European state institutions and non-governmental organisations are currently debating best practice and seeking effective approaches as to how the evolving challenges of international migration should be addressed.
At the practical level, key issues are how best to engage non-political and non-governmental actors on a large scale, and how best to stimulate positive social action both from receiving societies towards migrants and in terms of providing opportunities for migrants to maintain their own religious and cultural tradition whilst recognising the norms of host societies.
The clash of civilisations thesis suggests that tensions will inevitably occur along the fault lines between different cultures. The dialogue of civilisations concept is an approach that aims to encourage host cultures to focus on both education and on articulating their core cultural and spiritual values in order for them to be comprehensively presented to newcomers who have different cultural and religious backgrounds.
One example of effective initiatives addressing the challenges of migration in contemporary Europe is the experience of the Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. Held regularly for over a decade, the Exchange provides a platform for dialogue on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue between public authorities, religious communities, organisations representing non-religious beliefs, and other civil society groups.
This article focuses on three areas: how a dialogue of civilisations initiative can contribute to bridging religious and cultural fault lines; what the activities of secular non-governmental organisations could look like with respect to migration policy; and examples of practical policy recommendations related to migration developed by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute.
Dialogue of civilisations to bridge fault lines
The assumption of an inevitable clash of civilisations was frequently discussed at the end of the previous century. It was over 20 years ago that Samuel Huntington’s idea became part of global political consciousness, that, “for peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most dangerous enmities occur across the fault lines between the world’s major civilisations” (1996, p. 20). Since then, the idea of enmity spreading along civilisational fault lines has become a major feature of international discussions. In 1998, UNESCO established its ‘international year of dialogue among civilizations’. In 2001, the UN General Assembly announced a ‘global agenda for dialogue among civilizations’, thereby encouraging responses like the establishment of the Dialogue of Civilisations initiative.
During the last decade, the world has moved from a clash of civilisations model of interaction between different nations and cultures towards a dialogue of civilisations model. The dialogue-of-civilisations methodology developed by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute has become a critical component in practical bridging the ‘cultural fault lines’ referred to in Huntington’s theory.
The core principles of dialogue of civilisations are openness, diversity of opinions, inclusivity, mutual respect, and the equity of all parties engaged in dialogue. These principles correspond to fundamental Council of Europe values – respect for human rights and the furtherance of democracy and rule of law – in order to foster mutual respect and awareness, tolerance, and mutual understanding within European society.
The world is at a critical crossroads, and the possibility of restoring a balanced world order still remains. This would restore values of solidarity and development, as well as a dialogue of mutual interest, through an open and an equitable conversation. The Rhodes Forum, a public non-governmental platform, is an interactive platform shared by different civilisations. Like the Council of Europe Exchange, a profound intergovernmental initiative made up of people with religious and non-religious convictions alongside other civil society representatives, it boasts opportunities to design and debate effective policy briefs and recommendations.
A dialogue of cultures based on values of mutual interest, compassion, and peace-making represents the most effective vehicle for supporting the world’s diversity of civilisations and for bridging the cultural fault lines between them. The dialogue-of-civilisations concept recognises the understanding of intercultural dialogue expressed in the Council of Europe’s white paper on intercultural dialogue, “as a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage, on the basis of mutual understanding and respect.” This understanding provides an insightful basis for further research by think tanks and research-driven institutions, particularly as they deliberate migration policy.
Secular NGOs supporting migration policies
Secular NGOs that share the principles and values of dialogue of civilisations could support a multicultural and communitarian approach to integration based on a pluralist concept of democracy. The practical steps in this direction could be made by establishing special research projects and multiple civic forums that engage migrant community representatives alongside concerned host country parties, thus debating fundamental issues with all sides through inclusiveness and openness.
As the co-founder of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute and the former secretary-general of the Council of Europe (1999–2004) Walter Schwimmer argues in The European Dream, “Making immigration work is a two-way process. People in host countries must learn to see immigrants as economic and social assets and immigrants must familiarise themselves with host country rules and accept them.”
One practical recommendation could involve the design of cultural and religiously based integration and assimilation programmes for migrants in host countries. Many societies are currently reasserting their cultural identity and according to the World Public Forum ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ co-founder Jagdish Kapur, even young migrants in developed countries often yearn for their roots in the rootless and aggressive environments of host countries.
An important task for non-governmental organisations is changing the overall environment of host countries, making it less hostile and more inclusive and open. It is also important to provide proper balancing mechanisms so that migrants have the opportunity to learn about the culture and traditions of receiving countries and thereby be prevented from infringing upon existing norms and rules.
Another practical step for supporting migration policy in Europe could be a co-management approach to dealing with migration. In his capacity as the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Schwimmer argued for the creation of a structure that would facilitate dialogue between countries of origin, transit, and destination. This would promote co-ordination between state bodies and NGOs from relevant countries and ensure co-operation in fighting the economic, political, and sociological causes of migration. Such a structure could be supported by secular NGOs as well as by faith-based humanitarian organisations.
Policy recommendations from the DOC on social mobility and migration
To illustrate possible work by secular NGOs, I refer to the results of panel event titled ‘Social mobility and migration: Through the prism of values and cultures’, convened at the Rhodes Forum in 2017. Participants stated that international migration has a major impact on societies, an impact which is likely to grow because rates of population growth and levels of prosperity vary enormously between richer and poorer countries. Panellists specified that these differences are more dramatic between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe than anywhere else. Migration can have economic benefits for both receiving countries and countries of origin, but uncontrolled flows of people typically fuel political polarisation and the rise of xenophobic movements. The panel stated that all around the world, questions of cultural and religious identity, multiculturalism, communitarianism, assimilation, and border control have risen to the top of political agendas.
The following recommendations were developed under the guidance of the former director-general of the International Organization for Migration, Brunson McKinley and co-chair of the Association for International Mobility, Anne-Marie Buschman-Petit:
- Determining how best to make decisions on migration and integration
- The European Union should acknowledge that Member States have different interests and approaches to migration and integration and should have the right to develop their own policies democratically.
- Screening for asylum admission should take place in the vicinity of refugee-generating countries rather than in the country of destination, a practice already in place for many traditional countries of refuge.
- The costs of mass migration and the challenge of integration
- At the very least, Europe needs to develop a consensus on the massive migration flows from the south.
- European governments need to make migration and integration prominent issues in their foreign and domestic policy thinking, rather than leaving the subjects to human rights activists.
- Managing migration and integration to maximise benefits
- Two policy areas require particular attention in integrating new arrivals: addressing issues of professional qualifications for high-skilled immigrants and particularly investing in the integration of low-skilled immigrants.
- The future challenge in immigration policy will be attracting and retaining the most talented immigrants – those who already have several options among countries of destination.
- Understanding state borders as civilisational divides
- Cultural and civilisational differences between populations are inevitably slow to disappear, especially where political and administrative systems reinforce those differences.
- Commerce promotes peaceful interaction but may not be sufficient to overcome long-standing historical and cultural differences.
- Studying the Armenian example
- Observing how Armenians have survived and prospered around the world can provide insights into the need to resolve tensions between cultural identity and the acceptance of social norms in countries of resettlement.
- Diasporas that originate in tragedy can nevertheless accommodate successfully.
- The impact of involuntary displacement on indigenous populations
- Traditional ways of living are often linked with conservation of the natural environment. Global public opinion needs to see the preservation of traditional communities as a common good.
- Corporate actors need to reflect on the trade-offs between short-term profits and the needs of the planet and take decisions accordingly.
- Better analysis as a precondition to assistance and philanthropy
- It is important to acknowledge that political and corporate interests drive the prevailing narratives regarding migration. Both truth and policy suffer.
- We need more well-supported research exposing misguided development efforts so as to restructure assistance that can have a significant impact.
- Protecting acquired rights from communitarianism
- Europe needs to develop a new model of integration in which migrants and refugees accept the cultural, social, and legal standards that prevail in countries of destination.
- It is legitimate for countries that open their societies to newcomers of a different culture to insist on respect for certain social norms and values. This principle should inform policy approaches to immigration and integration.
The aforementioned issues demonstrate the scope policy areas which need to be addressed in the development of adequate migration policies. The often criticised multiculturalism model can be improved upon through, as Akeel Bilgrami puts it, a way of integrating secularist ideas with the sort of yearnings for religion, culture, and community, and even family, that can be so basic to human beings and to which multiculturalism speaks. The approach presented by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute appears to reflect a pluralistic way of understanding and formulating contemporary migration policy as it relates to different cultures, traditions, and religions.
 A shorter version of this article was discussed at a Council of Europe roundtable on ‘The role of religious and non-religious groups in the development of migration policy’. This took place as part of the Council of Europe 2017 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, titled ‘Migrants and refugees: challenges and opportunities – What role for religious and non-religious groups?’ on 7 November 2017.
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