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WORLD, JUNE 14, 2009

Myths dethroned

It is uncritically accepted truth that the white population of Europe and North America is declining while the number of people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is growing. This is not a fact, this is an assumption, but enough persuasive to create real anxieties among politicians and people in West.

Preseint population growth happens in poor countries. Many people reasonably afraid that this trend may increase world misery, accelerate global migration and increase the possibility of social unrests and humanitarian crises.

The movement of large masses of people from poor to rich countries, or from undemocratic to liberal states is not from yesterday. In the past, searching for a better place for living, the ancient Greeks populated and cultivated the shores and the mainlands of Asia Minor, the Balkans and Mediterranean. A few centuries ago the Europeans migrated from Europe to America driven by the hope for better life and freedom. Migration is a normal human process and freedom of movement is one of the basic human rights. Wars, economic troubles, famine and climate changes are constant causes for migration. The majority of the immigrants is a victim of social, political or economic injustice or natural disasters. Immigration is not a threat to "civilized" world.

Borders and hostile politics cannot stop people's movement; the only way to deal with immigration is to cure the causes that drive people out of their countries.

According to the International Organization for Migration there are more than 200 million estimated international migrants in the world today, which is three percent of global population. The number of the migrants worldwide would constitute the fifth most populous country in the world.

The migration of millions of poor aliens towards the affluent West in combination with the "fact" that Western population is declining is easily associated by populist and "doomist" with the stories about the declining Roman Empire that in the last centuries of its existence was overloaded with foreign intruders. Some say that the civilized Christian West is threatened by meltdown, physical and cultural, by the bursting hordes of aliens from the Arab world, Africa and Asia. Western civilization is anxious and its societies search for ways to accommodate the newcomers. The western states are trying, often unsuccessfully and sometimes only with words, to find paths to improve the economic and political condition in poor countries.

But there is one thing that many people miss about the supposed Western decline under the pressures of migration. The idea of the western physical and cultural decline is rarely disputed. In the beginning of the 20th century Oswald Spengler wrote a book with a title The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes) that became a bestseller for nearly two decades. The majority of people believed in Spengler's fatalistic predictions. The pessimism about the decline of liberal and democratic West was widespread and it can be count as one of the reasons for the Great wars. Pessimists act as pessimists, and pessimists act as losers who believe in their gloomy emotions instead in reason and hope. Spengler was not right. The 20th century turned to be the greatest "Western" century despite the wars and bestialities of the Holocaust and Gulag.

Today the mood is again pessimistic. Predictions about the end of the good time are spreading in the Western media, Internet and books; conservative politicians, racists and populists invent stories about the End. But few know about the existence of the studies and the research on the migrational processes that show exactly the opposite of all terrifying facts circulating in the public environment. According to the reserachers the North European population is on rise, global migration is declining, and the best of Western culture is penetrating everywhere in the world.

These studies, if they are widely popularized, can be used as an anti-dot to social diseases such as racism and hatred. The fear of the Western decline is successfully exploited by populist politicians and ultra-conservative groups in West as well as in East. The general anxiety supports legitimization of politics of hatred, extremism and conflict. The trend towards such a politics is already visible in Europe. And America is not secured against it as well.

Let's take a look at what is happening in Europe nowadays. In 2002 the anti-immigration party Leefbaar Nederland, led by the openly racists politician Pim Fortuyn, become the biggest political force in the proverbially democratic Rotterdam in Netherlands. Fortuyn's success was in great extend provoked by the Islamist terrorist attacks in New York and London, but the fear from growing Muslim population in the Lower Countries was not a lesser factor.

In Holland, this month (June, 2009), the anti-Islamist Party for Freedom won 17 percent of Dutch voters for European Parliament. The Party of Freedom was the biggest winner in these elections with four of 25 Dutch seats. Fortuyn has been replaced by Geert Wilders, another charismatic racist politician. The 45-year-old Wilders' stated mission is to halt the "islamisation" of the Netherlands.

In many European countries such as Austria, France and Italy the racist politicians, ideas and movements are taking ground. Amsterdam University political analyst, Fouad Laroui, believes that the outcome in the last European elections was symptomatic of a significant leaning towards politicians of the "extreme right, populist, who use simple language - caricatures." In the Netherlands, like the rest of the continent, the national-populists comprised up to a fifth of all voters, said Laroui for EUBusiness.

In Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine, the fear from increase of minority populations such as Roma, Muslims, Jews and other people with non-traditional religious beliefs is even bigger. The post-communist ideological vacuum opened a door to the extremely right movements. Today the nationalists are well presented politically in nearly every former communist country. East European societies are traditionally conservative. Their history of national existence under foreign rule - German, Russian or Ottoman - easily incites nationalistic feelings and suspicion to foreigners and minorities.

The Eastern members of EU also have given their nationalist share in the new European Parliament. Hungary's extremist Jobbik party won 14 percent of the vote, which will give it three seats. In Slovakia, the far-right Slovak National Party won a seat for the first time. In Romania, the extreme rightist P.R.M. won two seats and in neighboring Bulgaria, the anti-E.U. nationalist Ataka party won 11 percent of the vote.

In its last report Amnesty International claims that in Russia and Ukraine there is no "political will to tackle racism."

In America the recent shootings at the Holocaust Museum in Washington were made by a man, James von Brunn, who believed that "America is a Third-World racial garbage-dump - stupid, ignorant, dead-broke, and terminal." Even the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller can be partially explained with the lurking fear that the white society needs babies, not abortions.

There is no justification for hatred. All hysterics that the growing number of poor, non-white, non-Christian people will swamp the civilized West in the next 50 years is harmful and the white supremacists are not less dangerous and reckless than the Islamic radicals.

Three recent publications show that the anxiety about the physical and cultural meltdown of Western world is irrational.

In an article published in the Wilson Quarterly (The World's New Numbers, Spring 2009) Martin Walker, who is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and director of A. T. Kearney's Global Business Policy Council, offers a dramatic data about the recent global birthrates. This data can be read as a proof that the northern population won't disappear. Actually, it is growing.

"Something dramatic has happened to the world's birthrates - writes Walker - Defying predictions of demographic decline, northern Europeans have started having more babies. Britain and France are now projecting steady population growth through the middle of the century. In North America, the trends are similar. In 2050, according to United Nations projections, it is possible that nearly as many babies will be born in the United States as in China."

Bernard Lewis, a prominent professor on Islamic history, suggested in 2004 that that the combination of low European birthrates and increasing Muslim immigration will make Europe a "part of the Arabic west, of the Maghreb." But Walker says that the reality is different. "Between 1990 and 2005 the fertility rate in the Netherlands for Moroccan-born women fell from 4.9 to 2.9, and for ­Turkish-­born women from 3.2 to 1.9. In 1970, ­Turkish-­born women in Germany had on average two children more than ­German-­born women. By 1996, the difference had fallen to one child, and it has now dropped to half that number."

The decline of the Muslim birthrates is a global phenomenon. UN data suggests that the Arab birthrates are falling fast, and that the number of births among women under the age of 20 is dropping even more sharply. Only two Arab countries still have high fertility rates: Yemen and the Palestinian territories, while in some Muslim countries - Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Lebanon - fertility rates have already fallen to ­ near-­European levels, says Walker. In the same time "across northern and western Europe, women have suddenly started having more babies. Germany's minister for the family, Ursula von der Leyen, announced in February that the country had recorded its second straight year of increased births. Sweden 's fertility rate jumped eight percent in 2004 and stayed put. Both Britain and France now project that their populations will rise from the current 60 million each to more than 75 million by ­mid­century."

Walker argues that in this process the immigrants' birthrates are only a part. The shift in population growth in West cannot be explained with them.

"A similar upturn is under way in the United States, - says Walker - where the fertility rate has climbed to its highest level since 1971, reaching 2.1 in 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics."

On the other hand in China and India the middle class is growing, so this can be considered a brake to immigration. "While the planet's population is expected to grow by about one billion people by 2020, the global middle class will swell by as many as 1.8 billion, with a third of this number residing in China," says Walker.

"Perhaps the most striking fact about the demographic transformation now unfolding is that it is going to make the world look a lot more like Europe. The world is aging in an unprecedented way. A milepost in this process came in 1998, when for the first time the number of people in the developed world over the age of 60 outnumbered those below the age of 15. By 2047, the world as a whole will reach the same ­point."

This data is enough to make us suspicious to all predictions that the North Europeans are endangered by physical disappearance. But what can we say about the cultural threat?

Globalization and migration make the societies in East and West equally nervous. The traditional cultures are resisting to multicultural tendencies, very often in a hysterical way. In the Muslim world the Islamic radicals are trying to exploit the fears in their societies through demonization of the West. In Eastern Europe populist and nationalists are the most energetic political forces; they seduce the masses with powerful messages of hatred. In the West the conservative movements, the charismatic leaders and media pundits are influencing public opinion depicting the foreigners as a threat to the traditional Christian culture and liberal institutions.

Globalization and the interaction between the cultures create a mess in peoples' social and political conceptions with a common base the fear. But this anxiety is irrational; it is artificially incited by people and groups who want power - political and ideological.

Globalization is not a threat to traditional cultures. Globalization is a communication, and usually it is a peaceful voluntary interaction similar to this which we, as individuals, experience in our personal relationships. The culture and tradition cannot be erased by existence of communication. Indeed, the global interaction - cultural, economic and political - is enriching and beneficial.

People who say that the Western civilization is declining are blind to the striking fact that half the world's people are projected to be speaking English by 2015 (according to a recent research, published in the Foreign Policy magazine).

The language is a gate keeper of every culture. While other languages are disappearing and hardly keep the local cultures alive, English is becoming a universal tool for communication and a conductor of Western liberal values as well as different cultural influences. English is the great preserver of the Western civilization.

Janamitra Devan, a director of Asia for the McKinsey Global Institute, says that by 2100 English will be the major medium of communication in many countries and the second-most prevalent in China, Japan, Korea, and much of Africa and Latin America - as it already is in most of Europe.

In an article entitled "Why English will keep America's influence from waning" Foreign Policy writes: "In China, America's putative superpower replacement, learning English is considered a gateway to middle-class security; 300 million people speak it there, and another 350 million people speak it in India. According to a recent report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, between 96 and 100 percent of people in China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam believe children should learn English. Their goal is reflected in the more than 90 percent of Japanese elementary schools that offer English programs. Children in China start learning the language in third grade and more than 50,000 English-training centers there offer further instruction. Chris Gibson, the British Council's director for South India , aims to have every South Indian speaking it by 2010, at which point he believes that English will be a codified world language (Penguin Books' operations in India, meanwhile, are salivating at what they see as the world's fastest-growing English-language market)."

If the English ensures a lasting influence of Western culture and birthrates of North Europeans are growing, what about the waves of immigration toward North America and Europe?

According to the International Organization for Migration although the number of Asian migrants has increased from 28.1 million in 1970 to 43.8 million in 2000, Asia 's share of global migrant stock decreased from 34.5 per cent to 25 per cent over the same period. Africa has also seen a decline in its share of international migrants: from 12 per cent in 1970 to 9 per cent in 2000. This is also true for Latin America and the Caribbean (down from 7.1 per cent to 3.4 per cent); Europe (down from 22.9 per cent to 18.7 per cent) and for Oceania (3.7 per cent to 3.3 per cent). Only Northern America and the former USSR have seen a sharp increase in their migrant stock between 1970 and 2000 (from 15.9 per cent to 23.3 per cent for Northern America and 3.8 per cent to 16.8 per cent for the Former USSR). In the latter case however, this increase has more to do with the redefinition of borders than with the actual movement of people.

All facts enlightened here must convince us that in the West there is no reasonable base for fear. Globalization and technical progress, global growth of the middle class and the universal acceptation of one language -- English -- , makes the world a better place for living. Montreal Review

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