If you listen to some people, the European Union represents a bastion of hope in an increasingly terrifying world. For them, the EU is a shining template for a single, united human race without boundaries or creeds. EU citizens enjoy not just prosperity, but also freedom, and many believe that the best way to secure those freedoms is to grant more freedoms to more people. What began as a trading bloc has morphed into an archetype for transnational tolerance. There is no doubt that the European Union is a better place to live than many of the alternatives. But how much is cause, and how much is effect? What would happen if we took a key principle that supposedly makes the European Union such a good place to live, and applied it elsewhere?
The predecessors of the EU made it much easier to move goods between countries. Now the EU insists that people must also move freely, in order to act as a balance to the freedom of trade. They do this even though no tube of toothpaste ever grew legs and walked across a border, and no carrot ever committed a massacre before going on the run. True believers are convinced the EU’s model of openness can be rolled out further and further, without any dilution, as more and more countries apply to join the union. And they also believe that any individual should be allowed to make a personal choice to accede to the benefits of EU freedom by simply destroying their passports, surviving a boat journey, and being impossible to deport because the local bureaucracy cannot tell where they came from. Freedom of movement across borders is unquestionably a boon to millions of Europeans, and many will defend it vigorously whenever it is criticized by ignorant barbarian populists. But does the freedom formula always give positive results? What would it take, to construct a hypothesis that forces more Europhiles to admit there are times when people should not be allowed to move? Whilst we can agree the freedom to move is generally beneficial to the European economy, and may also help to foster positive emotions to foreigners, how far must we extend the concept before people sensibly reckon its costs and downsides?
Given that the European Union is worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, and given that the most troubled, most fractious, least peaceful part of the world is the Middle East, a region which sits on the doorstep of Europe and whose peoples and cultures have enjoyed centuries of interaction with Europeans, why not simply roll out EU principles further than before? Instead of giving aid, advice or instruction to the Middle East, or refuge to their displaced peoples, why not simply invite every Middle Eastern country to join the EU? Or failing that, why not suggest an interim solution in the guise of an MEU – a Middle Eastern Union – which will give them similar benefits to those enjoyed by Europe? If freedom of movement encourages peace in Europe, what would it do in the Middle East?
Well, for a start, one reason not to encourage a Middle Eastern Union is that it would make life uncomfortable for some of the current lefty fans of the EU. Imagine how annoying it would be for them, if they had to stop protesting about illegal settlements in Palestine. There could be no illegal settlement within the MEU if its inhabitants were legally allowed to live wherever they chose. If the EU-philes are committed to the belief that movement leads to peace, then it would follow that more Israeli settlements should be encouraged.
On the right hand side of the political equation, the MEU would greatly upset the security hawks. Abolishing borders supposedly abolishes the need for security, because it will lead everybody to get along with everybody else. In that sense, freedom of movement is the long-term solution to the short-term problems it creates. Perhaps an Arab has moved within rocket range of your apartment building. Perhaps a Jew has launched a money-lending business in downtown Riyadh. And if some horny but unsophisticated Muslim men take a fancy to the daughter of a Yazidi family living nearby, then let nature run its course with the gang-intermingling of the races, even if the girl is only sixteen years old and would rather set herself on fire than be raped again. Those right-wing Arabs and Jews will all have to stop whinging about security, and learn that the only true security comes from the unfettered movement of people.
Free movement will also be a boon to the tourist industry. I know I would enjoy a holiday to historic Mecca, and many non-Muslims must feel the same. Christians, atheists, and all the other constituents of the global gum-chewing tourist hordes could express our deep interest in the teachings of the world’s second most popular religion by tramping our unwashed feet around the Kabba, just like the pilgrims do, whilst jostling for the best place to take a selfie. And the Saudi keepers of the holiest mosques should reciprocate our embrace of other faiths by allowing McDonalds to open a franchise within the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque. This would permit outsiders to gobble down a bacon-topped burger in air conditioned comfort whilst gawping at the awesome spectacle of thousands of devout Muslims practicing their Hajj rituals. If anybody questions the commercial motives for this decision – even though greed is so obviously the motive that drives the EU forward – we could argue that burger-flipping helps us to ‘learn about other faiths’, in much the same way that the BBC pays Gary Lineker a fortune to front football highlights programs because it is essential to providing a ‘public service’. And as everyone in the Middle East appreciates, McDonalds already deserves praise for pioneering the pan-cultural accommodation of different hygiene regimes, thanks to its consistent policy of keeping both squat and sit-down toilets equally clean.
Having enjoyed the highlights of the holiest Muslim city, canny tour operators would then jet European lager louts directly to Jerusalem, where they could photograph the Wailing Wall before taking a piss against it. Or take a photograph of their friends taking a piss against it. Or take a photograph of themselves taking a piss against it. Men everywhere are known to urinate whilst standing up, so Europeans can follow the example of the wise Greek Diogenes, and show our Middle Eastern brothers that pissing in public is something we can all have in common.
It is possible to argue that freedom of movement created some of the problems of the Middle East. The debate between a one-state and two-state solution for Israel and Palestine has only arisen because of the Balfour Declaration, and the subsequent policy of the UK government that allowed unlimited immigration of Jews to British-governed Palestine. Though the Brits are now looked down upon by some other Europeans, they deserve respect for these crucial experiments with the free movement of people, which began decades before Hitler launched Germany’s first great initiative to unify Europe. So if some Islamists now decide to colonize a British city or two, that would presumably make the Brits hypocritical if they tried to forestall their efforts. And because there is nothing worse than a hypocrite, especially a hypocrite who learns from his past mistakes, then we must be doomed to repeat them.
On the other hand, a lot of the problems of the Middle East would be eased if rich Arab countries reversed their unsympathetic policy towards refugees from poor Arab countries. The MEU would solve that problem instantly; refugees could flood into rich and successful countries, knowing they already have relatives there. The mosques would welcome their brethren, and the government would be saved the cost of paying for new Mosques to be built in Germany so Arab refugees can enjoy the EU’s freedom of religion. But let us not get started on the topic of freedom of religion, which guarantees EU citizens the universal right to be offended but not the right to state any of the beliefs I am sharing now.
Put like this, what high-minded person would admit that freedom of movement has any significant downsides? All that is needed to overcome any of the short-term inconveniences caused by freedom of movement is a rosy-eyed faith that the loving side of human nature must eventually prevail. And if that fails, you buy a more expensive house in a more exclusive suburb and let the poor people fight it out like usual.
Vague and sentimental thinking has turned a reasonably effective European compromise into an aimless whilst over-ambitious sop to dunderheads. Some believe the EU has saved the continent from its otherwise warring European tribes. That is nonsense. The tribes stopped warring, then constructed the EU. Cause and effect are being confused. If I am wrong, then EU-philes should hurry up and race to export their superior ideas to the warring tribes of the Middle East. If the EU brought peace to Europe, what prevents the same kind of institution from delivering peace everywhere else? I can only hope that the vast majority of educated, sophisticated, yet strangely uncritical Europhiles teach a lesson in 2017, or else learn it, by boarding a plane, flying to the Middle East, and seeking to convince the Arab and Israeli sceptics, to persuade the Shia and Sunni doubters, and to indoctrinate the Saudi and Iranian cynics into realzing that a Middle Eastern Union would permanently fix all their problems, and that freedom of movement is the foundation of peace and prosperity. I really hope they do, because more and more Europeans are understandably tired of hearing it.