Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 22, 2007

“Europeanization, Not Islamization”

In the long chain of provocative essays on Europe and Islam hosted at Sign and Sight, perhaps the most contrarian to date has appeared. Bassam Tibi, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen and visiting professor at Cornell—and a man who rejects Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Timothy Garton Ash, Ian Buruma, and Tariq Ramadan as self-seeking sensationalists—proposes a third way. He advocates neither the total victory of the values of the Enlightenment nor the gradual appropriation of Western Europe by dar al-Islam, but the development of an explicitly political “Euro-Islam”:

We are left with the following imperative: those who seek to come to Europe must also strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system. They must want to become European and to participate in the European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. In a word: Europeanization, not Islamization. If this idea becomes a political concept of the EU, together with the political will to push it through, the Islamic enclaves of the parallel societies in city districts where the Turkish or other clearly non-European flags are brandished will no longer be tolerated. The alternative to this cultural segregation is inclusive Europeanization, not exclusion. This also goes for Islamic Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. . . .

In closing, I would like to refer to a concept developed by the last major Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, who died 600 years ago. He coined the term asabiyya (esprit de corps, or collective comradeship), to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a civilization. How strong is European asabiyya? Only when Europeanization succeeds as a democratic answer to the Islamic challenge can one speak of a strong European asabiyya in Ibn Khaldun’s sense. The crucial thing is to integrate Europe as a civilizational entity in a pluralistic world. This entity must have its own asabiyya and a clear idea of its make-up, while remaining open to others and incorporating them through Europeanization. Europe is more than an economic or business community, and it is well worth preserving it as a “beautiful idea.” This can be achieved with Islamic participation, provided the vision of Euro-Islam becomes a political concept. The task of preserving Europe with Islamic participation is a peace project for the 21st century.

It’s not as implausible an idea as it may sound. The Muslim world once possessed more sophisticated and stable political structures than Europe; “Islamized” Iberia long served as a model of religious toleration and pluralism. A “Europeanized” Muslim community (which in Tibi’s mind seems to mean one that is habituated to Western political mores more than to Western cultural mores) seems not so far-fetched in light of this history. Tibi’s essay deserves attention; read the whole thing here.

In the long chain of provocative essays on Europe and Islam hosted at Sign and Sight, perhaps the most contrarian to date has appeared. Bassam Tibi, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen and visiting professor at Cornell—and a man who rejects Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Timothy Garton Ash, Ian Buruma, and Tariq Ramadan as self-seeking sensationalists—proposes a third way. He advocates neither the total victory of the values of the Enlightenment nor the gradual appropriation of Western Europe by dar al-Islam, but the development of an explicitly political “Euro-Islam”:

We are left with the following imperative: those who seek to come to Europe must also strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system. They must want to become European and to participate in the European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. In a word: Europeanization, not Islamization. If this idea becomes a political concept of the EU, together with the political will to push it through, the Islamic enclaves of the parallel societies in city districts where the Turkish or other clearly non-European flags are brandished will no longer be tolerated. The alternative to this cultural segregation is inclusive Europeanization, not exclusion. This also goes for Islamic Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. . . .

In closing, I would like to refer to a concept developed by the last major Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, who died 600 years ago. He coined the term asabiyya (esprit de corps, or collective comradeship), to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a civilization. How strong is European asabiyya? Only when Europeanization succeeds as a democratic answer to the Islamic challenge can one speak of a strong European asabiyya in Ibn Khaldun’s sense. The crucial thing is to integrate Europe as a civilizational entity in a pluralistic world. This entity must have its own asabiyya and a clear idea of its make-up, while remaining open to others and incorporating them through Europeanization. Europe is more than an economic or business community, and it is well worth preserving it as a “beautiful idea.” This can be achieved with Islamic participation, provided the vision of Euro-Islam becomes a political concept. The task of preserving Europe with Islamic participation is a peace project for the 21st century.

It’s not as implausible an idea as it may sound. The Muslim world once possessed more sophisticated and stable political structures than Europe; “Islamized” Iberia long served as a model of religious toleration and pluralism. A “Europeanized” Muslim community (which in Tibi’s mind seems to mean one that is habituated to Western political mores more than to Western cultural mores) seems not so far-fetched in light of this history. Tibi’s essay deserves attention; read the whole thing here.

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The Aging Society

An analysis of government demographic data published this week reveals an astonishing spike in the number of Americans stricken with Alzheimer’s disease—an increase of 10 percent in just five years. The chief reason is one we could hardly regret: the great success of modern medicine.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s increases sharply with age, and many more Americans are living into their seventies, eighties, and nineties than ever have before. Among those fortunate enough to make it past age eighty-five, a whopping 50 percent are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia. The baby boomers are the first American generation to have lived their entire lives truly in the age of modern medicine (which we might roughly define as beginning with the introduction of penicillin into general use). That has made them the healthiest generation to date, and will surely make them the longest lived. It will also mean that for an enormous number of American families, the coming decades will be shaped by the contours of the slow mental (and eventually physical) decline brought on by dementia.

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An analysis of government demographic data published this week reveals an astonishing spike in the number of Americans stricken with Alzheimer’s disease—an increase of 10 percent in just five years. The chief reason is one we could hardly regret: the great success of modern medicine.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s increases sharply with age, and many more Americans are living into their seventies, eighties, and nineties than ever have before. Among those fortunate enough to make it past age eighty-five, a whopping 50 percent are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia. The baby boomers are the first American generation to have lived their entire lives truly in the age of modern medicine (which we might roughly define as beginning with the introduction of penicillin into general use). That has made them the healthiest generation to date, and will surely make them the longest lived. It will also mean that for an enormous number of American families, the coming decades will be shaped by the contours of the slow mental (and eventually physical) decline brought on by dementia.

The advance of the disease can be emotionally excruciating for the patient’s loved ones, as the afflicted person is slowly lost to them but is still very much with them. The disease can also carry enormous economic costs for the families involved, since in middle and later stages patients often need constant and intense care.

We are thoroughly unprepared for the scale of the demographic shift to come, as our society (on average) grays in the coming years. Families will learn to cope, and the nation will find ways to afford the added burdens, but it will take time and it won’t be pleasant at first, as a whole set of complex emotional, ethical, and economic challenges rush at us.

Some have begun the work of thinking through these challenges. The President’s Council on Bioethics, for instance, released a report on the issue in 2005. Leon Kass (the Council’s former chairman) and Eric Cohen also wrote a powerful article on some related questions in the January 2006 issue of COMMENTARY. Many others are at work as well. But it’s fair to say that policymakers and the bulk of the public still have no idea what’s coming, and how the life of every American family will be affected.

Here’s a hint for anyone hoping to run for President ten years from now: learn everything you can about long-term care.

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France’s “Grandeur”

In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

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In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

Chirac’s predecessor, François Mitterrand, made a dramatic flight into Sarajevo in 1992 while it was under siege and bombardment by Serbian ethnic cleansers. But this was just theater. France’s main goal in the Bosnian crisis was not to stop the killing but to keep NATO out, so that the American role in Europe might be reduced—in the interests of French grandeur. However many Bosnians might be sacrificed on this altar was of secondary concern.

Chirac has had a better record than his predecessors, cooperating with the U.S. on Kosovo, Lebanon, and recently on Iran. But his approach to Iraq, the Israel-Arab conflict, China, and other issues has been based on the pursuit of French grandeur rather than justice, prosperity, or peace.

France’s overweening amour-propre is especially troubling because of the nation’s seat on the UN Security Council. The theory behind the UN, as explained by Secretary of State Cordell Hull when it was being founded, was that “the four major powers will . . . consider themselves morally bound not to go to war . . . and to cooperate with each other . . . in maintaining the peace.” (The four powers were the U.S., the UK, the USSR, and China. France was subsequently added as a permanent member of the Security Council at the behest of Winston Churchill, in what amounted to the UN’s first act of affirmative action.)

The key phrase in Hull’s statement is “morally bound,” suggesting action based on something other than naked self-interest. Every state will put its own security first. But some interpret this in an enlightened way, leavened by a concern for the international commonweal. The U.S and the UK do so, but two other veto-wielding members of the Security Council, Russia and China, pursue national aggrandizement, pure and simple, constrained only by prudence. And France pursues its obsession with grandeur. This is the principal reason why the world body is such a hopeless failure.

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