Commentary Magazine


Europe's "Terrible Transformation"

The old balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union is no more, and tensions hitherto latent but contained have rushed into the global political vacuum. Muslims in particular, especially in the Middle East, experienced a freedom from foreign interference that they had not enjoyed for centuries. But freedom is one thing, consensus another. The relationship that Muslims will eventually reach among themselves—as Sunnis or Shiites, Islamists or nationalists, or anything else—is as indeterminate as ever. At the same time, the world of Islam has been in the process of deciding whether to accept Western modernity in whole, in part, or not at all.

Western Europe might well have been an uninvolved bystander to these dilemmas of other peoples’ identity, except for the fact that since the 1950’s and 60’s, Muslims have been immigrating in large numbers into all European countries. On account of incomplete census-taking and persistent illegal immigration, statistics are unreliable; but the figure of twenty million is widely accepted. European countries welcomed these newcomers, at first as workers, later as prospective citizens. Recently, under the banner of multiculturalism, they have been encouraged to build institutions to maintain their faith, their languages, and their customs.

Unconscious assumptions of superiority may well have misled Europeans into treating the phenomenon of Muslim immigration as purely a matter of economics. The advantages of living in Europe appeared so obvious that, it was expected, immigrants would naturally assimilate. Nobody of influence in public life paused to analyze what might be the social and political consequences of such a large-scale influx of people accustomed to defining themselves through a faith and a culture with a fierce history of war with Europe.

Organizations representing Muslim interests are now officially recognized in every European country. Also informing Islamic communal opinion and fortifying internal solidarity are mosques. In France there are 1,600 or so mosques, in Germany 2,200, and in Britain, according to one Islamic website, 1,689. Some of these organizations, and some imams of mosques, work for assimilation; others for separatism. In certain notorious cases, they seek to impose their faith and culture upon those of other faiths and culture. Obeying a traditional concept of jihad—imperialism under an exotic cover—some Muslims have committed acts of terror, notably in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain, killing and wounding many (though fewer than were killed in America on 9/11). According to intelligence sources, over 1,000 potential jihad terrorists are under surveillance in Britain alone.

In several European countries, Muslim groups seek to influence and even to dictate foreign policy. Some also assert the right to determine what may be published about Islam itself, and demand the death penalty for those exercising free speech in ways they disapprove of. In 2005-6, cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, published in a Danish newspaper, were the pretext for demonstrations in one capital after another. In London, Muslims brandished placards inciting murder: “Behead those who insult Islam.” In France, legal action was initiated (unsuccessfully) to stop reproduction of the cartoons. Following the lead of advocates like Tariq Ramadan in Switzerland or the extremist Abu Jahjah in Antwerp, some Islamic spokesmen have demanded the creation of a “sacred space” under which European Muslims will be ruled by shar’ia rather than the law of the land. Presumably this would protect, for instance, the many Muslims opposing the freedom of women, some of whom have been killed for choosing their own husbands or friends.

Ideas of this kind not only block assimilation but oblige non-Muslim majorities to consider at what point they will have to take measures in defense of their own identity. In the late 1930’s, Winston Churchill had few supporters when he warned that appeasement of Nazism was a policy for which a very high price would have to be paid. What he called a “terrible transformation” was then taking place in the world. Obviously, Muslim extremism today lacks the leadership and the power of the Nazi state of the 1930’s. But it already exhibits a dynamism, and a potential for mass mobilization, that bring within the realm of possibility another lasting transformation of Europe.

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One determining factor here, about which much has been written, is that native Europeans have too low a birthrate to reproduce themselves. Demographic extrapolations suggest that Muslims could become a majority in some places within the foreseeable future. The British towns of Bradford and Leicester, for instance, as well as the cities of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Antwerp in Belgium, Marseilles in France, and Malmö in Sweden are among many in which an immigrant minority may soon outnumber the native population. Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, articulating the hopes of numerous Muslim preachers and activists, has declared: “There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquests. The 50 million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.”

In the face of facts like these, many European policy makers have taken refuge in appeasement—an option that postpones examination and hard choices. As one Swedish politician has put it, we must be nice to the Muslims while we are the majority, so that they will be nice to us when they are the majority. Being nice, indeed, has become the order of the day.

Thus, on the grounds that the Qur’an sanctions wife-beating, a German judge refuses to grant a divorce to a Muslim woman abused by her husband. British schools are advised not to teach the history of the Holocaust or the Crusades, for fear of offending Muslim children who will have learned at home that the former is an invention of the Jews to extract money and sympathy, and the latter a Christian crime. For the same reason, municipalities redesign Christmas celebrations to purge them of religious content. Hospitals remove crucifixes from their walls. Apologies are extended to Muslims who object vocally to the Pope’s theology, or to statues or artistic images deemed haram or forbidden, or to the design on ice cream said to look like the Arabic spelling of Allah, or to observances of Holocaust Memorial Day, or to innumerable other practices and details of life taken for granted by everyone else in the society.

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Scattered across Europe today are perhaps over a million Jews, outnumbered by Muslims by a factor of twenty to one, probably more. Many Muslims, perhaps most, accept traditional stereotypes of Jews based on a few unquestioned verses in the Qur’an. Such customary prejudice is reinforced a hundredfold by the Arab and Muslim campaign against the state of Israel.

Indeed, the fate of the Jews of Europe has become linked to the fate of Israel in a way that virtually nobody seems to have anticipated. In 1996, the British historian Bernard Wasserstein published a book, Vanishing Diaspora, subtitled “The Jews in Europe since 1945.” It was a sober piece of work, but the perspective, however sorrowful, was essentially trouble-free. No danger was foreseen from the Right: Wasserstein quite correctly dismissed fascist relics of the past as having no general appeal. As a result of assimilation and intermarriage, Jews were destined simply to fade away in Europe until, he concluded, nothing would be left of them save “a disembodied memory.” Muslims rated no more than two or three passing mentions in the book, and Islamism did not feature at all.

Today it remains true that, with minor exceptions, the principal threat to European Jews does not emanate from the Right. It emanates instead from a confluence of sources: a resurgent Islam, augmented powerfully by the culture of the European Left and the force of institutional opinion as embodied in the United Nations.

In theory, the UN ought to be the forum in which it would become established once and for all that Israel is a victim of aggression rather than the aggressor. In practice, the UN is the agency that more than any other works to enshrine the reversal of reality, and that has done so with increasing openness ever since the General Assembly’s “Zionism is racism” resolution of 1975. Today, analogies between Israel and Nazism are as widespread as ever, if not more so, lately embellished by the charge that Israel practices a version of South African apartheid.

In one international forum after another, the Left has picked up and run with these vicious accusations, remodeling for contemporary purposes the anti-Jewish militancy of the Right in the 1930’s. And not just of the Right. Indeed, the ideological pedigree of today’s anti-Israel campaign in Europe can be traced less to Nazism or fascism than to the work of the Soviet propaganda machine that sprang into frenzied action after the Six-Day war of 1967. (Here, as so often, totalitarian systems become indistinguishable.) It is the Soviet-inspired condemnation of the United States and its allies, according to which the poor and oppressed everywhere are victims of American capitalism and culture, that the Left has perpetuated and revived time after time in the ensuing decades. By definition, then, Israel is in the wrong, and on two counts: as an ally of the United States, and as the alleged oppressor of Palestinians, a certified victim group of the third world.

Today’s anti-Israel Left in Europe is a massed phalanx of German and Irish bishops, Anglican canons and Catholic priests, journalists from the leading papers of Europe, broadcasters (in particular at the BBC, which has gone so far as to suppress an in-house report of its bias against Israel), parliamentarians like George Galloway and Jenny Tonge, school and university teachers and trade unionists pressing for a boycott of Israel, and many others.

The Portuguese novelist José Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, judged that a 2001 Israeli incursion into the West Bank city of Ramallah was “a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz.” Gretta Duisenberg, wife of the Dutch former head of the European Central bank, sought a symbolic six million signatures for a petition to be presented at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the Netherlands. Jan Guillou, president of the Swedish Association of Journalists, walked out of a meeting to commemorate the victims of 9/11 in protest that there was no mention of Muslims killed by Israel. According to the German socialist Oskar Lafontaine, “We must constantly ask ourselves through which eyes the Muslims see us.” And so forth. Especially helpful to today’s Left are Jews who themselves denigrate Zionism and the Jewish state. Such Jews, especially those with reputations in their professional fields, are featured prominently as signers of petitions and speakers at mass demonstrations where Palestinian and Hizballah flags are waving and the Israeli flag is likely to be burned.

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As if all this were not alarming enough, the internal workings of the European Union have made things worse. At its core, the EU is bedeviled by a contradiction. If it is to survive and prosper and become the homogeneous international body it aspires to be, then its component nations must be reconceived as local regions or states in the American sense. By the law of unintended consequences, however, this homogenizing impulse has led to its opposite: namely, the reassertion of intense nationalist feeling among ethnic minorities long suppressed by the local majority. Basques, Burgundians, Bretons, Catalans, Corsicans, Welsh, Scots, Lombards, and others, their grievances nursed down the centuries, have all laid claim to their historic territories, and the EU has striven to accommodate these claims.

But that leaves Muslim immigrants and Jews as two minorities in Europe without a territory, pitted against each other by the EU in a competition for social space. Compounding the problem, the EU has chosen between them. The consistent condemnation of Israel by Brussels, alongside the EU’s enormous and unaccountable subsidies to the Palestinian Arabs, has virtually institutionalized the polarization of these two landless communities.

Realizing too late the flaw in its doctrine, EU legislators have passed a range of laws designed to criminalize and punish both anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia.” These laws are at best an expedient rather than a genuine remedy. For the most part, they have had the effect of choking off honest debate about the reality of the Muslim condition in Europe, and of encouraging Islamic extremists to take matters into their own hands and to cry “Islamophobia” when criticized. True, the EU has also set up a unit to monitor all aspects of racism; until recently, however, its reports were suppressed and re-edited to blur the fact that the high incidence of anti-Semitic behavior is closely tied to Muslims themselves. When Brussels does not wish to hear something, it simply closes its ears.

Countries define and report anti-Semitic incidents differently, so statistics are only suggestive. But, without doubt, they correlate with developments in the Middle East—and with the media’s presentation of those developments. The latest, uncensored findings of the EU monitoring unit show that anti-Semitic incidents rose more or less steadily during Yasir Arafat’s second intifada after September 2000. In 2002, for example, an Israeli raid on a terrorist base in the West Bank town of Jenin was reported almost universally as a war crime involving hundreds, even thousands, of innocent Palestinian victims. (In fact, in an area of about 100 square yards, 52 Palestinians had been killed, of whom 30 were in militia uniforms.) Anti-Israel outrage knew no bounds. All over Europe, attacks on Jews, synagogues, and other Jewish institutions followed.

According to the same source, anti-Semitic incidents over the period 2001-2005 increased in Germany from 1,424 to 1,682; in France from 219 to 504; and in Britain from 310 to 455, leaping to 594 in 2006. The incidents themselves, the EU report finds, have ranged from verbal aggression to physical assault, and most of the perpetrators have been Muslims. The report does not identify specific crimes. To take one example, though, in 2003 a young Algerian in Paris killed his Jewish neighbor, a disc jockey of about the same age. With hands still bloody from the deed, the assailant told his mother: “I killed my Jew, I will go to paradise.” In January 2006, also in Paris, a mostly Muslim gang abducted the twenty-three-year-old Ilan Halimi, a sales assistant. When they failed to extort ransom, they tortured him, set him on fire, and left him to die.

The war with Hizballah in the summer of 2006 provoked another massive increase in anti-Semitic speech and deed. Some of the hostility was inspired by repeated denunciations of Israel’s “disproportionate” defense of its citizens by European governments and media. Speaking for many, the Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder, author of the international best-seller Sophie’s World, wrote in August: “We no longer recognize the state of Israel. . . . To act as God’s chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity.”

A well-researched report by the European Jewish Council has documented the anti-Semitism on display over the 33 days of last year’s war. In Britain, for instance, there were an unprecedented 132 incidents. In France, there were 61, as contrasted with 34 in the same period the previous year. A group in Germany counted more than 1,000 anti-Semitic acts in June and July (though most were related to Germany’s hosting of the World Cup). While taking note of both neo-Nazi and extreme Left elements in the attacks, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe, the report concludes that primary responsibility rests with Europe’s Muslim population. It might have added that the flames of anti-Semitism have been fanned by the universities, the media, and the EU itself.

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This past March, the historian Benny Morris published an essay under the title, “The Second Holocaust Is Looming.” Iran, Morris wrote, has clearly demonstrated its willingness to risk the future of the entire Middle East in exchange for Israel’s destruction. One bright morning, not too long from now, the mullahs in Qom will meet in secret session under a portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini and solemnly give the go-ahead to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has sworn to “wipe Israel off the map” and has been avidly pursuing the nuclear means of doing so. “With a country the size and shape of Israel,” Morris concluded, “probably four or five hits will suffice: no more Israel.”

Would anybody care? Morris’s tone is one of almost elegiac resignation. Europeans, he writes, did little or nothing to save their Jewish fellow-citizens in the 1930’s, and they would be no more willing to come to the rescue now. He might have added that in the past years they have busily been preparing the ground for their exculpation by insisting that Israel has brought it on itself.

A counterpart to Morris is the German writer Henryk Broder. In a recent book titled Hurra, Wir Kapitulieren (“Hurrah, We’re Capitulating”), he charges that fear, cowardice, and concern for trade have combined to push Europeans beyond appeasement to the point of outright surrender to Islam. Each and every Islamist aggression is now answered by pathetic calls for “dialogue.” Resistance is considered provocative, and a resort to force superfluous (if not illegal). As Islamization renders the continent progressively uninhabitable, illusion, denial, and defeatism reign supreme. In an interview, Broder advised young Europeans to leave while they can.

Whether one prefers Broder’s sardonic scorn or the pessimism of Benny Morris—both of them, it may be, exaggerated for effect—Europe is now on the brink of another “terrible transformation.” Jews, whether Israelis or Europeans, are testing out the extent to which European civilization really has become hollowed out from within, and unable to withstand assault from without.

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