The Global Refugee Crisis

Nov 13, 2015

How can Christian leaders help Europe cope with the flood of refugees? Renowned Czech theologian Father Tomàš Halik argues that Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, can be an effective mediator between Islam and Europe's secular humanists,  as it has many values in common with both.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs at the Carnegie Council, and I would like to welcome our members and guests, including those sitting upstairs in the boardroom and those watching on this live webcast.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the New Literature from Europe Festival, the Polish Cultural Institute of New York, and the Czech Cultural Center for co-sponsoring this discussion. A special note of thanks to Jill Brack, Caro Llewellyn, and Sean Bye for their assistance in planning this special program with professors Tomàš Halik and Ian Buruma on the global refugee crisis.

The current refugee crisis has captured the world's attention. In recent months newspapers across Europe and the United States have been dominated by images of thousands of refugees who have endured long and harrowing journeys fleeing predominantly from war-torn Syria and Iraq.

As European leaders struggle to respond to the growing number of refugees who are literally walking into Europe, crossing their countries' borders, EU Member States are divided over how to manage the continent's worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, with some countries welcoming them in while others are erecting fences to keep them out.

It is not just the scale of the crisis that is the problem but the speed at which it is growing, posing questions about moral responsibility, political questions about European unity and identity, and practical problems about how to accommodate all those seeking asylum. In the end, many are asking whether it was artificial to assume that the European Union would share the same core democratic, humanitarian, and liberal values.

To discuss these issues, the Carnegie Council is enormously pleased to welcome two celebrated individuals, whose bios you have received. If you have not read them just yet, I suggest that you take them with you and do so, because these two public intellectuals have fascinating life stories, who in their own ways have often grappled with the most salient moral and ethical issues of our day.

Briefly, Tomàš Halik is a Czech Roman Catholic priest, philosopher, theologian, and scholar. Among his many honors, most recently he was the recipient of the 2014 Templeton Prize which is awarded to a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension.

Ian Buruma will be leading this discussion. He is a prolific Anglo-Dutch writer, journalist, and professor based in New York. He is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes. Among them is the International Erasmus Prize for making an especially important contribution to culture, society, or social science in Europe.

At this time I ask that you please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our two distinguished guests, Tomàš Halik and Ian Buruma. We are so pleased that you have chosen to discuss these important issues here at the Carnegie Council, a forum where we believe ethics still matters, especially in this interconnected world. Thank you.


IAN BURUMA: Good morning and thank you for coming.

Tomàš Halik, you asked specifically to discuss the refugee crisis. People call it immigrant crisis, migrant crisis, but in fact we're talking about refugees. I think politicians deliberately don't like to use the word, but that's what it is.

It has moral dimensions and it has political dimensions. The position of Angela Merkel I think shows that very clearly in that she has taken a moral position, which is it's our duty to do this: "If we were to turn away refugees, I don't recognize my own country anymore. As Europeans, it's our moral duty to take care of this problem," and so on. And yet she is paying a big political price in her own party. There is a lot of resistance in Germany as well as in other countries. If the worst comes to the worst, she might even lose her position.

Now, there is a practical political side to this that is in tension, perhaps, sometimes with the moral side. Could you start saying something about that?

TOMÁŠ HALIK: If I would know the right answer to the question of what to do with the hundreds of thousands of refugees, it would be a merit for the Nobel Prize. I am satisfied with the Templeton Prize. I don't know the answer, and I am afraid nobody knows.

Yes, there is some good advice that we should distinguish between victims of persecution and between those who are victims of businessmen with human hope and illusions who are promising the people paradise in Germany, an easy life, these economic refugees.

There are, of course, many young, strong men who should perhaps fight for their countries as our brothers have fought for their liberty, and perhaps we should offer them the military training and the weapons and then send them back to fight against the extremists. Maybe there are also the agents of the extremists.

But I think what is even more dangerous than refugees is the anxiety which is now in many European countries and especially in the post-communist countries in central and middle Europe. I understand the worry, but there is hysteria and panic and prejudices. It is not possible to solve the problem with hysteria.

I always quote one nice Hasidic Jewish story about Rabbi Pincus. He asked his pupils, "What is the moment when the night ends and day begins?"

The pupils said, "The moment when it's light enough that we can tell the sheep from the dog."

The rabbi said, "No, no."

Another pupil said, "Oh, it's the moment when we can tell the fig tree from the palm."

He said, "No, no."

They asked, "What is this moment between night and morning?"

He said, "It is the moment when we are able to recognize in the face of other people our brothers and sisters. Since we are not able to do it, it is still night."

I think there is night in the souls of many people, and we should bring the light to show that they are also our brothers.

I think there is another aspect of this problem. It is the test for the European Union, for the solidarity in Europe. I think it is very dangerous that in many nations, and especially the post-communist nations and states, the people have decreasing trust in the European Union, and it is very dangerous because now Putin's Russia has this plan to renew the Soviet empire. I think this new Russian nationalism and imperialism are really very dangerous. This time we need the united Europe, but now the trust in Europe is decreasing.

In our country, which is the Czech Republic, which is called the most atheistic country in the world—I think it is not exactly so and it is more complicated, but it will be another story—there is a paradox. Ironically, the people say the refugees will destroy the Christian character of our culture. [Laughter]

I think a very important question we should ask in connection with this refugee crisis is: What is the cultural identity of Europe? What is our cultural identity? If we wish the refugees to accommodate themselves to our culture and to make enculturation, what is our culture? What is our cultural identity in Europe, in the Czech Republic? How Christian is Europe today and what does it mean?

So I think there are quite interesting questions.

IAN BURUMA: Could you start by answering that question yourself? [Laughter]

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Okay. I think that we live now in the post-Christian secular culture. But, you know, I think the secularization is not the end of Christianity, it is the absorption of Christianity. Secular culture is much more Christian than the secularists are able to say, to recognize.

I think there is no way back to the Christendom of the Middle Ages. When the conservative Christians are always speaking about Christendom they are speaking about a romantic vision of the Middle Ages, and there is no way back to that.

But I see the Enlightenment and the secular culture underestimated the power of religion because the secular ideology, let's say, or the secular philosophy, was born from the struggle between the power of the church in that time and the new civil society. The relation between religion and politics was seen for ages as a relation between state and church, separation of church and state in the time when the church has a monopoly over religion and the state has a monopoly over politics.

But this time is over. Now in the globalization process it is a quite new situation, and we should rethink the relation between politics and religion. Religion could be also dangerous. There is also the rhetoric. The religious rhetoric is very powerful. When it is misused by the politicians, even by the secular politicians, it could be a bad development of "the enemies." The enemy is not just somebody with a different opinion but a Great Satan. With a Great Satan we cannot communicate.

There is nice advice by the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney, who is now at Boston College. It is the advice of a psychoanalyst. If somebody is haunted in his dreams by a monster, the psychoanalyst said in the dream you should look into the face of the monster, and you will be surprised that the monster is a little bit similar to you.

I think that also, if our world is full of monsters, we should have the courage to look in the eyes of the monster and recognize that it is not so different from us.

So we cannot speak about religion in a very simplistic way—it is good or bad. It is both. We cannot say about Christianity, it is good and Islam is bad. No. Religion is a very dynamic force and there are so many changes in the process of the history in different contexts—the cultural context, political context. They are always very healthy, they are always the source of the moral force, the religions are the schools, how to cultivate our egoism, how to live with other people. But they are also these dangerous things.

So I think it is very important to dialogue between religions, and especially as we see Islam now, many people, just through the optic of this mass-media image about extremists. So it is dangerous. I think we should build bridges and communicate with some representatives of Islam. I think the tradition of the Pope John Paul II, the meeting of the religious leaders in Assisi, could have also the political impact.

How Christian is Europe today? I think there are some good perspectives. I think the Catholic church could be a mediator between Islam and the secular world because it has the possibility to reach the hands of both sides. Christianity, especially the Catholic church, has much in common with the other Abrahamic religions, such as Islam, and can understand it. Also, from the history of the church, we have the bloody history with the Crusades and so on.

On the other hand, the secular culture of the West is something like the unwanted child of Western Christianity. The Catholic church and Christians have much in common with the secular culture. So I think there is the possibility to build the bridges, to mediate between these two, to work and to support the anti-fundamentalistic, open-minded people in all religions.

There are some dangers of a very dangerous alliance. When I was in Poland some years ago, the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church said, "Oh, it's now time for the new alliance between the Orthodox church, the Catholic church, and Islam against Protestantism and the secular culture of the West. So fundamentalists of all religions should be united."

I said, "This is very dangerous. I believe in quite another alliance, in the alliance between faith and reason." It was the idea of John Paul II and of Pope Benedict. Benedict spoke about healthy läicité, about a healthy secular culture, in contradiction against this militant secularism. So we must distinguish between the secular culture, between the liberalism which is really open for many—for religious people, non-religious people—and against the secularism—so ideological liberalism. The secularism became an intolerant religion.

I think that Christianity should always say to secularists, "You should remain secular. You shouldn't become a religion, a quasi-religion." So I believe in this compatibility between Christianity and secular humanism. It is the result of a very famous dialogue between Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas in Munich. They united in saying that the self-critical Christianity and the self-critical humanism, secular humanism, need each other to overcome the dangers of one-sidedness. So they are complementary; they belong together. I think the ways without the critical reason, without the honest doubts could become fundamentalism or fanaticism, but also the secularism and the reason without this context of the spiritual and moral values of Christianity and other religions could be just the cynical, could be just the superficial.

So I believe in this complementarity of the Christian tradition and the secular humanism. I think it should be perhaps the atmosphere, the moral biosphere for democracy and for the European Union to distinguish between this secularism, the ideology which would like to suppress the religious dimension of our culture, and the healthy secularity and real liberal democracy which is open to everybody.

IAN BURUMA: I wonder, though, if it is fair to characterize secularism as people who want to suppress religion. Isn't it more the case that they want religion to be a private and not a public matter?

I have two questions, really. Pope John Paul, I think it was, argued that Christianity should be a common Christianity; it should be in the preamble to the constitution of the European Union. He did not succeed in this. My first question would be, do you agree with him that it should be in the preamble of the constitution of the European Union?

Secondly, I wonder whether a European answer is really possible. It seems to me there is a difference between the Catholic part of Europe and the Protestant part of Europe in their approach to the relation of church and state, in that Protestant political parties in the 19th century were in favor of separating church and state in order to protect the church against the state, whereas in France, with its tradition of läicité, it is the opposite; it is to protect the state from the church because the Catholic church had been such a powerful political institution.

Perhaps you could address these two questions.

The third question, which is linked to the other two, is, if you are in favor of solving these problems through a religious dialogue between representatives of the church, perhaps the Catholic church, and Muslim clerics, that could be problematic too because there are many people with a Muslim background amongst the refugees and immigrants who don't particularly want to be represented by religious authority.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: The third question, yes. That is a great danger. I took part in many interreligious dialogues all over the world. I am afraid that we create a special subculture of so-called "dialogists." We understand each other. I can communicate with the Muslim intellectuals and the Jewish intellectuals, and we understand each other better than with some fundamentalists in our own camp.

This dialogue of the intellectuals and official representatives of religion, yes, it has some meaning. It is a symbol, but it is not the salvation of the whole problem. I think more important is the meeting of the young people from the different religions.

For me it was very formative that during the Prague Spring, when we had the only possibility of travel in the West, I took part in one seminar that was organized by the British Quakers. There were people from many religions, from many contexts, from many cultures. We were three weeks together discussing all the great problems, the poverty in the world.

We did not solve those problems. But I learned to see the world from the perspective of the others. It was for me, my life decision, so I will dedicate my life for this dialogue, to understand each other, to see the world from the perspective of the other people, because if we don't understand the context, the perspective, we cannot understand the difference as something that could be enrichment for us, not just a threat.

So this experience of young people from many different cultures to communicate, I think it is perhaps the way. If they are the extremists, like the people from today's Islamic State [ISIS], there is no possibility for intellectual dialogue, of course. It is a different situation. I spoke about prevention.

The second question was—

IAN BURUMA: The first question was about the constitution.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: I wrote an essay about it and I asked the question: What does it mean, the notion of Christianity in the European constitution? We cannot answer this question with yes or no, but what does it mean?

If the meaning of this is that Christianity has a monopoly over Europe, and "mother Europe" and the mother church are the same, I can understand the "no" to this. But if we say Christianity is a very important part and root of European culture and Christianity brought some ideas which are very important for modern Europe, the so-called [inaudible], that the ideas of democracy are rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith—it is not something that is just the result of some elections or something—the grounding ideas of democracy have their roots in this specific culture. If we name Christianity as the source of these values, I would say "yes" to this.

I think it is more important to incorporate some Christian values, like solidarity and so on, in the European Union than just to have the flag of Christianity over it. Of course, the 12 stars, the flag of the European Union, they have the meaning—they are Marian [relating to the Virgin Mary], the stars of the Mother of God. So there is something also of Christians in the symbols.

I think symbols are very important for the politics. Yes, symbols are very important for the politics.

IAN BURUMA: But it may be a symbol based on a questionable premise in the sense that it would comes as news to these citizens in Bethphage and Athens that Judeo-Christianity was the basis of democracy.

If you were to put every idea that went into the formation of democracy in Europe into the preamble of the constitution, it would become a very long preamble because you would have to include Greece and Rome, you would have to include the Magna Carta—the Magna Carta was not based on Christianity; it was based on the rights of local feudal barons to challenge the monopoly on power of the king.

So there are many things that go into democracy. If you start to stress Christianity, the danger then is that you exclude or make many citizens of the European Union who are Muslim or atheist or anything else feel slightly excluded from this.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Yes, but if you named all the others and you excluded Christianity, it is also something.

IAN BURUMA: No, no, I totally agree. In my view it would be better to leave this out and not include religion or Greece and Rome.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Also the Magna Carta was inspired by the regulars of the Dominicans. It is very, very interesting. From the regulars of the religious orders was inspiration for the Magna Carta and for the political documents. Also in the Benedictine tradition, the abbot is the man who decides, but he must before ask all the members of the community for their opinions. All the members of the community, the religious community, have a duty to say frankly their opinion. So I think there was something democratic about that.

IAN BURUMA: Maybe, but if you think of the French Revolution, it was against the absolute monarchy and the power of the Catholic church. But anyway, that is by the by.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: There was also your second question.

IAN BURUMA: The difference between Protestant Europe and Catholic Europe and that there may not be one European answer to the separation of church and state.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: I think it was the separation of the 19th century. It is over nowadays. Also, Catholicism changed in the Second Vatican Council. Political philosophy or political theology in the Catholic church is very different than it was in the 19th century.

I think America is very important because in America many religions have changed. Judaism in America was so transformed and had an influence on the Judaism in Israel. The Catholic church has changed here in America because in Europe, at the beginning of the French Revolution, two of the authors of the Declaration of Human Rights were Catholic theologians. One of them became a bishop, another was executed by guillotine.

The Catholic church, in the beginning of the revolution, was very sympathetic. But then came the Jacobin Terror. Rome and the European Catholicism was so afraid and they said no to all this Enlightenment tradition. But the English Revolution and American Revolution has not had this Jacobin period, has not had this anti-Christian tradition, so the Catholic church recognized that she could live in the context of pluralism, democracy, and it is even better than this position like in ancient France.

So the inspiration of the experience of American Catholicism had a great impact of this reform of Catholicism in the Second Vatican Council. Also, what we now know as Buddhism and Hinduism, it was so transforming America. So what my friend the Dalai Lama is saying about Buddhism, I think it is more like the liberal American Protestantism and Unitarianism than the real Buddhism. Sometimes this impact of the American religious tradition on all the religions was so great.

There is the question, there will be some Western Islam—there are some thinkers but they have not much impact on the Islamic world. I think we should support also these open-minded Islamic philosophers because the main problem is in the possibility to interpret the sources of religion in the context of the culture and the time.

It was the main value of enlightenment for the Christian to interpret the Bible, the hermeneutics, in the context of the time, against the fundamentalism, against the primitive literal interpretation.

So I think it is the key to modern Islam and the possibility to interpret the Koran in the context of this special culture and the courage to enculturate this in another cultural context.

IAN BURUMA: Yes, that is possible. We haven't really talked about Christianity outside the Western world, that in many ways as the Western world, Europe in particular more than the United States, becomes more and more secular, the real Christian orthodoxy is stronger in places like Africa.

I was in Brussels last month in a largely Turkish neighborhood and saw a Catholic church and went into the church to see what it was like. I found a preacher talking to a few elderly Belgians. The preacher was from the Congo speaking with a thick African accent.


QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.

Thank you kindly for this vast knowledge about religions. But there is a problem in bringing religion into this global refugee crisis because, for example, in the United States, our Pledge of Allegiance says "one nation under God," and not everyone accepts that. That is fairly simple, without going into all the creeds for all the different groups.

So there should be a way to emphasize the humanness, the respect for each person no matter what the tradition is, and to bring the new people—the migrants, refugees, whatever they are—into the culture willing to work and try to become part of the society rather than to have these horrible conflicts leading to killing.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: What you have said now is exactly the Christian answer. When the people in our country—some say, "Oh, we will accept just the Christian refugees, not the Muslim refugees." I think it is the un-Christian answer, because the Christian is to be here for everybody who is in danger or in poverty.

So I absolutely agree with you. But I only say it is not just the secular answer; it is a difficult question, solution.

IAN BURUMA: But I don't think it solves Angela Merkel's problems to say that we should see every refugee as human. Of course we do. But I think one of the real problems in Europe—and this is not often stated by politicians—is that it is commonly agreed that Angela Merkel's idea that we can handle the Syrian refugee crisis is probably true. What they are much more afraid of is that millions of Africans, driven by climate change and other reasons, are going to also come to Europe and it becomes unmanageable.

You need real political solutions. It is not good enough just to say we should regard them all as fellow human beings, brothers and sisters, we should be nice to each other, blah-blah-blah. That is not a political answer.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Absolutely, I agree. It is the beginning. There will be more refugees because of this shortage of water and so on. We spoke about one aspect of this crisis. That is cultural and religious. But it is one aspect; it is not a solution of the whole problem, of course.

QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.

It sounds like we might have some people from California immigrating to Europe because of the water crisis.

I am wondering, on the refugee crisis, if you could give us a specific pragmatic view. This morning I saw the British foreign secretary on television. He distinguished between giving help to people on the ground in Syria, who, after all, were the most vulnerable because they couldn't get out, and their children and all this kind of stuff, for which the British government has committed that they will try to help 20,000 people, accepting them as immigrants.

Are there moral distinctions to be made? Are there pragmatic distinctions to be made? What can you tell us about that?

IAN BURUMA: If I may venture an answer, one of the problems in Europe is that, partly deliberately, there is very little distinction being made in political rhetoric between so-called economic migrants and asylum-seekers. So there is no real immigration policy in Europe.

The danger of that is that people who want to leave their countries and go to Europe for entirely legitimate reasons because they cannot make a living where they are have to lie in order to get into Europe and pretend to be asylum-seekers. That means that in the public perception those who come for economic reasons are kind of seen as semi-criminals who are lying, and so on.

The first thing that needs to be done is to have a policy that is not just for refugees but also for immigrants, that they have immigrant quotas, and so on. We need immigrants. In Germany, the population is graying so fast that they desperately need immigrants.

I was watching the BBC news not so very long ago. First there was a spokesman for the government saying how sorry he was that 300,000 more people have come into Britain then left. This is a great failure of public policy; they would try to reduce these numbers and so on.

Then came a spokesman for the National Health Service, who said that if they did not very quickly have more immigrants, the whole hospital system would collapse.

So there needs to be an immigration policy and there needs to be a policy on asylum seekers. The two are confused, which is very dangerous, I think.


QUESTION: My name is Valentin Inzko, international envoy of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am also a diplomat and I was proposed to this job by Count Schwarzenberg from the Czech Republic six years ago.

Count Schwarzenberg was asked about one or two weeks ago what he says about the refugee crisis, whether he is concerned.

He gave a very interesting answer. He is always interesting, as you know, and cavalier. He said, "I am more concerned about empty churches in Europe than about the refugee crisis." Empty churches, yes. If you go in Paris or in other countries they are more empty. In Austria, in my own country, 7 percent of the population go regularly to church. It used to be 50-60 percent.

As far as refugees are concerned, I don't want to speak about myself, but I took two Syrian families, two sisters and their families, to my apartment in Vienna. They have integrated fantastically, really. They are not Christians; they are Muslims. They are being cared for by the Christian parish—kindergarten, school, education, German language, medical assistance, because a fifth child is now on the way. Interestingly, the fifth child will have the name Heidi, because the first helper in Austria, when they came to Austria, to the first camp, was a Heidi. I don't know her.

I think the problem is in numbers. I think we can easily accept 1 or 2 percent of Europe as refugees. In Austria we have accepted already 70,000 refugees. Germany has accepted 800,000, which is 1 percent. But if this would be 3 or 4 million, I think we could not handle it anymore and the good mood of the population would change completely. So far we still have a good mood. Parishes and civil society are helping. They are expecting people at the railway stations, etc.

I think we should distinguish between Islam and Islamism. I work in Bosnia and Herzegovina and we have what you call, Tomàš, Western Islam. These people are drinking schnapps. They are marrying Jews. This is in Bosnia.

Recently a Muslim plowed his field and he discovered some foundations. It was a Catholic church. He is now unearthing it and making it available to visitors. Cardinal Puljić was already there to baptize these foundations. This is the oldest foundation of a Catholic basilica in Bosnia. But it will be made available to the public by a Muslim.

A second example, very moving. Juan Achmed [phonetic] was asked, "Why are you renovating a Catholic church in Teslić?" He said, "First of all, my parents taught me to be human. This is most important. Secondly, the church is ugly, it's falling apart, and when I go to work, I see this church every day. So I am repairing it."

This Islam is also possible. But, of course, we are reading every day about Islamismus, about ISIS and so on. This is a huge danger. But I think this Islam also exists. Even Turkish Islam—in Austria, we have half a million Turks. There is no problem whatsoever. We also take care that the hodjas are being educated in Vienna, not in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia—in Vienna. So they have Austrian diplomas. This is very important.

I think also our development aid has failed. Otherwise, we wouldn't have refugees from Africa. We must question whether these billions which we have invested in Africa have been successful investments.

The European Union is paying this year to Mugabe—you know Mr. Mugabe; he will soon be 92—they are paying to him 263 million of development aid. Bokassa, Idi Amin, they were all courted by Europeans. I think our development aid has failed. These kinds of refugees would not happen if we had a successful development policy.

But whether there is war, this is different, of course.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: I hope the Westernization of Islam will be not just to drink the schnapps. Yes, the refugee crisis is also connected with the crisis of the family in the West. It is the great problem—and the willingness to have children. The demographic crisis is connected with the crisis of the family culture, which is connected also with the religiosity, but not only.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Nawaf Salam, the ambassador of Lebanon.

Thank you for this very stimulating conversation this morning. Indeed, there is a serious problem in Europe, which is addressing now the question of demonizing the other, the dangers of the rise of fanaticism and xenophobia and so forth. But, unfortunately, if I may, Europe is at the end of the refugee crisis. Since our topic is the global refugee crisis, I think that the problem Europe was facing was one of 150,000, at max, refugees while we have some 60 million on the move now.

I think more attention must be given to the root causes causing this refugee crisis and the migration problem. Let me say two things.

One, for too long I think the world had not addressed enough the Syrian crisis or the economic drivers of migration in Africa—poverty, hunger, and so on and so forth. These are the drivers of the refugee problem, one.

And two, not enough attention maybe has been given to host countries of refugees, where addressing the problem of refugees is no longer only a humanitarian problem. It is not the question of giving blankets or some medicine or food to people in Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan, but also there is a real need to support host communities there if we want to seriously address the crisis of refugees.

I would like to have your comments on both issues. Thank you.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: That was just a comment, not a question. I agree.

IAN BURUMA: I agree with you too. When you say the West doesn't pay enough attention to crises in the Middle East and so on, the problem is really that the West has paid too much attention to crises in the Middle East in the last 200-300 years and perhaps produced some of these crises. So it may not be a bad thing if the West withdraws or takes a slightly more humble view and lets people in the Middle East and other parts of the world take care of their own problems.

But I entirely sympathize with your position, since Lebanon has taken more refugees than any European country. But that again comes back to the same question. Germany took something like 12 million refugees in 1945 from their former homes in Central European Countries, Silesia and Sudetenland and so on, and absorbed them without too much problem, just as Lebanon and Jordan are taking in huge numbers of refugees from Muslim countries.

That is the rub. Clearly culture does make a difference. You don't want to take too much of a point of it, but it does make a difference. It does make a difference whether you're taking in people from your own culture, your own religion, and so on, or people from a very different culture.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Also the question of multiculturalism and what does it mean? If it is based on the old idea of tolerance, I think it is not enough for today just to live side by side. We need more the real dialogue, not to live side by side but together and to share our values.

I think that tolerance was very good in one time, but it is not enough. We must go farther. Multiculturalism should not create the ghettos. There are ghettos. It is dangerous if the immigrants are creating ghettos. It is better to invite them—if there are so many prejudices, if there are so many images of enemies, that's a problem. The increasing of xenophobia now in Europe and some very dangerous xenophobic nationalists, chauvinistic movements—and the politicians, they are misusing this anxiety. I think it is even more dangerous than the influx of the refugees.

QUESTION: Don Simmons.

Many or most of our candidates for president believe or pretend to believe that we have a serious immigration problem in our country. In your opinion, Mr. Buruma, what range of numbers of refugees and migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria should the United States be prepared to admit, let's say, in calendar year 2016? To what degree should we relax our very conservative standards for examination and investigation and admission of these people?

IAN BURUMA: I can't put numbers on it. Certainly far more than the United States has agreed to take so far, partly because the United States itself is responsible for some of these crises. The invasion of Iraq certainly contributed to the rise of ISIS and the terrible civil war in Syria. So it has a special responsibility.

As far as vetting refugees is concerned, that is a very fraught and difficult problem. You mentioned Islamism. Of course, there are different kinds of Islamism too. There is Islamism that wants to spread Islam even in the political way, but without necessarily using violence. Then you have violent revolutionaries.

You cannot really, when somebody is escaping a terrible war, running for their life, start saying, "What's your religion? What are you political beliefs? Do you drink schnapps? Do you not drink schnapps? Then we'll decide whether we'll let you in." If people are running for their lives, you let them in.

But you don't want to let people in who are going to put bombs under Grand Central Station either. So some vetting process probably has to take place, but one should be very, very careful, I think, about not saying we'll only take people whose politics we agree with or who we think are nice or something. That's the difference between having an immigration policy and a refugee policy.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: I think it is not only the problem of numbers but of the political culture and the cultural traditions because America is the nation of immigrants and it is used to accepting the people from different countries.

But it is something quite different, for example, in our country. We lived with Germans, until the end of the war. We lived with Slovakia; now we are separated. We have just the minority of gypsies. But we are not used to living with the people from another culture. So it is a problem of the political culture and the tradition more than just the numbers.

IAN BURUMA: I am not sure that is entirely true. If you take a place like Sarajevo and its history, people are very used to living with other cultures. You have had Muslims, Jews, and Christians living there for hundreds of years.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Sometimes it changes. People have lived in peace for years and in two years it changes and there is a culture war.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Jess McHugh. I cover Europe, breaking news, for the International Business Times.

My question is, if we are to take an interfaith dialogue approach to solving the refugee crisis, I think the argument has been made and is increasingly being made that much contributing to the conflict in Syria is a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia. How would you take into account the differences and, indeed, the animosities between different people who all identify under the same religion?

TOMÁŠ HALIK: I don't know if it is really the problem among refugees. That is right, that there is the cultural and political and religious problem in the Middle East, but I am afraid that many Europeans are not able to realize these differences and so on. It is not a problem of the relations between religions but also between the streams inside the religion.

QUESTION: Bettina Suleiman, fiction writer from Germany, East Germany actually.

I was very concerned about your use of secularism. I don't want to argue about words, but I think it's very important to distinguish between secularism, which is basically that there is a link between religion and secularism and something that I would call maybe heathenism or something like this.

In Germany that is very important because we basically see in the West kind of a culture of secularism where we say, "Well, you know, we come from religion and we come from Christianity mostly, and we do agree to the values. We lose the virgin birth, we lose all the miracles, we don't need that, but we still stick to the Christian values and we know what it means to love your neighbor. We know all that."

Versus in East Germany, where, to a large part—where I come from, actually—you basically have a culture of heathenism that is really communism, but suppressing religion so hard that people don't know anything about religion. They don't know the concept of love your neighbor.

I think there is a huge distinction, and that is the explanation for the fact that in East Germany we have these horrible xenophobic movements, whereas in West Germany people are really welcoming the refugees with flowers and food and so on. Of course, it is changing now because there are so many numbers and people are being concerned.

But I think it is important that in East Germany—and I find it appalling and disgusting actually—they are basically arguing on the basis of religion. They are saying we have to protect the Occident, we have to protect the Christian culture, versus they have no idea of it. It is a huge contradiction to the Christian culture and to love your neighbor and so on.

That is why I would give more credit to secularism. I would give more credit to keeping the values, losing the miracles, basically.

TOMÁŠ HALIK: Yes, it is a problem in East Germany. Especially, communism destroyed so much in the culture. There was no process of healing after Nazism. In West Germany it was the confrontation with its past, very deep, and now the democratic feeling in West Germany is very strong. But in East Germany—"Oh, it's a problem of the Westerners. They are the Nazis; we are the communists, we are the good Germans." Always in our country the communists distinguished between the "good" Germans in East Germany and the "bad" Germans in the West.

The "bad" Germans in the West confronted the past and developed one of the deepest democratic cultures in the world. East Germany is now returning to some neo-Nazism and neo-fascism and all this. It is the result of this communism, that it is normal to be atheists. But they are not atheists. The religious are now puppets. They don't know absolutely anything. They don't know what they are denying. So it is more the religious are now puppets.

IAN BURUMA: Except that Angela Merkel herself is the daughter of a pastor from East Germany, and the president of Germany is a pastor himself who is also from East Germany.

JOANNE MYERS: Please join me in thanking both Ian and Tomàš for a very entertaining discussion. Thank you so much.

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