The massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, is part of a global terrorist movement that has been building for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. European leaders and international bodies like the United Nations need to directly address the powerful forces that are feeding and driving the global resurgence of white nationalism and the violent groups and individuals who march under its banner.
Europe has been undergoing a deep, destabilizing shift for the last two decades as fertility levels in one nation after another have collapsed. The rise of economic prosperity and respect for women’s choices — to pursue careers outside the home, or to have few or no children — has led to smaller and smaller households across every European nation.
That’s good news for any one family. But when average family size in a nation slips below the fateful size of 1.4 children per woman of childbearing age, the overall effects are astonishing: Within 45 years, the size of that country will shrink 50%.
This is widely known in European capitals. In 2014, Italy had the smallest annual number of births since the modern nation was formed in 1861.
“We are very close to the threshold of nonrenewal where the people dying are not replaced by newborns. That means we are a dying country,” said Italy’s health minister at the time.
In Portugal, where birth rates have fallen to 1.2, a Financial Times article in 2015 called the nation’s plight a “perfect demographic storm,” and noted that hundreds of villages in the country are inhabited by shrinking numbers of elderly residents.
“Without a new influx of people, the interior of Portugal will be practically empty in 25 years,” according to one study.
In 2006, Vladimir Putin declared population decline “the most acute problem of contemporary Russia.” The country has tens of thousands of uninhabited “ghost cities,” and a Bloomberg News article projects that the population could drop from 144 million to 119 million by 2050, with a 28% decline in the number of women of childbearing age.
For more than a decade, desperate European leaders have turned to immigration to stave off societal collapse. But they failed to hold an honest public discussion about the high stakes and the need for new, younger families to run Europe’s factories, restaurants, hospitals and schools.
As African, Asian and Middle Eastern families have poured into Europe — often at the explicit or tacit invitation of European leaders — one result has been the sharp rise of a far-right, anti-immigrant movement. A lack of clear leadership has allowed demagogues and violent extremists to feed on broad public uneasiness.
“This is a person who was radicalized much more inside Europe, inside France,” Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group global think tank said of the New Zealand shooter. “If you see the average French [citizen], they think that 33% of France is Muslim, when in reality, it’s only 6 or 7%.”
Bremmer links the problem of far-right violence to the European political crisis. “If you really want to talk about where some of these ideas have been germinated, are exploding across the world, it’s not here in the United States. It’s actually in Europe, and that, if you look at where his ideology has come from, where he’s been motivated and inspired from, those are where the problems are.”
Sure enough, the first lines of the New Zealand murderer’s manifesto are: “It’s the birthrates…the birthrates must change. Even if we were to deport all Non-Europeans from our lands tomorrow, the European people would still be spiraling into decay and eventual death.”
World leaders should mobilize their societies to attack the population question with the same sustained vigor as we focus on climate change. Let’s take the initiative away from the terrorists with cool heads, straight talk and honest conversation.