April 27, 2003

PITY WE LOST EUROPE

How the West Can Be One (TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, April 27, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
Americans and Europeans have an overwhelming common interest in seeing democracy, peace and prosperity spread through the Middle East -- not least, so that Israel is one day physically connected to the West by a patchwork of Islamic or post-Islamic democracies. This means handing back Iraq as soon as possible to the Iraqis and supporting their federal or confederal democracy. Then, and urgently, it means trying to make progress toward secure, viable states of both Israel and Palestine. One unintended consequence of the war on Iraq is that this can no longer wait. The Palestinian question is now, for the Arab and Muslim world -- and for many Europeans -- the litmus test of whether the Bush administration means what it says about liberating and democratizing the Middle East rather than occupying and colonizing it. [...]

At the moment, Europeans and Americans don't even see the threat the same way. During the cold war, Berlin always felt itself to be more directly threatened than New York; now it's the other way round. I have no doubt that the collapse of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, was the true beginning of the 21st century. The combination of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, whether by rogue states or rogue groups, is one of the greatest new dangers to all free countries. Americans have woken up -- been woken up -- to this in a way that most Europeans have not. Europe has not yet had its 9/11. There is both hypocrisy and an ostrichlike head-in-the-sand quality about much European discussion, or nondiscussion, of these issues. Tony Blair is the exception who proves the rule. Criticizing America, Europeans sometimes are, as Kipling famously put it, ''makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep.''

However, it is not simply that Europeans feel less threatened by Islamic extremism; in other ways, we feel more so. There are now at least 10 million Muslim immigrants living in the European Union, not to mention the more than 5 million who have lived elsewhere in Europe for centuries in places like Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. European fears that this Muslim population could be radicalized by events in the Middle East are neither unfounded nor ignoble. Over the next decade, Europe will probably take in another 10 million Muslims, plus at least another 60 million if the E.U. delivers on its promise to include Turkey, which the United States has been urging us to do. As the native European population ages, we could soon find that 1 in every 10 Europeans is a Muslim. It is our elemental concern that peaceful, law-abiding Muslims should feel at home in Europe, and in the West more broadly.

Please remember that the democratic politics of Europe have been rocked over the last few years by populist parties that won a large share of the vote essentially on one issue: hostility to immigration. In Europe today that means, especially, Muslim immigration: Moroccans in Spain, Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in Britain. (I have just bought my newspaper from a Muslim news agent, picked up my cleaning from a Muslim cleaner and collected my prescription from a Muslim pharmacist, all in leafy North Oxford.)

America is much better than Europe at making immigrants of all creeds and colors feel at home. Obviously, it helps that almost everyone in the U.S. is an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. America also has a capacious, civic national identity, whereas Europe has a patchwork of exclusive, ethnic national identities. Have you ever met anyone who identified himself or herself as a ''Muslim European''? It actually seems easier for religious Muslims to integrate into a religious but pluralist society like the United States than it is for them to integrate into the very secular societies of Europe. So here we can learn from you. [...]

Europeans also tend to have a different analysis of the threat, one that pays more attention to the political causes of Islamist terror and, in particular, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestine is the great symbolic cause of the Arab-Muslim world, repeatedly embraced by Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the whole Arab League and the ''Arab street'' -- hypocritically, perhaps, but nonetheless effectively. Many Europeans feel that giving the Palestinians a viable state could be a bigger contribution to winning the war against terrorism than deposing Saddam Hussein. In this respect, Tony Blair is very much a European. He has extracted from Washington a commitment to revive the ''road map'' for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I was deeply depressed the other day to hear from a well-placed American political insider, a Democrat, that no real progress on the issue can be expected until after the November 2004 presidential elections. The Bush administration now has to prove him wrong. Perhaps if Bush had not started the war against Iraq, Palestine might just have waited that long; but he did, and so it can't.

At this point, I should mention a charge made by some conservative commentators in the United States. This is that European support for a viable Palestinian state reflects hostility to a viable Israeli state, which in turn reflects Europe's ancestral, almost genetic anti-Semitism. Vicious attacks on synagogues and individual Jews in European cities are rolled into one poisonous European ball with reasoned criticism of both the Sharon government and the Bush administration's outspoken support for it. For a European to criticize Sharon is for him or her to be an anti-Semite. ''What we are seeing,'' wrote Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post last April, ''is pent-up anti-Semitism, the release -- with Israel as the trigger -- of a millennium-old urge that powerfully infected and shaped European history.'' He continued, ''What so offends Europeans is the armed Jew, the Jew who refuses to sustain seven suicide bombings in the seven days of Passover and strikes back.'' It's ''those people'' again, the Europeans.

I have no doubt that there is still anti-Semitism in Europe today. Broadly speaking, it's of three kinds. There's the virulent anti-Semitism of some Arabs living in Europe, a minority within that minority; there's the very nasty anti-Semitism of the old and new far right in some European countries; and there's the residual, mainly verbal anti-Semitism of parts of the wider population. Yet there are also many, many Europeans who are pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israeli, let alone anti-Semitic. Some of them take a grimly realistic view of Yasir Arafat and his weak, corrupt Palestinian Authority.

To tar such reasoned European critics of the policies of Ariel Sharon with blanket charges of anti-Semitism is offensive -- especially to those of us, Jewish or not, for whom the Holocaust remains central to our whole understanding of liberal politics. In particular, many of us understand the whole European project embodied in the European Union as being, at its deepest core, about the post-Holocaust ''never again.'' [...]

A more united Europe and a less arrogant United States should work together with all the peoples of the Middle East to do for them what we did with and for the peoples of Middle Europe during the cold war. This can be our trans-Atlantic project for the next generation. Here's how we put the West together again.

Shall we talk about it?

As a threshold matter, it seems odd that the only group devoid of anti-Semitism in Mr. Garton Ash's formulation, is the Left, which, as any even casual reading will tell you, is the most virulently anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian segment of European-American intellectual opinion. Anti-Zionism may not make you anti-Semitic, but the difference is not unlike saying that being pro-Jim Crow, for cultural reasons, doesn't make you a racist personally. If the effects of your politics are to fan flames of hatred, you have to take some responsibility for that fires that break out, don't you?

But, on the broader issues raised, isn't the question really whether Europe itself will remain democratic and (relatively) prosperous? As he himself notes, either explicitly or implicitly, Europe faces the following problems: declining population; the post-Christian cultural morass; increasing Islamification; hatred of Muslims (and Jews) by "Europeans"; inadequate military spending; etc. Never mind the Middle East, for now, unless we've all given up on the future of Europe (which I have but others seem not have, as yet) isn't this generation's most important Trans-Atlantic project to save Europe itself?

This "project", by the way, is as daunting as the one that faces us in the Middle East and is just as uncertain as to outcome. Consider what will have to done if Europe is to be restored to health: religious/moral revival; boosting of fertility rates, including severe limitations on abortion; privatization of the massive Social Welfare States; abandonment of the EU as a governing structure and its reduction to a trade coalition, similar to and integrated with NAFTA; integration and Westernization of internal Muslim communities; and so forth. Until this process is well underway, it seems a little precipitous for Europeans to be worrying about their relations with the U.S. or the problems of Palestine. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2003 6:42 AM
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