COPYRIGHT: THE NEW YORK TIMES
ON New Year’s Eve, in the shadow of Cologne’s cathedral, crowds of North African and Middle Eastern men accosted women out for the night’s festivities. They surrounded them, groped them, robbed them. Two women were reportedly raped.
Though there were similar incidents from Hamburg to Helsinki, the authorities at first played down the assaults, lest they prove inconvenient for Angela Merkel’s policy of mass asylum for refugees.
That delay has now cost Cologne’s police chief his job. But the German government still seems more concerned about policing restless natives — most recently through a deal with Facebook and Google to restrict anti-immigrant postings — than with policing migration. Just last week Merkel rejected a proposal to cap refugee admissions (which topped one million last year) at 200,000 in 2016.
The underlying controversy here is not a new one. For decades conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have warned that Europe’s generous immigration policies, often pursued in defiance of ordinary Europeans’ wishes, threaten to destabilize the continent.
The conservatives have made important points about the difficulty of assimilation, the threat of radicalization, and the likelihood of Paris-style and Cologne-style violence in European cities.
But they have also trafficked in more apocalyptic predictions — fears of a “Eurabia,” of mass Islamification — that were somewhat harder to credit. Until recently, Europe’s assimilation challenge looked unpleasant but not insurmountable, and the likelihood of Yugoslavian-style balkanization relatively remote.
With the current migration, though, we’re in uncharted territory. The issue isn’t just that immigrants are arriving in the hundreds of thousands rather than the tens of thousands. It’s that a huge proportion of them are teenage and twentysomething men.
In Sweden, for instance, which like Germany has had an open door, 71 percent of all asylum applicants in 2015 were men. Among the mostly-late-teenage category of “unaccompanied minors,” as Valerie Hudson points out in an important essay for Politico,” the ratios were even more skewed: “11.3 boys for every one girl.”
As Hudson notes, these trends have immediate implications for civil order — young men are, well, young men; societies with skewed sex ratios tend to be unstable; and many of these men carry assumptions about women’s roles that are diametrically opposed to the values of contemporary Europe.
But there’s also a longer term issue, beyond the need to persuade new arrivals that — to quote from a Norwegian curriculum for migrants — in Europe “to force someone into sex is not permitted.”
When immigration proceeds at a steady but modest clip, deep change comes slowly, and there’s time for assimilation to do its work. That’s why the Muslim population in Europe has been growing only at one percentage point a decade; it’s why many of the Turkish and North African immigrants who arrived in Germany and France decades ago are reasonably Europeanized today.
But if you add a million (or millions) of people, most of them young men, in one short period, you get a very different kind of shift.
In the German case the important number here isn’t the country’s total population, currently 82 million. It’s the twentysomething population, which was less than 10 million in 2013 (and of course already included many immigrants). In that cohort and every cohort afterward, the current influx could have a transformative effect.
How transformative depends on whether these men eventually find a way to bring brides and families to Europe as well. In terms of immediate civil peace, family formation or unification offers promise, since men with wives and children are less likely to grope revelers or graffiti synagogues or seek the solidarity of radicalism.
But it could also double or treble this migration’s demographic impact, pushing Germany toward a possible future in which half the under-40 population would consist of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants and their children.
If you believe that an aging, secularized, heretofore-mostly-homogeneous society is likely to peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference, then you have a bright future as a spokesman for the current German government.
You’re also a fool. Such a transformation promises increasing polarization among natives and new arrivals alike. It threatens not just a spike in terrorism but a rebirth of 1930s-style political violence. The still-imaginary France Michel Houellebecq conjured up in his novel “Submission,” in which nativists and Islamists brawl in the streets, would have a very good chance of being realized in the German future.
This need not happen. But prudence requires doing everything possible to prevent it. That means closing Germany’s borders to new arrivals for the time being. It means beginning an orderly deportation process for able-bodied young men. It means giving up the fond illusion that Germany’s past sins can be absolved with a reckless humanitarianism in the present.
It means that Angela Merkel must go — so that her country, and the continent it bestrides, can avoid paying too high a price for her high-minded folly.
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 10, 2016, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Germany on the Brink.