Europe vs. Radical Islam

Alarmist Americans have mostly bad advice for Europeans.

The riots that consumed the French suburbs last November, and now the uproar over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, have underlined for all to see that the ongoing struggle with radical Islamism (aka the “war on terrorism”) is if anything more of a problem for Europe than it is for America. For the United States, with a Muslim population of less than 1 percent of the total, radical Islam is an issue to be dealt with “over there,” in dysfunctional areas of the Middle East like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For Europe, however, it is a much more immediate and threatening crisis because it is domestic. In the Netherlands, 6 percent to 7 percent of the population, and as much as half the population of large cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, are Muslim. In France, the percentage may reach to 12 or 13 percent. Many of the organizers of recent terrorist incidents—including Mohammed Atta, the Sept. 11 ringleader; the March 7 Madrid bombers; Mohammed Bouyeri, assassin of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh; and the July 7 London bombers—were radicalized not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe. Many, like Bouyeri and the London bombers, were second-generation citizens who spoke their adopted country’s language fluently.

The European dimension of the Islamist problem has been under discussion in Europe itself for some time, a topic pursued by academics like Bassam Tibi, a Syrian-born professor at Göttingen, and the French Islamicists Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel. But until the last 18 months or so, the level of political correctness on this issue has been so stifling that few politicians or journalists dared to speak openly about a subject that generates immense popular fear. Americans have not faced the same inhibitions, and there is now a burgeoning and markedly alarmist literature on the Islamic threat to Europe. The dire diagnosis of Europe’s domestic situation is perfectly justified: Well before last year’s riots, the French internal intelligence agency noted that there were dozens of neighborhoods where the French police dared not set foot. The problem is how to address the situation from here on out, and the basic issues are clear. Governments need to clamp down on extremists and jihadists in ways that do not risk further alienating minority communities; their aim must be to integrate moderate Muslims better while avoiding a right-wing populist backlash. Unfortunately, anyone looking for more specific prescriptions from America—where, after all, assimilation has a long history—will find more sound and fury than useful insights.

So far, shrill voices have dominated the field, with Pat Buchanan taking the lead several years ago with The Death of the West, and Tony Blankley, the op-ed page editor at The Washington Times, recently following up with The West’s Last Chance. Bruce Bawer now offers a more balanced, if still highly gloomy, prognosis as he surveys the European predicament in While Europe Slept. A writer and critic formerly living in New York (he got his start at The New Criterion), Bawer happens to be gay. By his own account, he moved to Europe with his partner in the late 1990s because he found the atmosphere of conservative Christianity in the United States increasingly stifling. Living in both the Netherlands and Norway and learning to speak Dutch and Norwegian, he found that the real threat to his personal freedom came not from fundamentalist Christians, but from the intolerant Muslims who were both homophobic and increasingly vocal throughout the Continent.

Bawer’s real spleen is reserved, however, for those European elites who up to now have ignored the growing threat to their democracy while blaming their problems on the United States and Israel. The Europeans he encounters remain heirs of the 1968 revolt, embracing childish anti-establishment politics that blames the world’s problems on capitalism and America, even as Muslim youths attack Jews and gays in their own midst. National leaders cozy up to Arab authoritarians and ignore popular complaints about crime in immigrant communities in hopes of buying peace for themselves. Those like Pym Fortuyn, the gay Dutch politician who was the first to say clearly that Muslims were a threat to the central Dutch values of openness and pluralism (and who was assassinated by an animal-rights activist), are denounced by the media and academic elites as fascists and racists.

Denunciations like that are precisely what Buchanan and Blankley alas invite, rather than help deflect, with incendiary warnings and unrealistic proposals that only promise to fuel intolerance. Four years ago, in The Death of the West,Buchanan expanded upon the culture war he had made famous at the 1992 Republican convention, where he pitted a Christian, family-oriented, patriotic, protectionist, and isolationist America against one that is militantly anti-religious, cosmopolitan, globalizing, multicultural, and pro-gay. In his book he spends considerable time talking about the demographic crisis in Europe, which he ascribes to the latter’s lack of the equivalent of red-state voters. Citing projections well known to demographers, Buchanan issues warnings about how Germany will lose a third of its population by 2050, how 52 percent of Italian women between 16 and 24 plan to have no children, and how these white Europeans will be outnumbered by Muslim immigrants in a few generations, thanks to the newcomers’ higher birth rates. Like Blankley—whose book, The West’s Last Chance, opens with a wildly unrealistic hypothetical scenario in which a moderate Republican senator running for president in 2007 seeks support from an increasingly militant American Muslim community by calling for the imposition of sharia law in the United States—Buchanan attributes this demographic decline directly to Europe’s loss of Christian values and embrace of feminism, multiculturalism, and internationalism.

The “West” that Buchanan believes is dying is not defined by universalist ideas of rights or dignity; it is defined by Christianity and ethnicity. If it were simply a question of having the right values, he should welcome Hispanic immigrants who share his Catholicism, or Muslims who are as socially conservative as he. But his conservatism is more the traditional European blood-and-soil type, where primary loyalty is to one’s own tribe in a world of competing tribes. And the remedies that Blankley and Buchanan advocate are destined to make the problem worse by undermining the assimilationist model that saves America from Europe’s crisis.

Blankley proposes closing the border with Mexico, issuing national ID cards, and using ethnic profiling without embarrassment. He goes so far as to suggest that Roosevelt was justified in quarantining U.S. citizens of Japanese origin during World War II, with the implication that we would be within our rights to do the same to American Muslims. Buchanan similarly looks back with nostalgia at Operation Wetback, which expelled a million Mexican guest workers in the 1950s, and chides President Bush for refusing to subject the 5 million to 10 million illegal immigrants to similar treatment today. Both Blankley and Buchanan have the same advice for the Europeans: Go back to church and have more babies. Lots of luck. Even if there were a revival of Europe’s Christian identity, the Buchanan-Blankley vision spells only more militant confrontation with the millions of European citizens who are not Christian.

There is no question that what has come to be called “Eurabia” constitutes a major problem for democracy there, a problem that European elites have been inexcusably slow to recognize and address. They operated for too long under a false understanding that liberal pluralism meant respecting the rights of communities rather than individuals, and they were not willing to step in when, for example, a Moroccan family forced their daughter into a marriage or shipped her back to Morocco against her will. Trendy multiculturalism dovetailed with traditional European corporatism and left Muslim communities in isolated ghettos, which then became fertile grounds for the growth of a highly intolerant version of Islam.

Yet the deeper source of Europe’s failure to integrate Muslim immigrants, as Bawer recognizes, is not trendy multiculturalist ideas embraced by the left, but precisely Buchanan’s blood-and-soil understanding of identity—a mind-set that until five years ago prevented a German-speaking third-generation Turk from acquiring citizenship because he didn’t have a German mother. According to Bawer, “Europeans … will allow immigrants into their country; they’ll pay high taxes so that their government can dole out (forever, if necessary) rent support, child benefits. … But they won’t really think of them as being Norwegian or Dutch. And they’ll rebel mightily against the idea of immigrants living among them as respected, fully equal professionals.” American identity, by contrast, has from the beginning been more creedal and political than based on religion or ethnicity. Newly naturalized Guatemalans or Koreans in America can proudly say they are Americans. Pat Buchanan may not like it, but that is precisely what rescues us from the trap the Europeans are in.

The alarmist prognosis in these books has been taken much more seriously in Europe over the last few months as a result of Islamist violence. The Dutch speak of the van Gogh murder in November 2004 as their Sept. 11, and the political transformation since then has been astonishing. The government has cut off virtually all new immigration into the country and given the police Patriot Act-type powers to pursue potential terrorists. Old-style multiculturalism is now widely seen as a failure in Holland and is being seriously questioned in Britain. There is a huge backlash brewing among ordinary citizens in Europe, who last year voted in France and Holland against the new European constitution at least in part because they thought it affirmed Turkish membership in the EU.

The problem that most Europeans face today is that they don’t have a vision of the kinds of positive cultural values their societies stand for and should promote, other than endless tolerance and moral relativism. What each European society needs is to invent an open form of national identity similar to the American creed, an identity that is accessible to newcomers regardless of ethnicity or religion. This was the idea behind Bassam Tibi’s concept of Leitkultur (guiding or reference culture), the notion that the European Enlightenment gave rise to a distinct and positive universalist culture based on the dignity of the individual. Muslims coming to Europe would be minimally expected to accept this perspective as their own. The German Christian Democrats timidly endorsed a version of this five years ago, only to retreat in the face of charges of racism and anti-immigrant prejudice from the left. Interest in a “demokratische Leitkultur” has been revived in the wake of recent events, however, and a vigorous debate has opened up over how to define it. There will be many missteps along the way: The state of Baden-Württemberg, for example, recently introduced a test that would require the respondent to support gay marriage as a condition for citizenship, something deliberately designed to exclude Muslims.

Time is getting short to address these questions. Europeans should have started a discussion about how to integrate their Muslim minorities a generation ago, before the winds of radical Islamism had started to blow. The cartoon controversy, while beginning with a commendable European desire to assert basic liberal values, may constitute a Rubicon that will be very hard to re-cross. We should be alarmed at the scope of the problem, but prudent in responding to it, since escalating cultural conflict throughout the Continent will bring us closer to a showdown between Islamists and secularists that will increasingly look like a clash of civilizations.