We are watching astonishing events unfold in Europe day by day.
A sober New York Times front-page headline reads “Migrant Chaos Mounts While Divided Europe Stumbles for Response.” Television news — less demure and more sensational — treats what’s going on like a sports match, doing nothing to hide which side it is rooting for. The weary asylum seekers are jubilant victors and heroes. Their defiant triumph over heartless Hungarian and Austrian authorities deserves our admiration and applause.
Hundred of thousands of migrants are pouring into Europe this summer. Millions of West Africans and Middle Easterners are eager to join them, and there is no sign the flow will subside. Turkey harbors an estimated 1.8 million displaced people.
Meanwhile, wrenching photographs surface of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy, breaking hearts and intensifying public demands for unlimited humanitarian aid. News cameras focus on the sad-eyed women and children, looking for all the world like Madonnas clutching Baby Jesuses, and this is not accidental in the battle for hearts and minds.
Embracing these aliens, we hear, is a core European value. “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” says the German chancellor Angela Merkel.
To resist is xenophobic and hateful. So aggressive, insolent men carrying cell phones, flashing victory signs, clash with overwhelmed police.
Some of them are genuine refugees, fleeing war. More dispossessed are economic migrants, and they are coming to Europe because that’s where the wealth is. Muslims comprise the great majority of the arrivals. About half of the asylum seekers are Syrian, according to best estimates. Wherever they are coming from, be it Senegal or Afghanistan, they are mainly unattached — often undocumented — young men.
Few intend or desire to adapt to European society. They may want to ride Europe’s gravy train, but by and large they feel contempt for its values. Many scorn Christians and Jews. They reject freedom of speech and religion. Most openly subjugate women and think that homosexuals should perish. Yet to hear Europe’s political class talk, accepting these newcomers and many more like them constitutes a moral test for liberal and Christian principles.
Not everyone agrees. “Everything which is now taking place before our eyes threatens to have explosive consequences for the whole of Europe,” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wrote in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on September 3, incurring broad disapproval. The Washington Post has called him Europe’s Donald Trump, which it must consider to be the ultimate insult.
“Europe’s response is madness,” Orbán said. “If Europe does not return to the path of common sense, it will find itself laid low in a battle for its fate.” The migrants are of “another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” Orbán added provocatively. “European identity is rooted in Christianity.”
This is worth thinking about, since Pope Francis now declares good Catholics have an obligation to welcome and house these arrivals.
Christianity is a faded force in continental life, the literary critic George Steiner points out in his recently published The Idea of Europe. Once saturating the culture, Christianity was mortally wounded by its “manifold role” in the Holocaust, he argues. What lies ahead for Europe after Christianity is one of the century’s great, unanswered cultural questions.
On account of their role in Middle East conflict, Europe and the U.S. arguably have moral obligations to Christian and Yazidi victims of the Syrian civil war, while letting Dar al-Islam take care of its own. That won’t happen. Christianity’s transmutation into ameliorative universalism appears to verge on the suicidal.
“The guilt trip from World War II, which one would think would gradually fade over time, seems to grow exponentially,” says an academic acquaintance who may understand the German soul as well as any living scholar. “The ultimate expiation will be to hand the whole country over to Muslims, lock, stock, and barrel.”
It seems appropriate here to recall Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall describing the Goths moving west into the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century, “rendered desolate by the loss of their native country.”
The Barbarians still wore an angry and hostile aspect; but the experience of past times might encourage the hope, that they would acquire the habits of industry and obedience; that their manners would be polished by time, education, and the influence of Christianity; and that their posterity would insensibly blend with the great body of the Roman people.
Notwithstanding these specious arguments, and these sanguine expectations, it was apparent to every discerning eye, that the Goths would long remain the enemies, and might soon become the conquerors of the Roman Empire. Their rude and insolent behavior expressed their contempt of the citizens and provincials, whom they insulted with impunity.
Call Gibbon’s barbarians what you wish. We can invent many labels for those now in transit — perhaps the “other” or “deprived” will work — to please our modern sensibilities. We can hope for the best.
But notwithstanding specious arguments and sanguine expectations, Europe faces an existential alien threat. From Charles Martel to the Siege of Vienna, it has resisted invaders and would-be conquerers from Africa and the East. In 2015 it is doing the opposite.
As things are going, this cannot end well. Most of Europe’s political class refuses to think clearly in behalf of its security and self-interest. The inundation and intramural conflicts are only beginning.