critical views have been expressed concerning the creation by the s of regionalism which some regard as incompatible with globalization. More specifically from the point of view of our topic, an interesting effect of globalization has been in the field of religious identification and devoutness. I quote here Bryan Turner's comment in the field of globalization and religion: 'Globalization is an important idea, but we have to be aware that the world religions have always claimed to be global and that part of the problem of trying to understand Islam and the Christian legacy is how to understand the concept of "the world" in traditional cultures and how that relates to the concept of globalization in modern society'. (3) Paradoxically, modern society's globalization has brought about conditions in which immigrants, for instance Muslims or Sikhs, who settle in Western countries can easily communicate with their communities of origin and the traditional religious leaders, and thus continue to observe without any rupture their laws and traditions; living in effect in their own world, in their own 'culture space'. This is reinforced by their local religious leaders and the institutions created in their newly acquired physical abode. This could mean, however, that they become alienated from Western culture, with which they do not truly identify. Especially in the first stage after arriving in the new country many of the immigrants may feel to be strangers and not fully accepted in the new country in which they settled. In this respect the receiving societies, in European countries as in many other parts of the world, may face a problematic relationship with non-integrated 'minority citizens'.


The scenario I have presented is a very complex one. The background is one of a continuing developmental stage of European unification amidst phenomenal globalizing trends seen in the internationalized market, the spread of modern technology, mass travel between countries and continents, universalized communication systems, and increased standardization in most aspects of life. Since one might have assumed, with Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, that 'the world was moving irrevocably beyond nationalism, beyond tribalism, beyond the provincial confines inscribed in our passports, towards a global market culture which was to be our new home', (4) we must search for an explanation of these apparently contradictory phenomena. The very process of unification between well established nation-states has been almost from the start criss-crossed by another process, that is mass immigration bringing with it different cultures and religions, and the establishment of new minority communities, whose members had to make a dual adjustment, to the sweeping globalizing trends as well as to the particular West European national host cultures, societies which latterly have been rejecting multi-culturalism and demanding instead full assimilation or at least successful integration.

Before undertaking the analysis of this situation, the defining of the major concepts used will be in place. Thus, James Kellas distinguishes between 'national' and 'ethnic' group: the former, he says, is 'a group of people who feel themselves to be a community bound together by ties of history, culture, and common ancestry. Nations have "objective" characteristics which may include a territory, a language, a religion, or common descent, and "subjective" characteristics, essentially a people's awareness of its nationality and affection for it'. James Kellas defines an ethnic group in narrower terms. Thus, 'ethnic groups are generally differentiated from nations on several dimensions: they are usually smaller, they are more clearly based on a common ancestry; and they are more pervasive in human history, while nations are perhaps specific to time and place'. Another well-known concept 'the nation-state' is defined as 'a politically unified people occupying a definite territory'. (5) It is to the formation of nation-states that nationalist movements aspire to. As Anthony Smith notes, such movements are inspired by three main goals: 'citizen autonomy, territorial unity and historical identity'. This means self-government for the nation with equality for its citizens. To define 'extreme nationalism' one must add the criterion of exclusivity, i.e., denying citizenship of the State to those not belonging to the nation. (6)

Whilst these distinctions are useful and necessary, I see ethnicity and nationalism as inextricably linked through deep historical roots. As Anthony Smith sees it, 'nations ... are derived from pre-existing and highly particularized cultural heritages and ethnic formations'. In my view 'ethnicity' is based on primordial attachments which are expressed by cultural affinities, common religious traditions, feelings of fraternity and solidarity, and a strong communal identification. 'Nationalism' is anchored in or arises out of ethnicity, stressing the wish for territorial independence with full sovereignty and having goals for the successful development of the nation. The nationalistic surge, during the course of modern European history, has led to the creation of an increasing number of nation-states, some of them carved out of previous empires or multinational states, as the examples provided in Part One show. The most problematic cases, often leading to violence, are those where the 'state' is not homogeneous nation-wise, including ethnic minorities which after struggles for independence are usually granted autonomy or home-rule, a stage which often leads to secession and the establishment of more independent nation-states.

The post-World War II period in Europe was, at the beginning, marked by a decline in extreme nationalism which was discredited due to the excesses of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. With the advent of both West and East European reorganization, especially in the economic sphere, there were prospects of close cooperation between nation-states with emphases on trans-national goals. These trends were reinforced by the process of globalization. However, within a relatively short time strong signs of nationalism and the defence of national interests emerged. Before proposing an explanation let us look at what globalization is or does, that is, how it affects societies based on ethnic, religious and national allegiances. There are many definitions of 'globalization' stressing different aspects of post-modern developments: 'the immense enlargement of world communication, as well as of the horizon of a world market' is one characterization; another is 'the expansion of Western civilization'; yet another emphasis is that 'the globe we inhabit is becoming smaller and more integrated' . The angle from which I look at globalization brings me close to Ulrich Beck's definition: '"globalization" is the blanket term to describe "the processes through which sovereign national states are criss-crossed and undermined by transnational actors with varying prospects of power, orientations, identities and networks"'. (7)

Let its return to the question of how globalization affects nations, ethnic groups, and local communities. At this point it is worth noting Zygmunt Bauman's view that global capitalism, which spearheads the wider phenomenon of globalization, appears to be impossible to influence or control. This means that nation-states are acted upon by the globalized system of forces; hence they lose their regulatory power. The deregulation that occurs produces uncertainty, so that 'there is no framework of rules to guide the actor's choice; and it is very difficult indeed to anticipate the future effects of choices. Faced with choices, people do not know what they "should" do'. (8) The need to weigh up whether to follow existing rules and customs, or to join the waves of new world-trends causes dilemmas for individuals and the community, and also for the nation-state which may have to change its rules to be in line with the innovations of globalization.

Is it then true to say that the nation-state seems to be losing its grip? Is it withering away due to the eroding transnational forces? Again quoting Bauman: 'The deepest meaning conveyed by the idea of globalization is that of the indeterminate, unruly and self-propelled character of world affairs; the absence of a [controlling] centre'. The consequences of globalization are unintended and unanticipated, but they impact strongly on the nation-state. Globalization has a similarly strong impact on ethnic culture and identity by its force of universalization; by its 'declared intention to make similar the life conditions of everyone and everywhere'. As Francis Fukuyama says: the process is one of 'increasing homogenization of all human societies, regardless of their historical origins or cultural inheritances'. (9) In other words, as developments in European unification show, the results of the latter are in line with globalization effects: namely, the transnational/transethnic unification leads through the overall economic system, the financial system, the legal system, and other institutions to the levelling, streamlining and uniformizing of the existing systems in the various local states and communities. But more than this: the intention is to produce a European citizen and an overall culture which would dominate or replace or reduce to a minimum the specific national cultures and identification with ethnic communities. What we have here is a binary relationship between two alternatives existing in opposition to each other: the universal and the particular--a global system versus specific local societal entities.

What interests me is not which is preferable--the local or the universal, but, rather, I wish to provide an explanation for the upsurge in nationalism and ethnicization. In some cases these are peaceful, such as the current interest in Britain in the Celtic roots and culture of the British Isles, e.g., Celtic languages, art and folklore. Sometimes such roots can be mythological, and some groups may feel the need to invent an historical past, in addition to their current common situation and interest, in order to strengthen their collective identity. In other cases, as we have exemplified above, they become violent, especially in the case of ethnic communities which aim to gain their independence. Again, as we have seen, a good deal of popular support has been given to extreme nationalists, who thrive on xenophobic sentiments and hatred. Such sentiments and clamouring for national independence is not new. In the past, the nations involved have contributed to the downfall of empires only to find themselves in the last decades joining another supranational power: the European Union. This, together with the discontents of globalization, has produced a reaction among the peoples of Europe in the form of a will to preserve ethno-national identities and to defend local traditions and customs, including general cultural traditions and more specific religious attachments.

The changes introduced by globalization and the introduction of another major change that took place in Western Europe with the mass immigration of many millions of immigrants gave rise to fears that their own Western culture could become diluted. Hence the strong adherence of the immigrants to their own religions and cultural traditions brought about the debate on multiculturalism. Such entrenchments can be explained by the obvious need that people have for a clear collective identity, for belonging to a closely identifiable community within clear demarcated boundaries, for expressing loyalty to old inherited customs and symbols, for a sense of continuity in a fast changing world.

The identity crisis which these changes produce can lead to what Shmuel Eisenstadt (10) calls an 'existential anxiety' and produce strong tendencies towards violence and aggression manifested in the exclusion of 'others' and even resulting in manifestations of modern barbarism. The euro crisis and severe economic problems in Greece, Spain and possibly Italy could well increase ethnic tensions and violence. European unification and Eurocentrism may be able to counteract such tendencies and fulfill some of the collective identity needs by providing a transnational identity, but if so only at a lower grade of identification; whilst the global society has the very opposite characteristics, showing destabilizing tendencies and producing feelings of insecurity. As a result, the stronger the influence of transnational unification and the more standardizing that takes place through the globalization of culture, communication and symbols, the more fear develops among nations of losing age-old attachments and loyalties to ethnic groups and local communities, and of losing national pride and the identification with its culture and symbols nurtured for generations. Hence the increase in the effects of unification and globalization tends to heighten rather than lower local separatism, expressed through ethnic and national identification. The upshot is, as Jonathan Sacks puts it, that 'the habits of language, history, religion, custom and tradition that divided, would continue to divide humanity' (11), and I should add: nations and nationalism in Europe, as well as extreme manifestations of it, will continue to thrive in the European Union and in the post-modern world as a whole.


(1.) 'World Population Policies, 2005', based on the United Nations Report, Wikipedia, March 24, 2011.

(2.) Caldwell, Christopher, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, Allen Lane, London and Doubleday, New York, 2009, pages 8, 17, 24, 30-32, 45, 132-3, 156.

(3.) Turner, Bryan S., Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism, Routledge, London and New York, 1994, page 9.

(4.) Ignatieff Michael, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, New York, 1993, Introduction: 'The Last Refuge', page 5.

(5.) Kellas, J.G., The Politics of Nationalism and Ethnicity, Macmillan, London, 1991 pages 2-3, 32.

(6.) Smith, Anthony D., Nationalism in the Twentieth Century New York University Press, New York, 1979, page 48; Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1995, pages xiii, 1.

(7.) Beck, Ulrich, What is Globalization? Polity Press, Cambridge. 2000, page.11.

(8.) Bauman, Zygmunt, Globalization--The Human Consequences, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1998, pages 56-60.

(9.) Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man, Avon Books. New York, 1992, page xiv.

(10.) Eisenstadt, S.N., 'Barbarism and Modernity: The Destructive Components of Modernity--The Perennial Challenge', in Krausz, Ernest and Gitta Tulea, editors, Starting the Twenty-First Century, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, USA, 2002, page 26.

(11.) Sacks, Jonathan, The Dignity of Difference--How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, Continuum, London/New York, 2002, pages 37-38.

Ernest Krausz, is Professor Emeritus in the University of Bar-Ilan and Professor in the School of Behavioural Sciences at Netanya Academic College, Israel. He gained his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and was formerly Reader at City University, London. Among his publications are Exploring Reality and Its Uncertainties (Sussex Academic Press, 2010) and an edition (with Gitta Tulea) of Jewish Survival: The Identity Problem at the Close of the Twentieth Century, a collection of essays addressing Jewish identity; Jewish survival, & Jewish continuity.
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Author:Krausz, Ernest
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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