“Orbán is Right”

Jamie Kirchick in the Atlantic has a piece about the German migrant influx that covers basically all of the important arguments, in a tone that’s neither too incendiary nor not incendiary enough:

[T]he plain fact is that most of the migrants who have come (and continue to come) to Europe hail from Muslim-majority countries that long ago expelled their once-vibrant Jewish populations, where anti-Semitism figures prominently in state propaganda, and where belief in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories is widespread. To take just one obvious incongruity between Germany and the migrants it is accepting: Holocaust denial, a crime punishable by prison in Germany, is pervasive across the Muslim and Arab Middle East. Of course, it would be wrong to presume that every Syrian refugee holds the anti-Semitic attitudes of the country’s former defense minister, who published a book repeating the ancient blood libel about Jews killing gentile children to bake matzos for Passover. But it is equally misguided to deny that many have been profoundly influenced by the anti-Semitic environments in which they were raised.

So concerned were they not to appear indifferent to the sufferings of foreign Muslims, however, that many Germans welcomed them without properly considering the impact this move might have on their Jewish fellow citizens. It was only after he left office last year that former president Joachim Gauck admitted he is “terrified of multiculturalism,” adding: “I find it shameful … when anti-Semitism among people from Arab states is ignored or declared intelligible with reference to Israeli policies. Or if criticism of Islam is immediately suspected of growing out of racism and hatred of Muslims.” Similarly, Merkel waited until this February to publicly refer to “no-go areas,” high-crime, largely Muslim immigrant neighborhoods across Europe wherein state authorities fear to tread, and the very existence of which have long been furiously denied by liberals as an Islamophobic invention. “There are such areas and one has to call them by their name and do something about them,” Merkel said.

A month after Merkel decided to open her country’s borders to over 1 million mostly Muslim migrants in 2015, Germany’s four main intelligence agencies contributed to a little-noticed report warning, “We are importing Islamic extremism, Arab anti-Semitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other peoples as well as a different societal and legal understanding.” The intelligence services were pessimistic as to Germany’s ability to assimilate so many newcomers, whose presence, they feared, would only exacerbate pre-existing social tensions.

A different report released last year by the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee found “widespread anti-Semitism” among the 68 Syrian and Iraqi refugees the researchers surveyed. “What do we know about Jews? Sure, a religion, but they falsified it,” Bader, a 33-year-old from Damascus, told the researchers. “We know this. They have a book like ours and they have prophets and we recognize their prophets and everything, but they have faked the book that was revealed by God. … The Koran states also that it is not the same book.” Partly as a result of these sorts of attitudes, the former chairwoman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Charlotte Knoblauch said that “Jewish life is only possible in public under police protection and the strictest security precautions.”…

The chaotic nature of the influx and lack of border checks meant that most of the approximately 2 million people who entered Europe in the great wave of 2015-2016 were not refugees but economic migrants seeking jobs, according toEuropean Union Vice Commissioner Frans Timmermans. Furthermore, even many of those who could legitimately claim refugee status were not fleeing immediate danger but rather United Nations-administered camps in safe countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Such places are certainly not ideal. But they do not constitute sites of persecution, war or state-directed violence, the legal standard for determining whether an individual can claim refugee status. Comparisons to the plight of the stateless Jews of Europe—many of whom, turned away from American shores, ended up in gas chambers—which were ubiquitousat the height of the 2015 migrant crisis and used as a moral cudgel against Merkel’s critics, are inappropriate.

This is a particularly interesting point:

The story of one renowned liberal Hungarian personage demonstrates this unfortunate dynamic. György Konrád is a Jewish Holocaust survivor, one of Hungary’s most celebrated living writers, and a strong critic of his country’s prime minister, the right-wing nationalist strongman Viktor Orbán. Earlier this month, Orbán’s Fidesz party was re-elected in an election that has generally been described as free not but not fair. As early as 2012, Konrád alleged in TheNew York Times that Orbán had transformed Hungary into a “junk democracy.” Yet Konrád’s estimation of Orbán changed as a result of the migrant crisis, on which the Hungarian leader emerged as a hardliner: He opposed the influx of migrants and built fences to keep them out.

“It hurts to admit it, but on this point Orbán was right,” Konrád told TheNew York Times about the prime minister’s position on immigration. Konrád did not withdraw any of his previous criticisms of Orbán (“not a good democrat and I don’t believe he is a good person”) or recant his worries about the ways in which Fidesz has gone about transforming Hungary into a virtual one-party state. But while Konrád still accused the prime minister of “emptying out democracy,” this did not necessarily mean that “the Schengen border [the European Union’s external boundary] should not be better defended against this tsunami.”

Konrád makes a point I have felt again and again. Much of what people like Orbán and the AfD say is bog-standard reactionary nationalism which neither I nor most other people have much time for.

But then, as soon as they begin talking immigration, they begin making more sense than the other parties. They begin describing things that actually are happening right now before the eyes of anyone who cares to see: increasing numbers of certain kinds of violent crimes, meager progress toward “integration” by a majority of the newcomers since 2015, huge burdens on the unemployment and social-welfare systems, the emergence of no-go areas, abuse of the overwhelmed asylum system, increasing resentment of lower-class Germans who see the newcomers receiving benefits they themselves are denied. Although some go in for fiery and even openly racist rhetoric, all they really need to do is recite the facts; the case makes itself.

And then they begin talking about homosexual perverts, or glorious national heros, or sinister cabals of “international financiers”, and you realize that most of their worldview is nuts, or worse. But not their arguments against immigration. Merkel’s policy disaster of 2015-2016 (which is still ongoing) gave the right-wingers one issue on which they could truthfully claim to be talking about problems nobody else (back then) was honestly addressing. She made the nuts seem normal. And Europe will never be the same for it.

2 thoughts on ““Orbán is Right”

  1. Naturally, I have to disagree with you once more here.

    Here’s the thing: People care about a wide range of issues. Some people stress the economy and labour, others worry about rising rents in the cities or the state of education, others do more care about foreign policy or security, others more about the environment, and then there’s also the issue of immigration. Put simply, it’s only one topic out of many, nothing more, nothing less. If any party talks about homosexual perverts or sinister cabals of international financiers, this is a clear sign that you shouldn’t vote for them. I wouldn’t give a damn if they’re right on one issue when they’re basically wrong on 99 other issues. (People mentioned to me that as a left-winger I should support the PiS government in Poland because they’re actually more economically left-wing than the Socialists, but why should I support a party that wants to criminalise women’s rights to self-determiniation, set up a nationally-oriented education curriculum, and crack down on the LGBT community only because they may be right on one out of a hundred political issues?)

    In times of economic insecurity, you need a scapegoat. And for the past 15 years, that scapegoat were either immigrants in general or Muslims in particular. My advice to any non-hard right party would be to not repeat the mistakes of the 1920s and 1930s, and NOT try to gain attraction by actually moving right-ward to pander to vague anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant sentiments. That didn’t work out in Denmark, Italy and Austria (where hardcore far-right parties are now governing coalition partners although the conservative and liberal parties moved to the right!), so it probably won’t work out in France, Britain and Germany either.

    And since the article mentions antisemitism, I’m really wondering why all of Orbán’s recent fanboys fail to mention the antisemitism of his own party and government. Some years ago, his party initiated a “Judenzaehlung” (measurement of Jewish members) in the Hungarian parliament, a moved back by the far-right nationalist Jobbik party. His whole election campaign was reminisent of 1930s European-style antisemitism, what with an evil Jew (George Soros) pulling the strings behind every political movement you care to mention. Strangely enough, all the media who’re really quick to point out antisemitism among left-wingers seem to have a blind eye when it comes to conservative or nationalist forms of antisemitism.

    If Merkel’s policy is a disaster, then how would you call that of Orbán? Ever since he became prime minister again in 2010, more than 250.000 Hungarians (out of a population of roughly 9 million!) left the country. If so many people leave a country that is generally considered a peaceful holiday destination, then you must be doing something wrong.


  2. Well, as a citizen of the nation where a vast number of Mr Orban’s citizens have headed, I would have to say that in my experience, these are economic migrants, not political ‘refugees’. Most of them have every intention of returning home richer, and with a working knowledge of a tongue spoken by more people than Hungarain.

    What they don’t seem to pick up whilst abroad is any increased tolerance of ‘liberal’ principles, or multi-culturalism. Quite a few have been in the UK news (and the courts) for soi disant Islamophobia, and they don’t seem too keen on the great trans gender campaign either.

    Of course, their attitudes may be reinforced by the ‘natives’ in the pubs queuing up to tell them how much they admire Mr Orban and his fence, and how they wish we had a similar politician….


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