The influence of immigration on the political debate in Europe
Since they realized that the African population would double in the coming decades, the sub-Saharan African immigrant has become Europeans’ new fantasy. Let us not forget that the famous novel The Camp of the Saints envisaged the possibility of hundreds of thousands of hungry people rushing from South Asia to Europe - a scenario that makes absolutely no sense.
Issues related to immigration and those related to Islam could meet in the event of a significant increase in emigration from the Sahel to Europe. The countries of this region are indeed quite close, they have world records of fertility, and they are mainly home to Muslim populations. Moreover, already well-established communities, such as that of Malians in France, attract immigration. Much more so than social protection systems.
Thus, the ghost of massive African immigration that haunts Europe so much is somewhat related to Islam. The connotations of the term "Muslim" in public debate may change: the "Muslim" will be less and less associated with "the Arab".
Hakim El Karoui
Amedy Coulibaly, the perpetrator of the Hyper Cacher attacks in January 2015, strengthened Europe’s concerns and fears regarding immigration coming from sub-Saharan Africa.
It is also very useful to look at the semantics of the terms used in the public debate on immigration in Europe, and more particularly in France. The figure of the "North African worker" was first replaced by that of the "immigrant", and then of the "beur". In the 1990s, the notion of "diversity" quickly increased in scale, before it gave way to the "Muslim" figure in the 2000s. This last changeover is both semantic and identity-based, one having fueled the other.
The semantic confusion present in the European public debate is regrettable. In fact, it is threefold: confusion between "immigrant", "Arab" and "Muslim"; confusion between "Muslim", "Salafist", and “Jihadist"; and, finally, confusion between "asylum seeker", "migrant" and "immigrant". Yet a calm and rational debate requires that these distinctions be made.
At the European level, immigration does not influence public debate in a homogeneous way. While it might be a key factor in some countries, such as Italy or the United Kingdom - I am thinking here of the importance of the Polish workers' issue - it isn’t in Spain, nor Greece, despite these countries' exposure to migratory flows. According to a recent study led by the Pew Research Center, Spain is even the European country where the population would be most ready to welcome foreign refugees.