From Sweden to Switzerland, liberals pushing unfettered immigration court a populist backlash

By Theodore Dalrymple

When, on November 28, the Swiss population voted for the mandatory deportation of foreign citizens convicted of serious crimes, the liberal intelligentsia of Europe found itself wrong-footed. It could hardly claim that murderers, rapists, and burglars were an asset to a nation, to be cosseted, treasured, nurtured, and encouraged to do better next time. Even with the use of the ardent special pleading that is an intelligentsia’s principal raison d’etre, it is difficult to depict murderers, rapists, and burglars as an oppressed victim-group worthy of much sympathy.

Nor could deportation—assuming conviction was obtained by due process, with the possibility of appeal—be regarded as unjust in itself. It is true that the Swiss derive benefit from their foreign residents, but so do the residents; otherwise, they wouldnbe there. It is a convenient contractual arrangement between two populations and a condition that foreign residents do not murder, rape, or burgle is surely not an unreasonable or arduous one. To refrain from murder, rape, or burglary is not, after all, so very difficult. Millions of people do it daily all over the world.

Despite the fact that it is not easy to fulminate with any fervor against the proposal—indeed, I haven’t met anyone who has come up with a convincing moral argument against it—it was portrayed in the liberal press as being of the far right, a kind of preliminary to something like the Nuremberg laws of 1935.

Two arguments have been urged against the referendum. The first is that it was held at all. Foreign criminals are already liable to deportation from Switzerland, though at the discretion of the courts, and moreover rape and murder are not such common events that they constitute a pressing social or economic problem necessitating a referendum to address them. Therefore, the Swiss People’s Party (the SVP), the nationalist party that is now the largest in the country, promoted the referendum not to solve a problem but to raise the political temperature. In this it was certainly successful: the other parties, more respectable in the eyes of the foreign press, came up with a counter-proposal only slightly less radical than the SVP’s in an attempt to reduce support for the SVP, and which they never would have offered otherwise. In other words, the SVP is now dictating the terms of the debate, even if it does not control the government.

Answering this charge, the SVP points out that although foreigners are only 22 percent of the population they commit 60 percent of the crime in Switzerland. This is not quite as alarming as it sounds, perhaps, because more of the foreigners fall into the young age group most liable to commit crimes, and young foreign workers are a necessity, not a luxury, for Switzerland. This does not alter the facts, however, and a deterrent aimed at the group most needing to be deterred is not unreasonable.

The second objection to the proposal is that it is unfair and hypocritical since it does not include white-collar criminals, except for those who defraud the Swiss social security system. In other words, a Swiss resident foreigner who makes a fortune by dubious means—according to Balzac, there are no other—and evades taxes will be allowed to stay. Thus the crimes of poverty will be punished, the crimes of wealth overlooked.

In this objection we see a clear and increasing division between two concepts of politics in Europe, one held predominantly by ordinary people, the other by intellectual elites and the predominant political class. Leaving aside the fact that a rapist on the loose causes more immediate damage to the quality of everyday life than a tax-evader on the loose, the SVP’s proposal is clearly one made with the national interest in mind. Switzerland gains nothing from its rapists; but it might gain a great deal by its tax-evading residents because they are likely to bring a great deal of money into the country.

The other side of the debate, by contrast, would never mention the national interest. Instead, they would appeal to some universal ideal, such as that there should be no discrimination. For them, politics is the implementation of the abstract: let the heavens fall, so long as there is no contradiction.

Yet some countries, such as Canada, have been able to appear goody-goody while pursuing their national interest with shrewdness. It is the country, at least of any size, with the highest proportion of immigrants in the world. But its immigration has been successful because it has been according to the national interest. If Canada needs carpenters, carpenters can enter; if not, not.

In Europe, by contrast, immigration policy has been determined more by various kinds of guilt, post-colonial and postwar, than by national interest, a phrase than conjures in the minds of most intellectuals images of storm troopers stomping all over the prostrate populations of other lands.

In the Netherlands, for example, a very large proportion of immigration was in accordance with the family reunification program. The original economic migrants, principally from Morocco and overwhelmingly male, were felt to be suffering from loneliness. So it gave the political class a nice warm and fuzzy feeling inside (a bit like that experienced in the gullet after a shot of whisky) to let immigrant laborers be reunited with their families—in the Netherlands. One thing led to another, and suddenly 11 percent of the population, much of it economically inactive, was of immigrant origin.

Unfortunately, those who had the warm and fuzzy feeling—which included the knowledge that they were not repeating the less than glorious record of their country during the Second World War—did not bear the consequences. But at least they felt good about themselves.

Into this stew of ethical narcissism was poured multiculturalism. As it happens, the object of multiculturalism in the Netherlands was the opposite of, or at least very different from, what it subsequently became. Moroccan economic migrants were originally encouraged to maintain links with their homeland and continue their cultural practices so that when they became surplus to the Netherlands’ requirements for cheap unskilled labor—that is to say, of pensionable age or sooner if there were an economic downturn—they would be able to reintegrate easily back into Morocco. As Goethe said, however, grey is theory, but green is the tree of life… Things did not turn out as planned.

For many years, of course, the political class and much of the educated middle class refused to see that there was a problem—not only because it did not obtrude much on their personal lives, but because they had created it, and they would have to lose their ethical virginity if they tried to do anything about it.

Unfortunately, as those who live near volcanoes know, molten lava has an unpleasant habit sometimes of breaking through the placid surface of the earth. The rise of Pym Fortuyn was the tremor and his murder, as well as that of Theo van Gogh, was the eruption. Again volcanoes do not necessarily erupt only once; Fortuyn has found a successor in Geert Wilders. It is not inconceivable that the Netherlands is but one assassination away from real trouble.

For the moment, it is the Amsterdam political class that is trying to silence him, by the legal route. He is accused of incitement to hatred and discrimination, but it is quite clear that he has done no more in regard to Islam than, say, an anticommunist might have done in claiming that the implementation of communist doctrine inevitably leads to tyranny. Whether he is right or wrong is beside the point. The trial has turned into a disaster for the political class: the prosecutor himself has called for acquittal, and the judges have been dismissed for gross and obvious bias against Wilders. The only person to have gained by the trial is the leader of the third largest political party in the Netherlands—namely Wilders.

Throughout Europe, the political class, aided by intellectuals, have propagated the mental equivalent of the distinction between the pays legal and the pays reel. There is a tension between what people are supposed to think and what people do actually think—or, more importantly, what they are supposed to feel and what they actually feel.

This was perfectly illustrated by the comment of a young woman I found on a BBC web page reporting the results of the latest elections in Sweden, in which the “far right” party, the Sweden Democrats, made important gains. (The party undoubtedly did have disreputable beginnings.)

She said she came from Malmo, one of the cities with the highest proportion of immigrants, who are 13 percent of the entire population. Not coincidentally, perhaps, Malmo was one of the places in which the Sweden Democrats won the most votes.

The young woman added that the elections had made her ashamed to feel Swedish. One was left with the impression that she was ashamed because of the success of the Sweden Democrats, whose share of the vote has been increasing and in the last elections reached 15 percent. She continued: “Ours is a very segregated city, in some parts you don’t see Swedish people at all and you don’t hear the Swedish language.”

I don’t think I am over-interpreting these words when I say that I hear anguish in them. It is the anguish of someone who finds that the familiar, known, and comprehensible has been slowly replaced by the unfamiliar, unknown, and incomprehensible, until it has changed utterly.

But what conclusion does the anguished young woman draw from her situation? She goes on: “Many people try to find simple solutions and it’s really to use the issue of immigration as a scapegoat for our troubles.”

There’s an element of truth in what she says, of course. Personally, I would mistrust any politician who spoke of immigration only, whose sole policy concerned immigration, or who attributed all of his society’s ills to the excessive presence of immigrants. Such a politician is likely to harbor the vilest thoughts and emotions, even if he keeps them under control for the moment.

At the same time, the real possibility of political scapegoating of immigrants allows this young woman to avoid having to think seriously about her clear apprehension that something is rotten in Malmo. What is that something? Is it that the immigrants are not given enough subsidized housing, that enough notices are not printed in their languages?

Recently I received in the post from our centrally-planned UK health service an invitation to attend a screening procedure. On the back were paragraphs in Vietnamese, Chinese, Urdu, Arabic, Punjabi, Albanian, Turkish, Punjabi, and other languages telling recipients who did not read English where they might obtain the invitation in their own language. Although there are certainly more French than Albanians in England, there was no paragraph in French: the French are not a protected species.

This is not because they may be expected to speak English. Often Nigerian languages are included in such lists, for example in pamphlets published by local councils, though I have never met a Nigerian in Britain who did not speak and write English. Indeed, it is impossible that he should have arrived without speaking and writing English. No—protected status is purely political. Multiculturalism is the alliance of condescension and corruption.

Almost certainly, the Swiss will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It is likely that the so-called judges of that kangaroo court will rule against the result of the referendum; and thus the bien pensants prepare the road for a true fascist reaction.

Theodore Dalrymple is author of Our Culture, What’s Left of It.