Immigration and Civil War

Vipul Naik posted a “Lebanon and political externalities bleg” in June. His question was whether the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990 might furnish an example where immigration led to distastrous consequences for a country. Of course, Steve Sailer makes just such a point in one of his posts: “Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also … Lebanonization”. Sailer’s argument is broader as he indicts not only immigration, but diversity in general as well as differential birth rates.

That got me interested in what the relationship between immigration and civil war is. Do high levels of immigration cause or precipitate civil wars? If so, you would find more civil wars in countries with higher levels of immigration, fewer in those with less immigration. To get an idea, and no more, I did the following:

First I needed some data that do not rely on my selection of examples. For this purpose, I downloaded the “UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset” as of July 2013. This is a dataset of all armed conflicts worldwide from 1946 to 2012 where at least one side is a state (there is also a dataset for non-state conflicts, but only with a shorter history from 1989 to 2011). The dataset not only includes civil wars, but also regular wars. There are 2098 entries, one per year of each conflict and the sometimes changing coalitions. On both sides the primary and any other combattants are listed as well as the location of the armed conflict. Since I was only interested in whether a country had had a civil war in the period, I filtered the data. There were 768 different conflicts with the same participants and location, however with some multiple counting. E. g. there were 29 armed conflicts for Afghanistan because of the changing coalitions. Next I looked which countries had had at least one conflict that was not a regular war between countries. There were now 104 countries.

To give you a flavor of what those examples are: there were 10 for Europe. Four are related to the breakup of Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia), the UK versus various factions of the IRA, Spain versus ETA, France versus OAS, the Greek Civil War after World War II, the civil war after the fall of Ceauscescu in Romania, and Cyprus. 17 were in the Middle East and in Northern Africa, 18 in Latin America and the Carribean, 22 in Asia ex the Middle East (mostly in Central Asia and as part of the Indochinese Wars), 36 in Africa ex Northern Africa, and one for the United States vs. the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Not all have the feel of a “real” civil war, some like ETA in Spain could also be viewed as an extended terror campaign. But that would also be pretty bad if it were related to high levels of immigration.

Next I needed some data to quantify the level of immigration. What I took were data from the UN on International Migration from 2006, and here especially the “migrant stock” as a percentage of the population, i. e. what fraction was foreign-born. Of course, there is a problem here. Levels of migration might be influenced by civil wars: less immigration for countries with civil wars, and more for those without. However, my intent was only to get a rough idea what the relationship might be, all very tentative. And as you will see, it looks rather implausible that what I obtain is due to such an effect.

I then matched the data. There were 232 countries in the UN data set. However, there were also many tiny ones, e. g. the Holy See with 1,000 inhabitants and 100% migrant stock. I threw out all countries with less than a quarter of a million inhabitants, which reduced the number to 179 countries. There were 97 of them that had had an armed conflict. The seven that disappeared were not in the group of tiny countries, but were countries that no longer exist, e. g. South and North Vietnam, North and South Yemen, or did not yet exist in 2006 like South Sudan. The migrant stock varies from almost 0% to a high of 78.3% for Qatar.

The countries which had had an armed conflict had an average migrant stock of 4.3%, whereas those without an armed conflict had 12.7% migrant stock. Now this may be due to many small countries with high levels of immigration (e. g. the gulf states, European countries). However, also weighting with population, I calculated that countries with an armed conflict had a migrant stock of 2.2%, and those without one had a migrant stock of 6.6%. Or in other words: countries without an armed conflict had a migrant stock about three times as high as countries with an armed conflict.

In addition, I made the following evaluation. On the x-axis you see the 179 countries sorted by migrant stock from those with high percentages down to those with low ones, i.e. in decreasing order. I then summed up from left to right how many countries had armed conflicts, which is shown as the blue line. So the 50 countries to the left with the highest level of immigrants had 15 armed conflicts. All 179 countries had, of course, 97 conflicts. The blue line is rather smooth, so there is not some group with a certain level of immigration that had many armed conflicts and unduly influences the result.

As a comparison I added the red line which rises linearly from 0 to 97. If countries had an armed conflict with equal probability, then you would expect the blue line to be close to the red line. But it is not. There were only 15 armed conflicts among the first 50, but there should have been almost 27 with equal probabilities. The blue line is actually below the red line all the way, which means that there were fewer armed conflicts than equal probability for groups of countries above any threshold.

I said that there might be a problem with the effect running the other way: more armed conflict leads to less immigration. However, if you look at the specific cases, it looks rather implausible that this would change the results materially. Actually, it might make the results even stronger. E. g. the country with an armed conflict and the highest level of immigrants at 39.6% of the population is Israel. It is arguable whether that was an internal conflict at all. However, it would be a dubious claim in any way that the high level of immigration had anything to do with the situation Israel finds itself in. Probably Israel would have had the same armed conflicts with the Palestinians if there had been no immigration since 1946. In a similar vein, many of the armed conflicts in countries with high levels of immigration have no connection with immigration: the US vs. the PRNP, Spain vs. ETA, the UK vs. IRA, France vs. OAS. Or if you look at the thirty countries with the lowest migrant stock (0.5% or less), of which 24 experienced an armed conflict, it seems very hard to argue that they once had high levels of immigration that went down as a result of an armed conflict. Here are a few of the countries you would have to argue this for: Afghanistan, Peru, Guatemala, Angola, Eritrea, Haiti, Mali.

This is not to say that immigration caused lower levels of armed conflicts. In the literature on civil wars, it is often claimed that poorer countries have more civil wars than richer countries (cf. for a critical take). And richer countries will also attract more immigrants. So the true reason for both might be that a country is richer. However, if you think that immigration is a major driver of armed conflict, your claim does not look obvious and prima facie seems to be wrong. There is some research that would imply that civil wars can be contagious, i. e. can precipitate civil wars in neighboring countries and then also via a large influx of refugees (maybe Lebanon is such an example). However, if an argument along these lines can be made, its relevance is rather limited, and does not apply to the countries that typically receive immigrants. But I freely admit that my analysis can improved upon. It was just to get an idea what the relationship might be, no more.

Hansjörg is a mathematician by training with a doctorate from the University of Bonn, Germany. After a year at Stanford University as a guest scientist, he went on to work in the financial sector and managed corporate bond funds. Currently, he is building his publishing company Libera Media.

See our blog post introducing Hansjörg, or all blog posts by Hansjörg.

18 thoughts on “Immigration and Civil War”

  1. Mr. Walther’s essay lacks the harsh light of experience in countries where immigration is now overwhelming their cultures, languages and environment. One look at Belgium and you see Muslim immigrants about to displace the host country within another three decades–thus, wiping them out of their own country via superior birth rates. You can see the same thing happening in UK with its 2.3 million Muslim immigrants now walling off entire sections of London where no British will walk or venture. Holland stopped immigrating any more people because of the tension, welfare handouts, linguistic chaos and cultural incompatibilities of those third world immigrants too unskilled or uneducated to work. Same with Norway now being deformed into a third world country where its immigrants dominate in Oslo, Bergen and growing in Tronhiem. One look at France shows immigrants walling off the French along with their language and culture–by creating separate cities and sections now called “no go zones” for any French people. You cannot sleep safely in many cities of Italy, including Florence where I visited for 10 days. Residents must shutter and lock their apartments because Chechen fighters have invaded and they rob Italians in their homes in rising numbers. Germans tolerate their immigrants, but they would just as soon ship them back to the Middle East.

    Here in the USA, we now have “Black flash mobs” attacking and killing white people for the fun of it. Last month, an Australian baseball player suffered death at the hands of three black kids who killed him as they said, “For the fun of it.” Black on white crime in America rages and Mexican crimes on blacks rages in greater numbers. Los Angeles is a war zone where whites don’t dare live or go, and blacks flee.

    What you writers are trying to accomplish looks tenuous on paper and worse in real lie. As a six continent world bicycle traveler, I am here to refute your lack of reality based on my experiences. When you throw in the harsh reality of immigration causing a population overload in hosting countries, none of your arguments make sense.

    Finally, you cannot import bush people from Africa where 1 billion people suffer, but are propagating to 3.1 billion before the end of this century—and think you can keep importing more people like that into a first world country. Mother Nature eventually brings the Four Horsemen. Once you writers on this website get your brains and heads on straight, you might deal with reality instead of all this balderdash I read from your myopic quills. Frosty Wooldridge, 6 continent world bicycle traveler and author of : America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans

    1. I found your description of Europe hilarious. Look, I live in Germany, in the city with the most immigrants: a quarter foreign-born, 40% including second/third generation, and I really don’t know what you are talking about. Crime rates here are way below American average. In 15 years the worst thing that has happened to me was that my briefcase was stolen. There is no part of town that I would not feel safe in at any time of the day.

      But I gather you found my point convincing and that’s why you changed the topic …

    2. One way to read Frosty Wooldridge is that he is saying that even if immigration doesn’t seem to have caused civil war in the past, he sees trends that it may do so in future, and in particular, that Europe is headed towards more civil wars as a result of Muslim immigrants. Of course, if true, that would not show up in the data reported above, which looks to the past and present. Still, the failure of the data to show immigration causing civil wars in the past– if anything, the opposite– must cast doubt on the likelihood of this occurring in future.

      1. Good point that I should be more patient and try to address the argument in its best form even if it is not presented that way.

        So here’s my reply:

        There is no such trend. Homicide rates in almost any European country are at a historic low of about 1 in 100,000, give or take a little. For Germany it is 0.8 which is almost a low worldwide (France and the Netherlands 1.1, Sweden, 1.0, Switzerland 0.7, Norway and Austria 0.6, US 4.8). Homicide rates have been falling since the 1990s (from a low level). That’s not even close to a civil war or moving in the direction of one.

        I think there are more holes in such an argument that I will try to address in further posts. E. g. even if there were some trend of that kind, that’s not to say that a civil war will erupt. The typical setup for a civil war are two groups of about equal strength, relevant military infrastructure, deep hostility bent on destroying the other side, etc. None of which is anywhere close to the situation in any European country.


        1. Once again, I must inject a “reality check” with the “rose colored glasses” crew that continues its obfuscation of reality. No matter how much immigration the West allows, the third world adds 80 million annually, net gain to the world. Those poor, starving, illiterate and desperate people flood into Western countries with their cultures of poverty, incompatible religions and mores. They conflict with Western thinking and reasoning. Beyond that, Western societies that maintain stable birth rates to create sustainable populations–cannot continue to import endless lines of people from an environmental, energy, pollution, water,food, arable land and resource standpoint. Additionally, to add more people adds more carbon footprint.

          As to the reality of internal tension, you can look at the “no go zones” in London, France, Norway and Sweden along with Holland to see that immigration causes cultural conflicts and tension for both ethnic tribes. As Peak Oil energy depletion manifests ever more drastically in the next 30 years, you will see tremendous conflict for food, water and energy to keep warm. Better to stop mass immigration today with manageable numbers rather than wait until Europe, Canada, Australia and America import hundreds of millions of added immigrants. They cannot be sustained.

          What exactly don’t you people understand as to simple math? Exponential growth cannot be sustained. Once scarcity of food and water hits, ethnic tribes always form their own groups and competition ensues. It all may “look” okay today, but London’s ethnic separation, Bergen’s, Sweden’s and many other cities and countries will find themselves in constant and growing conflict as the huge huge numbers continue to add another three billion people to the planet.

          Again, exponential growth cannot be sustained no matter how you cut it, hope for it, wish for it or color it. “Unlimited population growth cannot be sustained; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources. No species can overrun the carrying capacity of a finite land mass. This Law cannot be repealed and is not negotiable.” Dr. Albert Bartlett, , University of Colorado, USA.

          These quotes spell it out for you:

          “Immigrants devoted to their own cultures and religions are not influenced by the secular politically correct façade that dominates academia, news-media, entertainment, education, religious and political thinking today,” said James Walsh, former Associate General Counsel of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. “They claim the right not to assimilate, and the day is coming when the question will be how can the United States regulate the defiantly unassimilated cultures, religions and mores of foreign lands? Such immigrants say their traditions trump the U.S. legal system. Balkanization of the United States has begun.”

          Samuel Huntington, author of Clash of Civilizations, wrote: “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

          “Most Western elites continue urging the wealthy West not to stem the migrant tide [that adds 80 million net gain annually to the planet], but to absorb our global brothers and sisters until their horrid ordeal has been endured and shared by all—ten billion humans packed onto an ecologically devastated planet.” Dr. Otis Graham, Unguarded Gates

          You open borders folks need to take a course in basic math, basic common sense and basic reality. Thus far, you ignore all those basics at your peril.

          Frosty Wooldridge, six continent world bicycle traveler, author: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans

          1. Your argument breaks down for logical and empirical reasons, not because anyone is too stupid to understand what an exponential function is.

            Logical reason 1:

            Your argument goes like this:

            (a) Population grows beyond any limit (i. e. goes to infinity). BTW, it is completely inessential that it grows exponentially, any such function would do: linear, cubic, even something as slow as the logarithm.

            (b) There is some limit beyond which it cannot grow.

            The simple point here is that both (a) and (b) cannot be true at the same time. There is no such function. It is not possible.

            It’s pointless to warn people that something will happen that is not possible. We are all safe because what is not possible will not come to pass. Never.

            Empiricial reason:

            (a) is not true. There are populations that shrink, Germany has fertility below replacement. If you look at population growth for other countries or the world, there is no reason to believe that it is exponential. It has leveled off considerably over the last decades.

            Logical reason 2:

            Even if you could assume counterfactually that population never shrinks, this does not mean that it will grow beyond any limit. There are many functions that always grow, but stay below some limit, e. g. the logistic function Vipul pointed you to.

            And the irony of this is that that’s an argument of Malthus’. Godwin made the claim that because life can always be extended, someday we will all live eternally. And Malthus pointed out to him that because something keeps growing does not mean it will grow beyond any limit. Good point to learn from Malthus.

  2. Note: I made three minor corrections:

    – I wrote “civil war” at one point where it had to be the more the general “armed conflict”.
    – There was a “not” too much in the sentence: “It is arguable whether …”
    – I eliminated a superflous “since 1946” that sounded clumsy on second reading.

  3. I will repeat the obvious for Mr. Walthers living in Germany: Sweden burned last summer from its immigrant population rioting. France now features a new movement to stop all immigration: “Identity solidaire”. It’s made up of French people who want to preserve their culture, language and way of life. Norway’s situation grows more dark as they import more incompatible Muslim immigrants into their country. Even Spain fights to stop mass immigration. The UK seems to have become a victim of its own stupidity on such a small island where Malthus will ultimate prove horribly correct. Again, you cannot keep adding immigrants from the pure numbers that overwhelm the carrying capacity of a finite piece of land of any country. You may feel safe in Germany right now, and you may cover up the cultural struggles of the immigrants, but as Peak Oil impacts everyone and overpopulated countries suffer water shortages, food shortages, violent climate destabilization–you will not be so smug.

    Again: “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.” ― Kenneth E. Boulding

    Frosty Wooldridge, 6 continent world bicycle traveler, author; America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans

  4. I see you won’t address the point I made in my post.

    Spain and France have low population densities by European standards, Norway and Sweden have very low densities, lower even than the US. Germany is one of the more densely populated countries.

    Immigration stock for all the countries you are talking about is below that in Germany (12.3% in 2006) except for Sweden at 12.4%. And for Norway it is way below at 7.4%.

    If your arguments were correct, it should be right under my nose. I mean I live in the city with the most immigrants in Germany. There should be plenty of action. There isn’t.

    Actually, the countries with higher immigrant stock in Europe than Germany are Austria (15.1%), Switzerland (22.9%) and Luxembourg (33.9%). If you can’t find anything on Germany, or guess which city I live in, perhaps you have some alarming things to report on those countries. To me they seem exceptionally rich and tranquil to the point of boring. But I may have been duped.

  5. Excellent analysis. The results are not surprising, but that does not reduce their importance: often the best work is done by demonstrating with the numbers something that verges on the obvious for people who have familiarized themselves with the facts, but which contradicts certain plausible knee-jerk theories that might occur to people who haven’t examined the facts.

    I have sometimes, e.g., here ( challenged restrictionists to offer any examples of immigration causing institutional degradation. Maybe Lebanon is the example that I’m looking for. Yet it seems to be the exception that proves the rule. The country was initially stable based on a fragile “confessional gerrymander.” The confessional gerrymander seemed unsustainable in any case, because of differences in birthrates. Steve Sailer claims that ” immigration became the straw that broke the fragile Lebanese camel’s back.” That seems to be the most you can claim for it. Certainly, immigration wasn’t the only problem Lebanon had. Being bombed by Israel was a factor. A Syrian invasion was a factor. And the central driving force seems to have been the unbridgeable ethnic divide exasperated by differential birth and emigration rates which made the confessional gerrymander steadily more imbalanced.

    Moreover, Palestinian refugees were a particularly hazardous set of immigrants to receive. They came en masse, as vengeful enemies of a powerful neighbor, with a propensity for terrorism. They came to constitute 10% of the population. That’s less than immigrants in the US today, but with the huge difference that they were a cohesive cultural group with shared political grievances, in contrast with the US’s diverse population of immigrants, with no common outside loyalties, generally interested in assimilation, and most apolitical except when it comes to migration policy.

    In *Principles of a Free Society*, I advocated open borders, or at least, so I would characterize my argument, but only for peaceful immigrants, and I made substantial concessions to immigration restrictions for genuine national security reasons. I singled out Muslims as a group that might be treated with special caution because their religion has often been a motivator of violence. Certainly, the argument in *Principles* would provide warrants for a cautious policy on the part of Lebanon towards Palestinian immigrants, e.g., requirements that immigrants disavow PLO violence and provide evidence that they have not been involved in it, perhaps certain temporary quarantine regulations as terror ties are investigated… many practical details remain to be worked out. I don’t think that the high standard of “innocent until proven guilty” need be applied to immigrants with quite the same immaculate high principle as it is applied with respect to citizens of the contemporary United States. A good deal of statistical discrimination might be justified when a nation faces the kinds of existential threats that Lebanon faced.

    While there is some work to do in defining the scope of these concessions to restrictionism, the huge difference between Lebanon and the United States in all these respects must be stressed. The US Constitution is not a fragile ethnic balancing act. The US is in a far less dangerous neighborhood. The US has much more state capacity to filter and monitor the few immigrants who are really dangerous. US culture also has far more capacity to integrate and absorb newcomers. And perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of prospective immigrants to the US are far less dangerous than Palestinian refugees. They don’t have historical propensities to support terror. They don’t have a desperate vendetta against a more powerful neighboring country. That some precautions in immigration policy might (though it’s not really clear) have helped Lebanon avoid civil war, doesn’t come close to proving that the US ought to maintain comprehensive migration control now and exclude most aspiring immigrants.

    All that said, Lebanon is a cautionary tale worth bearing in mind, and the data presented here can’t be regarded as entirely reassuring, simply because– the crucial point– *they reflect the effect of immigration under migration control, not under open borders.* One interpretation of this data is: “Yes, we hardly ever observe migration leading to civil war, but that’s because states aren’t so stupid as to allow migration when it’s raising risks of civil war. If states opened their borders to unlimited immigration, it would probably lead to a lot of civil war, but since they don’t, you don’t see a positive correlation between immigration and civil war.” Actually, I guess I’d agree with that, except that I think states restrict migration far more than would be necessary to prevent civil war.

    1. Many good point, thanks. I sidestepped the question whether Lebanon is a good example against open borders. I don’t think it is. As far as I can tell, the 10% Palestinian refugees in Lebanon for the most part came in the 1940s. The civil war broke out thirty years later. So it was not such a problem for a long time.

      Lebanon did not have open borders anyway. The Palestinian refugees were locked away in camps, and were not allowed to take up work in most fields (something that lasts to this day). They did not become citizens either, so they had no impact on the electoral and political balance. If Lebanon had not locked them away, they would have dispersed in the country. If they had not been denied employment opportunities, they would have had better things to do.

      As far as I understand it, there was no immigration wave that led to the civil war. The PLO had tried to usurp power in Jordan and that was suppressed during what was called Black September. Only about 30,000 to 40,000 PLO fighters went to Lebanon as a consequence and really played a pernicious role there. However, I would not think that open borders means that you have to let a terrorist organization in anymore than that it means you have to let an occupation army in.

      And then Lebanon probably was in an unstable situation anyway with two sides set to fight it out. It is hard to tell whether even the incendiary behavior of the PLO was necessary to precipitate what might have happened anyway. There were also other shifts going on at the time, e. g. an alignment of Shiites, Sunnis, and Druses that had been impossible before, or various foreign powers backing the different sides (Syria, Iran, etc.). You could make a point that with an unstable equilibrium and heavy perturbation from all sides, it was bound to explode. Steve Sailer would have to make a point that it was mostly or even only because of immigration.

      Even if you grant all the things that I find dubious, the most I can get out of it is that under very restricted circumstances (two hostile camps facing each other with about equal strength, meddling by other powers, etc.) an inflow of immigrants with a violent agenda and a military infrastructure could precipitate a civil war. That’s a rather special case and far from the situation you have for typical countries receiving immigrants (e. g. the US or Europe).

    2. “I singled out Muslims as a group that might be treated with special caution because their religion has often been a motivator of violence.”

      But so has Christianity and to a certain extent many, if not most other religions. That would leave you with only Jains and post-Christian Quakers. Maybe your argument is more elaborate and I am missing something here. But then I think it is not a reasonable standard to hold everyone in a group responsible for what some of them did in the past or do now, even if they have done nothing wrong, will not do anything wrong and are opposed to it. (How about Germans?)

      In my view, the standard should be about individual guilt or at least a good case that an individual is a probable threat, e. g. members of an invading army, members of a terrorist or criminal organization, those who have gone on record that they want to harm others, etc.

      Mr. Wooldridge seems to have read some of the stuff that has become endemic in Europe and where muslims are evil people per se. That is not true. I know many people with a muslim background and I find it deeply unfair if they are cast in this way. Those are my neighbors and coworkers, and they are decent people. They cannot be held responsible for Al Qa’eda any more than I could or Mr. Wooldridge because we are also human beings.

  6. Well, I suppose it’s true that Christianity has been a motivator of violence, though that’s often exaggerated, since a lot of violence is clearly motivated by something other than Christianity yet was done by Christians and was given a thin Christian coloring, e.g., violence in Northern Ireland, or the Spanish conquest of the Americas. But it’s quite clear TODAY, at any rate, that it would be absurd to regard a person’s Christianity as a statistical predictor of political violence. Christian churches today essentially never promote non-state political violence. Approval and promotion of political violence and terrorism is endemic in the Islamic world in a way that it certainly is not among Christians.

    I agree in principle that “it is not a reasonable standard to hold everyone in a group responsible for what some of them did in the past or do now” and that “the standard should be about individual guilt.” But of course that makes things easy for terrorists. It doesn’t take a very clever terrorist to keep his record clean of crimes and inflammatory statements for a while, in order to pull off something really big while the wealthy, scrupulous target country’s guard is down. Scrupulous due process can lead to vulnerability. That’s why I want to think carefully about what exactly justice demands, and what exactly counter-terrorist policies can do within the framework of justice.

    Certain things are definitely off-limits. To kill the wives and children of suicide bombers ex post is just intolerable, no matter how effective it might be at deterring terrorists. Likewise, you couldn’t, say, imprison all the inhabitants of a town that had produced several terrorists. On the other hand, to subject people of Middle Eastern origins to more frequent searches at airport security, though unpleasant and quite possibly unnecessary, doesn’t strike me as an intolerable violation of fundamental rights, even if it inconvenienced a lot of innocent people. Of course it’s absolutely unfair to hold all Muslims collectively responsible for the acts of al-Qaeda. Yet at the same time, it is statistically more likely that a Muslim is a terrorist, and it probably is appropriate for counter-terrorism policies to take that into account.

    What about Muslim immigration? My preference would be a liberal immigration policy towards Muslims, to be sure. But I also think it’s important to distinguish (a) the case where a consular official says, “We won’t let you in because we think there’s a 5% chance you’re a terrorist,” from (b) the case where a consular official says, “We won’t let you in because we think you’ll take a job away from an American.” The national security motive at work in case (a) is legitimate in a way that the labor protectionism motive in case (b) is not. It may be misapplied, it may be based on an overestimate of the risks, and it will result in considerable unfairness to non-terrorist Muslims, but at least the protection of Americans’ physical security is a potentially legitimate reason to use force to exclude someone, as protecting American jobs is not.

    As a tactical matter, I think this distinction can be useful in public debates. National security is often invoked as a justification for immigration restrictions. If you say you’re for “open borders,” people think you’re blind to the terror threat. To bracket the national security question by accepting, at least for the sake of argument, a very broad definition of who constitutes a possible national security threat and can be excluded on those grounds, can help you shift the focus to immigration restrictions simply as a way of buoying up wages in rich countries, which are much more indefensible.

  7. Actually, perhaps the longest-running terror campaign in Europe has been the one pursued by Catholic and Protestant terror groups in Northern Ireland. It has also claimed far more victims than Islamist terror (in Europe). I could even give it historical depth with a retelling of the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants that wiped out between 25% and 40% of the population of Germany. Of course, I’d find it silly to draw from this the conclusion that Catholics or Protestants in general are dangerous people and that it is okay to restrict their rights because of it.

    But then how is this different from making sweeping generalizations for muslims? E. g. there are perhaps 4 million muslims in Germany. So far, there has been only one terrorist act (shooting at Frankfurt airport killing two American soldiers), and a handful that were thwarted during preparation. Actually, having such terrorist groups here, offered police far better opportunities to detect and surveil them than if they had made their preparations abroad.

    A terrorist who wants to sneak in with a low profile could also pose as a Christian. Easy.

    1. Indeed. Bruce Schneier is worth reading on this topic:

      While I’m not “blind to the terrorist threat”, my position is practically difficult to distinguish from blindness. Terrorism is rare and best treated like lightning strikes or other random and rare events. Turning society upside down and shredding the privacy and dignity of innocent citizens (and especially citizens belonging to a minority that may already face unwarranted fear and discrimination) in order to try (and fail) to prevent unpredictable events causes far more damage than terrorism itself. There will always be crazy people who do violent things, and they come in all religions and colors.

  8. Again, the conflict in Northern Ireland is really national (Irish vs. English) rather than religious (Protestant vs. Catholic). During the Thirty Years War, it would have been plausible for Protestants to regard Catholics as a threat, and indeed, even sixty years ago, there was a notable democratic deficit in Catholic countries and the papacy took some positions that were so illiberal and inconsistent with the constitutions of free polities that a wary attitude towards Catholic immigrants might have been justified. I don’t think it would be “silly,” exactly, in 1950, to have regarded Catholics as dangerous people. Generalissimo Franco in Spain was heavily supported by the Catholic Church, and democrats elsewhere might have had reason to worry about Catholics serving as a kind of fascist fifth column in countries where they settled. While it wouldn’t be silly, it would have been largely empirically mistaken. Millions of Irish Catholics in the US have assimilated to political freedom quite nicely. But the extent to which Catholics constituted a danger would have been an empirical question, not one that could be dismissed *a priori.*

    Anyway, the Catholic Church is now a much changed institution. It has apologized for the Inquisition, many Catholic regions of the world have undergone an impressive wave of democratization, and the Catholic Church is perhaps the world’s foremost champion of religious freedom. Maybe Islam will undergo a similar transformation in the next few decades, though I’d put the odds at less than even. In the meantime, Islamist ideology commonly provides the impetus for terrorism, both within the Muslim world and in the West. Even counter-examples like Northern Ireland tend to be rather the exceptions that prove the rule, as the IRA has a specific and limited objective, the achievement of which would not amount to an existential threat to the West or even to Great Britain. Al-Qaeda and other Islamists pose a more comprehensive menace.

    The argument that you can detect and surveil terrorist groups better if they’re operating in Germany than if they’re preparing terrorist acts from abroad invites the obvious rejoinder that it’s easier for people to commit terrorist acts in Germany if they’re already living in Germany. And yes, a terrorist could pose as a Christian, but (a) some might have scruples about that, and (b) that’s something consular officials might be able to check, e.g., by asking for references from Christian contacts, testing content knowledge of the Christian religion, asking family background or conversion stories, etc. It would present an obstacle.

    For the record, I’m not particularly worried about Muslim terrorism myself. But my broader philosophical position, as well as consideration of the dynamics of public persuasion, compel me to recognize that restricting Muslim immigration in hopes of preventing terrorist attacks is more legitimate than other things restrictionists want to do, though I’d prefer to see that warrant used in a quite limited fashion.

    1. True, the conflict in Northern Ireland can also be viewed as national and not religious. However, both sides attach importance to their religions. You can say that that is disingenious and only a sham. But that’s also an argument muslims can make about Al Qa’eda. Bin Laden tried to pose as a religious authority, but as far as I know his knowledge was very shallow. You could also view Al Qa’eda as an Arab cause and even a joint Egyptian and Yemeni/Saudi endeavor by frustrated elites to take over power in those countries.

      And then the most serious incident of terrorist violence here in Europe was Anders Breivik’s rampage, and he was motivated by a vision of Christian crusade. Sure, it would be wrong to charge Christians in general for it. But if there only has to be some connection, and you can draw conclusions for everybody confessing the same religion that would be just as valid.

  9. I don’t think a government committed to the principle of separation of state and church can get into the business of deciding who is a real and who is a fake Christian. If they don’t pose as Christians, they have a lot of other choices where consular officials are even less able to tell real from fake: Druze, Yazidi, Samaritan, etc.

    You are right that open borders at first would enlarge the opportunity set for terrorists, i. e. it can only get easier for them. My reply to that would be: maybe, but perhaps not much. For good reason training camps were set up in Afghanistan and not in Germany or the US. It is not only that law enforcement has better access, many things can be tracked, they stick out, far less control over the environment, etc. Ironically, having immigrants from the respective countries has often proved an Achilles heel for terrorists. Those immigrants may not be perfectly loyal to the host country, but they may not be perfectly loyal to the terrorists either. Infiltration is much easier, and betrayal has thwarted many terrorist plots. Having people at hand with the relevant language and cultural skills is also a plus.

    That also plagued Nazi plans to commit terrorist acts in the US during WW II, cf. or

    As I said, it can only get easier at first. If terrorists are rational, at most they will act as they do without open borders because the new opportunities are not worth it and make them more vulnerable than the old ones.

    However, in the long run, I would argue that open borders pulls the rug out under their feet. It is far easier to entertain delusional worldviews in a closed society than in an open society. Many of the harshest critics of Islamism here in Germany, are immigrants from the respective countries. They might have been as critical at home. But here they have a chance to speak out, And that’s as far as I know just the tip of an iceberg, the respective diasporas have drifted away from the culture back home. Totalitarians of all stripes, know how corrosive that can be for them, and that’s why they are all eager to close borders from their side, be it in a physical sense or by other means (internet censorship, etc.).

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