It’s not such a big deal that Donald Trump has called to ban all Muslims from entering the United States: it’s a big deal that there are people who support him.

This anti-refugee nativist is found worldwide, but is, right now, especially powerful – and dangerous – in the West.  It manifests itself as Trump and his wing in the Republican Party in the U.S., as the English Defense League and the United Kingdom Independence Party in the UK, and as the National Front in France.  To varying degrees, each seeks to wall off their nations from the outside world – and each is dead wrong for seeking that.

Thankfully, each of these nation-states is democratic, and these views can be fought with conversation and facts.  Here now is how to have a geopolitical conversation with a nativist.

First, understand the political soul of the nativist.

Trump and other nativist groups ground themselves in emotional foundations: they fear change, especially the kind of change that will be imposed by outsiders moving in near them.  They live by myths: the past was better, their country has been “lost,” and foreigners are the most obvious ones to blame.

The basic way to counter such thinking is refusing to engage on the emotional level they play on.  You cannot make them feel good about how they’re aging, how things change, how firm realities must always give way, until they understand that those sorts of things are in and of themselves good.  And the way to get them to see that these things are good is using a combination of anecdotes and stats.

So a fine opener is reminding them that Einstein was a refugee.

It’s important to underline that refugees bring strength to the states that openly accept and settle them, not weakness.  The most famous example is Albert Einstein, whose work partially paved the way for the U.S. getting the Atomic bomb.  Had Hitler kept Einstein, it’s entirely possible Nazi Germany would have gotten that bomb first, and history would doubtless be very different today.

But this leads to a wider point: blanket bans of whole categories of people always waste talent.  Within large groups of people, there are geniuses: every country should be trying to steal these folks from one another.

Then there is the anecdote between the son who is given a car and the one who must save for it.

Refugees and immigrants in general bring with them lower crime rates, not higher ones.  This phenomenon is perfectly understandable in local terms: when someone is given something for free, they appreciate it less.  When someone has to work for a final end, they tend to appreciate it more.

A boy who is given a car (as I was) will doubtless treat said car with much less care than a boy who is forced to earn it.  That’s because the one who was gifted a car hasn’t a full understanding of the work necessary to get a car.   They assume it can be replaced as readily as it came about in the first place.

Hence the reason they’ll use it with less care, even going so far to abuse it and destroy it.

But someone who must earn a car understands fully the effort required, and will take greater care to ensure that car lasts, knowing a replacement is not easy.

This is how a refugee views their new country: having worked as hard as they have to get there, they cannot afford to risk losing their status through petty crime or other dumb behaviors that might get them deported.

And what of the terrorists doubtless among the masses?

We must, of course, admit that there will likely because Islamic State sympathizers and supporters within the ranks of the refugees.  But their ability to cause harm is minimal: they are coming over in trickles, disorganized, and surrounded by powerful states more than able to meet whatever challenge they bring.

Should they arm themselves, they will be killed by superior police and military forces.  Should they try to organize Islamic State support within their new homes, they will be arrested using powerful anti-terrorism laws.  Their actions will jeopardize the positions of other refugees, as well, who will turn on them.

They are not capable of overthrowing governments or defeating Western armies.  Even the idea that they can carry out large-scale terrorism is far-fetched: if states responsibly track their refugees, suspicious ones can be picked up early and often.

The threat of terrorism is increasingly from self-radicalized native born citizens: witness Paris, where most of the attackers were French, and the British tube bombings in 2005, where the al-Qaeda cell was homegrown.

But couldn’t they swamp the native culture?  Well no, but that also doesn’t matter.

Remember what culture really is: it’s a set of behaviors, and that’s all.  Culture is meant to let us short cut common problems: what to eat and when, how to greet strangers, who to marry and how, etc.  But to hero worship it is foolish in the extreme: would you, after all, die to keep people shaking hands the same way your grandfather did?

Refugees often are coming from far enough afield that they are swamped by the national culture.  While there is a geopolitical argument to be had against allowing bordering nations to immigrate at too high a rate (and that’s to be discussed elsewhere), refugees coming from the Middle East to the West are doomed to a future of bland globalized culture rather than an epoch of cultural conquest.  If they are afforded the proper economic opportunities, their old national culture will die off and be replaced by the new homogenized culture that dominates their new home.

Finally, remember that refugees are running for their lives, not embarking upon conquest.

Refugees are among the most disorganized and messy classifications of people: they are quite literally large masses screaming for their lives.  This makes them the weakest of threats.  Powerful states can corral them and channel them to the places where the nation needs them the most: underpopulated but resource rich regions, cities that need young workers, neighborhoods that need diversity, etc.  Refugees can be used far more efficiently by the state to solve national problems, since their gratitude for even being allowed into the country will make them pliable to resettlement anywhere.

Additionally, such gratitude translates into loyal soldiers and citizens.  Properly treated, the children of refugees often become pillars of the community.

 

 

 

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13 thoughts on “How to have a geopolitical conversation with a nativist

    1. I think a better future in a Mexico-U.S. federation hinged on that common borderland. Since the U.S. is dominant and Mexico accepts that, such a federation is not the stuff of dreams: witness the French-German axis that formed once both stopped seeing the other as a threat.

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  1. This sort of thinking hinges on the fact that there are no ethnic groups and is typical of someone coming from places that have been shaped by immigrant populations, such as the Anglo-Saxon colonies. But most people living in the world know from experience and history that this is just not true. As someone not coming from

    For instance, before 1919 the Hungarians were mainly in charge in Transylvania. In those times, the lives of Romanians living there were more difficult, if not miserable. After Romanians got in charge, the lives of Hungarians got worse and are now more difficult. Even as simple a thing as investing large amounts of time and money into learning another language of no international use (this is true of both Romanian and Hungarian). This is important. Also is the psychological factor – who is in charge? Who is the boss. In Transylvania, right now, the Romanians. Back then the Magyars. This is not really about myths, about the (Magyar) Sephen the Holy or the (Romanian) Stephen the Great or the (disputed) John Hunyad. It’s about living here and now. Check out the numbers of mixed marriages – how many include a Romanian man and a Hungarian woman and how many are the other way around. Then check out the numbers (such as they exist) for the last period of the Hungarian Kingdom within Austria-Hungary. It matters who’s in charge. Of course members of the Magyar elite can line their pockets with public money and blackmail their way into Romanian governments and call it ok, but for the average Magyar this life is not as good as it could have been in a Kingdom of Hungary. I won’t go in what the Romanian serfs suffered in that Kingdom over a long period of time.

    Another example: the Goths started out as refugees. Despite nativist sentiment Rome eventually welcomed then. How many kingdoms did the descendants of refugees carved out from the body of the dying empire? Of course, such things can’t really be stopped. Such a large migration of people is a lot like a sea tide, a natural occurence. Few nations can stand against it. But for the persons living at a time it matters. There is only one Transylvania and it can belong either to the Romanians or the Magyars. There was only one Hispania and it was either Roman or Gothic.

    Another example: the Central Asian Oghuz Turks who conquered central Anatolia in year 1000 or so did not affect the demographic balance of the region. This is why the Byzantines kept taking back their lands and the Seljuks could only rule by placating the local Christians who so often happend to be opposed to the ones in power in Constantinople. But in the mid 1200’s many refugees of mainly Turkic and some Iranic stock fled the conquering Mongols from the Islamic world into Anatolia. That is when the demographic balance shifted in Anatolia and that’s when the tribe of Osman arrived there. Now, I think the legacy of the Ottoman Empire is overall good, but the same thing for the people living at the time – there’s only one Anatolia.

    There is also only one Britain, either belonging to Celtic people or the Anglo-Saxons. Only one Ireland and so on. If your group is not in charge the change in your life is very real. Wanting your group not to slip up from being in charge of a land you regard as your home is one of the most natural instincts in the world. Remember, most people living at any time anywhere are neither elites, nor upper middle class.

    Now, this low-information lower-middle-class crowd that is pumping up Trump is bad, BAD news by any account. This certainly isn’t a solution to demographic shifts either perceived or real, either manageable or inevitable. This is really, REALLY bad news. This is how irrationality gets into power and how totalitarian regimes are born. But to say that immigration is no threat and there is no rational problem to be had with it is ahistorical and not true. You can ask the Romans who live now in the Balkans (or their Vlach descendants, such as they remain) if the Slavic migrations there made their lives better or easier or (to use your logic) happier.

    Of course the migrant crisis looked upon in its entirety might not be fully manageable even by a large entity such as the Roman Empire (sorry I meant to say the European Union – slip of the tongue), even if the citizenry were prepared to use Russian tactics (we’re not, not even the fascists among us, in either Western or Eastern Europe). Such things happen in history. The Indians are independent and a great civilisation, and what do you know a little while afterwards they are conquered by some other folks. And then it sucks to be an Indian for a looong looong time. These things happen and might not be stoppable but don’t expect the replaced to be happy about their looming decline.

    (On a side-note, in Transylvania the Magyars have been a minority for a looong time, but they managed to remain in charge hundreds of years – so that might happen still.)

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    1. I very much appreciate your historical examples, especially the Roman one, because it’s absolutely true the Romans enlisted these outside tribes and then the tribes turned on them. That being said, let’s compare the treatment of those Visigoths under the late Empire with the surviving Celts under Julius Caesar. After wiping out the Gallic revolt, Caesar brought Celts into the Roman Senate to bolster his supporter – treating them, essentially, as equals. When civil war broke out, these Celts were stalwart Caesarian supporters and helped keep Gaul stable and loyal. The Visigoths, on the other hand, were mistreated by corrupt low level Roman officials: their revolt makes more sense considering that. If the diving line between a successful immigration policy and a failed one is the treatment of the new immigrants, wouldn’t it be reasonable to argue that acceptance is the stronger quality rather than exclusion?

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  2. (no idea whether my comment was posted the first time. hopefully this will not create too much trouble for you)

    This sort of thinking hinges on the fact that there are no ethnic groups and is typical of someone coming from places that have been shaped by immigrant populations, such as the Anglo-Saxon colonies. But most people living in the world know from experience and history that this is just not true. As someone not coming from

    For instance, before 1919 the Hungarians were mainly in charge in Transylvania. In those times, the lives of Romanians living there were more difficult, if not miserable. After Romanians got in charge, the lives of Hungarians got worse and are now more difficult. Even as simple a thing as investing large amounts of time and money into learning another language of no international use (this is true of both Romanian and Hungarian). This is important. Also is the psychological factor – who is in charge? Who is the boss. In Transylvania, right now, the Romanians. Back then the Magyars. This is not really about myths, about the (Magyar) Sephen the Holy or the (Romanian) Stephen the Great or the (disputed) John Hunyad. It’s about living here and now. Check out the numbers of mixed marriages – how many include a Romanian man and a Hungarian woman and how many are the other way around. Then check out the numbers (such as they exist) for the last period of the Hungarian Kingdom within Austria-Hungary. It matters who’s in charge. Of course members of the Magyar elite can line their pockets with public money and blackmail their way into Romanian governments and call it ok, but for the average Magyar this life is not as good as it could have been in a Kingdom of Hungary. I won’t go in what the Romanian serfs suffered in that Kingdom over a long period of time.

    Another example: the Goths started out as refugees. Despite nativist sentiment Rome eventually welcomed then. How many kingdoms did the descendants of refugees carved out from the body of the dying empire? Of course, such things can’t really be stopped. Such a large migration of people is a lot like a sea tide, a natural occurence. Few nations can stand against it. But for the persons living at a time it matters. There is only one Transylvania and it can belong either to the Romanians or the Magyars. There was only one Hispania and it was either Roman or Gothic.

    Another example: the Central Asian Oghuz Turks who conquered central Anatolia in year 1000 or so did not affect the demographic balance of the region. This is why the Byzantines kept taking back their lands and the Seljuks could only rule by placating the local Christians who so often happend to be opposed to the ones in power in Constantinople. But in the mid 1200’s many refugees of mainly Turkic and some Iranic stock fled the conquering Mongols from the Islamic world into Anatolia. That is when the demographic balance shifted in Anatolia and that’s when the tribe of Osman arrived there. Now, I think the legacy of the Ottoman Empire is overall good, but the same thing for the people living at the time – there’s only one Anatolia.

    There is also only one Britain, either belonging to Celtic people or the Anglo-Saxons. Only one Ireland and so on. If your group is not in charge the change in your life is very real. Wanting your group not to slip up from being in charge of a land you regard as your home is one of the most natural instincts in the world. Remember, most people living at any time anywhere are neither elites, nor upper middle class.

    Now, this low-information lower-middle-class crowd that is pumping up Trump is bad, BAD news by any account. This certainly isn’t a solution to demographic shifts either perceived or real, either manageable or inevitable. This is really, REALLY bad news. This is how irrationality gets into power and how totalitarian regimes are born. But to say that immigration is no threat and there is no rational problem to be had with it is ahistorical and not true. You can ask the Romans who live now in the Balkans (or their Vlach descendants, such as they remain) if the Slavic migrations there made their lives better or easier or (to use your logic) happier.

    Of course the migrant crisis looked upon in its entirety might not be fully manageable even by a large entity such as the Roman Empire (sorry I meant to say the European Union – slip of the tongue), even if the citizenry were prepared to use Russian tactics (we’re not, not even the fascists among us, in either Western or Eastern Europe). Such things happen in history. The Indians are independent and a great civilisation, and what do you know a little while afterwards they are conquered by some other folks. And then it sucks to be an Indian for a looong looong time. These things happen and might not be stoppable but don’t expect the replaced to be happy about their looming decline.

    (On a side-note, in Transylvania the Magyars have been a minority for a looong time, but they managed to remain in charge hundreds of years – so that might happen still.)

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  3. I really can’t speak for Donald Trump or anyone else, but I can tell you that I do believe you are slightly off the mark on this one (which is a rare occurrence for you). I can say that I am a supporter of Trump for a variety of reasons and do not at all consider myself to be a nativist as you have described the term. While I understand that I may be the exception to the rule, I’m not so sure Trump is one either – despite common belief. He has, after all, married two immigrants (granted, hardly refugees but immigrants none-the-less).

    But more importantly, I think it is important when analyzing Trump to take him at his literal word. He seems quite honest about his beliefs. Simply because someone does not fall over themselves in an attempt to try and not offend or alienate anyone, doesn’t automatically discount the validity of that person’s views. While I think his call to temporarily ban all Muslims from travelling to the US is extremely far-fetched and completely unrealistic, his basis for making that call (other than obvious political gain) is rooted in a very basic common-sensical belief prevalent among many Americans who take ISIS at their word when they vow to bring the fight to our shores and promise that they have already hidden their fighters among the masses of refugees. It seems completely counter-intuitive to open our borders to the very group of people ISIS claims to have already infiltrated. The fact that some may already be here, or the further fact that some are US citizens does nothing to refute the counter-intuitiveness of adding to them and adds to the logic of Trumps argument.

    I have no issue with your points regarding the positive attributes of refugees; I wholeheartedly agree. And while I can’t be sure, I tend to think most of the people who fear Muslim refugees or oppose Illegal Immigration would likewise concur with you. The issue for me is not the immigrant but rather the specifics of the immigration. In one case, the threat posed is real, and in the other the illegality of it is cause for concern. Refusing to open my arms and embrace anyone and everyone who manages to make it across the border does not make me a nativist, an ogre, or a heartless bastard. It makes me a pragmatist who understands that life functions on reality, not good intentions and dreams.

    Good day, sir and keep up the good work. I look forward to your weekly thoughts.

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    1. I think we can agree that screening is important: cells will try to slip in and cause damage. But we should remember, from a geopolitical standpoint, none of these terror groups can undo the United States: only a vast invading army, a nuclear war, or a civil war can do that. Daesh can do none of those things; neither can al-Qaeda. The balance should focus on stealing as much human capital from the Middle East and keeping it: the U.S. is uniquely good at assimilating immigrants, much better than Europe, which makes it a first choice for many. In the long run, the U.S. will benefit, as will Americans, despite the dangers.

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  4. Ryan, I’ve been a big fan of your blog for a while now, but I think you really missed the whole point about this discussion.
    This issue isn’t about immigration or refugees, I don’t recall trump saying we don’t want ANY immigrants or refugees. The discussion is about the type of immigrants, first he talked about ILLEGAL immigrants, not Mexicans, ILLEGAL Mexicans, then he talked about moslims, I’m an ex-moslims living in the middle east, if my family knew I am an atheist I will be killed (literally), every day people die in the middle east for leaving Islam, gays thrown from buildings and lashed for adultery.
    Just read the Quran. It’s all there – violence, intolerance, misogyny, death for apostasy etc. No amount of twitter jokes can change that. Quran says that you either obey the Quran or you are not muslim, no getting around that no matter how hard you try. You can’t say “well I’m only going to follow the commandments I like” – it’s not how Islam works.
    Now, are all muslims terrorists? Of course not. Does Quran, literal word of God, command them to kill infidels and demand total obedience to this and other rules? Yes it does.
    (I know you’ll argue that Christianity has the same kind of bad shit to some extent, but Islam is different, unlike Christianity, Islam gives direct orders. Mohammed who only lived 1500 years ago did all these things, it’s written in history, you cant say Mohammed was wrong for marrying 13 wives, including a 6 year old)

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    1. My general response was put best in the Atlantic not too long ago: Islam is not a thing. It is a series of texts that people interpret how they like; sometimes to their benefit, sometimes not. These texts include but are not limited to the Qu’ran; they contradict one another, as well. More than a few Muslims don’t act on every text: many Muslims don’t even act on the Qu’ran itself.

      Having a depth of experience within the Muslim world, I can personally attest to the fact that Muslims quite often don’t fully understand their own sect, or fail to follow it to the letter. That’s ideal; if anyone fully implemented their religion, we’d all be in trouble.

      So while within these texts are very much violent and backwards verses, I still don’t see that as an argument to categorically deny entry to the human capital fleeing Syria and other places. The benefits to the United States of taking in that talent – and keeping it – far outweigh the dangers. After all, the U.S. has done that quite well before, stealing former V-2 rocket designer Wernher von Braun from the Third Reich’s ruins.

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      1. “Having a depth of experience within the Muslim world”
        I know you lived in the middle east for a while, but you’re a foreigner, you can’t live with the locals, you mostly met moslims-ish people, I grew up in Syria, when I was 17 my family moved to Saudi Arabia, you will never be able to talk to any of my family because your’re a Kafir, these people are the ones I’m talking about, not open minded Emirati or secular Egyptians.

        After reading you article and A LOT of other work written by westerner, I came to the conclusion that you’ll never be able to understand Islam if you didn’t grow up moslim. That’s why the best criticisms of Islam comes from Ex-moslims, people like Majid Rafizadeh and Sarah Haider, she REALLY understands what’s going on, her criticisms is very well placed, she exactly speaks what’s on my mind, even thought she’s from Pakistan and I’m from Syria. Also there’s Maajid Nawaz, even though he’s a moslim, he acknowledges the problem instead of just saying “Islam is a series of texts that people interpret how they like”, personally I don’t agree with him in how to solve the problem, but that’s another topic for another time.
        I suggest you watch Sarah Haider’s, she says exactly what I was trying to say.

        Also read this Majid Rafizadeh article, he explains the moderate moslims vs. radicals very well.
        http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/3140851/posts

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