Can Europe be the same place with different people in it? asks Christopher Caldwell in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. It took an American to raise an issue few here dare to.
The continent is a very different place today from what it was a couple of generations ago. Culturally and demographically it is in places almost unrecognizable. But its problems are familiar. Europe is, like the rest of the world, in the middle of an economic collapse. Fears about mass immigration and the loss of national identity have led to a rise in the popularity of ultra-nationalist political parties. Already engaged in an internal struggle with Islamic extremism, Europe is reawakening to the power of ideology.
Multiculturalism, immigration, and radical Islam have long been discussed but it has taken a nativist backlash for them to be acknowledged. At the recent European elections, white supremacist, anti-Islam, or anti-immigration parties gained significant ground throughout Europe. This included taking 17.7 percent of the vote in Austria and nearly 15 percent in Denmark. The British National Party (BNP) -- an avowedly racist organization -- received nearly a million votes and gained two seats in the European Parliament. Geert Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party currently leads the Dutch polls.
As unemployment rises some peopleare making their feelings known beyond the polling stations. A grassroots group launched recently in the UK called the English Defence League (EDL) has organized anti-Islamist protests in a variety of British cities. Scottish and Welsh branches also exist. Although the EDL claims to despise both Islamists and white supremacists equally, events on the ground would suggest otherwise; fascist elements seem to be rife within the group and their marches tend to descend into near-riots between themselves and local Muslims and anti-BNP groups.
European's politicians need to be held to account for what has come to pass. Under the fatefully misguided doctrine of multiculturalism, new arrivals into Europe are not only not encouraged to integrate into their host country, they are actively encouraged to separate themselves off from it. Governments speak to minorities through unelected, self-appointed community "spokespeople." There is no such thing as society: just different "communities." It is almost a textbook example of how to split a nation apart. And since Islamic terror came to Europe it has begun to dawn on some people that multiculturalism has provided more problems than it has solutions. Even those on the left who used to champion the policy of anti-integration have started to notice where it leads, as urban ghettoes grew into ghetto cities and completely parallel societies develop.
Violence in the streets was never going to be far behind, but few could have predicted how quickly things deteriorated. From the bombings in Madrid and London, the execution of politicians and filmmakers in Holland, the stabbing of gay politicians and stoning of women in France and the riots and death threats that followed the publication of a cartoon -- the watershed moments in recent European history have dispelled the myth of the multicultural paradise.
Yet those who presumably would not deny the existence of white racism remain determined to argue that when it comes to radical Islam and Europe, there is really nothing to see here. A much disseminated Newsweek article argued that the whole problem had in fact been overblown. The leftwing UK Observer took up the idea, accompanying its article with a time-line of the whole unfortunate misunderstanding: the war on Islamic extremism 2001-2009. It is noticeable that the same publications which have spent recent years making excuses for Europe's nascent intifada-blaming U.S./UK foreign policy for example -- are now most strenuously denying that the problem ever existed, and that if it ever did it is now over. Where, you have to wonder, did all that justifiable grievance go?
The answer is, not far. Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq, and Somalia contain European imports all too willing to kill in the name of Islam. The biggest threat the U.S. faces from terrorism is attacks launched by British Pakistanis, with 40 percent of CIA operations against terrorist networks conducted against targets in Britain. Soldiers in Afghanistan say they hear English accents while listening to Taliban "chatter" over the airwaves. A recently killed Taliban terrorist had a tattoo of his favorite English soccer team on his arm. Even as they commit their troops to NATO to fight the Taliban, it turns out European countries are providing a fair amount of the opposition as well. A society that provides both sides in a war is generally described as being in a state of civil war. They may refuse to recognize the fact, but it is a state which Europeans may slowly be arriving at.
Rather than be repulsed by the threat of virtual civil war, for some in Europe it has proven a draw. Recent threats have come from white converts; social misfits living in areas unassociated with extremism, radicalized online, not part of a terrorist cell but certainly part of a wider ideology. Andrew Ibrahim, who attended an exclusive British school, planned a suicide bombing in a shopping mall. Nicholas Roddis downloaded masses of extremist material and left a hoax bomb on a bus in 2007 with a note saying, "God is great...Britain must be punished." Nicky Reilly -- who local Muslims knew as a "nice guy, a polite young man" -- attempted to detonate a suicide bomb in a restaurant after being radicalized over the Internet by al Qaeda operatives living on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Reilly -- who had learning difficulties -- left a suicide note saying, "I have not been brainwashed or indoctrinated. I am not insane. I am not doing this to escape a life of problems or hardships. I'm doing what God wants from his Mujahideen." Even if they may sound similar, Europe's next generation of jihadists are not necessarily going to look like the current set.
Prime Minister Brown has tried to sound tough, calling Islamist terrorism "the biggest security threat to our country" and saying that "protecting Britain against this threat remains our most important job." In reality, Britain's response has been decidedly lackluster -- an ignominious surrender on the very basic notion that free speech is absolute and all citizens, regardless of their religion, are treated equally. Even those institutions that might have been relied upon to take a practical line -- such as the police -- find themselves shackled.
In October, Dutch politician Geert Wilders, an outspoken critic of Islam, was finally given permission by the British courts to enter the UK. He was originally banned by the Home Secretary in case his presence disrupted "community harmony" (translation: we in government do not trust our Muslim population not to riot), a decision Wilders called "more Chamberlain than Churchill." Upon his arrival, a vocal demonstration was held by the fanatical group al-Muhajiroun outside British Parliament. Members of the group told nearby camera crews that Wilders should "take lessons from people like Theo van Gogh" (executed on the streets of Amsterdam for criticizing Islam), that "If we had an Islamic state today, his [Wilders'] head would be on a stake," and challenged him to "come outside and face the Muslims. Come outside and feel how the Islamic punishment should be." The police stared on passively and no arrests were made.
If this all feels quite familiar, then it should. Al-Muhajiroun also arranged the protests against the cartoons of Muhammad at the Danish embassin the UK in 2006, holding placards such as "behead
those who insult Islam." This March they protested against British soldiers returning from Iraq, holding signs calling the soldiers "cowards" and "butchers." The police arrested two non-Muslims who objected. This is not to excuse their actions -- one man charged with racially aggravated harassment had his case dropped, while another was given a fine -- but their immediate arrest and that the police waited until after the event to charge the Islamists suggests that in the police's eyes, some communities are more equal than others.
The emasculation of the police was shown most unsatisfactorily last January at a pro-Palestinian
protest in London organized after Israel's intervention in Gaza. It did not take long for the focus of some protesters to switch from the plight of the Palestinians to the desire to riot. Missile-throwing Muslim protesters chased the police through the streets of central London, yelling "Run you f-- ing cowards" and "Allahu Akbar" ("God is the greatest"). Instead of bringing the mob under control, the police managed the situation by retreating in what looked like fear and humiliation.
This lack of fortitude comes from the top of government and filters downwards. Earlier this year, Home Office guidelines stated that the police should not arrest Muslims on hate crimes, such as inciting religious hatred, unless they could guarantee a successful prosecution. The "logic" behind this was that arrests without successful prosecution could aggravate community tensions. This policy was announced under the guise of a counter-terrorist strategy, but being afraid to arrest extremists in case it makes them more extreme doesn't feel much like any counter-terrorism strategy worth its salt.
Police have instead been instructed to spend more time trying to empathize with the communities they have been told not to provoke. This has manifested itself in farcical ways. South Yorkshire police recently made three of its policewomen dress up for the day in a niqab, the full face veil worn by ultra-reactionary Muslim women. The session was meant to help police relate to Muslims communities in the northern city of Sheffield.
To those of us living here, it doesn't feel as if crime in the UK is now low enough for the police to justify fancy-dress days. These types of stories would be harmless absurdities were it not precisely this type of thing that has contributed to the rise in support for white extremist groups. Paid arms of thstate try to find out how the minority of a minority feels while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that the rest of the nation feels as if it is not being listened to at all.
Any meaningful discussion of immigration remains completely off the table. In 1955 Winston Churchill called it "the most important subject facing this country, but I cannot get any of my ministers to take any notice." Little has changed. The Conservative Party, which is certain to win office next year, is so fearful of the issue that it will barely mention it in public, fearful of being regarded as "racist" or "prejudiced" by a left-wing press more intent on smearing its opponents than admitting its considerable role in what has come to pass. The demographic shift, a time-bomb that could potentially change Europe entirely, was a "subterranean conversation," according to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It always has been. And that is part of the problem.
Fascist groups are now capitalizing on European concerns over precisely these types of issues because their own governments have refused to act. Politicians continue to stick their head in the nearest sandbox, perhaps aware that a problem created by a generation could not be solved overnight. Rather than beginning to rethink the policies that have resulted in so many Europeans turning to extremist groups, they seem to have reconciled themselves to the idea that they govern a continent of several million closet racists. If this attitude persists, we are in deeper trouble than we previously thought.
Seventy years ago, Europe had statesmen who achieved greatness by facing down fascism. It is time for this generation to take up the mantle. Islamism needs to be defeated. European politicians also need to face up to issues important to the majority, rather than cowardly elites or grudge-laden minorities. Do that -- even try to do that -- and support for white extremist groups will drain. Ignore it, and it is hard to be optimistic about Europe's future.
Caldwell wonders if Europe can be the same with different people in it. The answer he clearly comes to is "No." The question now is how long it takes Europeans to reach the same conclusion. And what they will do when they come to it.
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