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Who’s Sleeping More Deeply — Europe or America?

As Westerners doze, radical Islam continues its march.

by
Bruce Bawer

Bio

September 30, 2008 - 12:05 am

In my 2006 book While Europe Slept, I expressed concern about the will of Europeans to defend their freedoms in the face of the continent’s Islamization. I contrasted them in this regard with Americans, for whom, I argued, freedom is a living reality for which they are willing to fight and to sacrifice.

My book came out in the midst of the Danish cartoon crisis. And during that crisis I saw things in Europe that — quite frankly — surprised and impressed me. I saw the editors of a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, stand up for freedom of expression in the face of worldwide rioting, vandalism, and murder by Muslims and contempt on the part of foolish Westerners. I saw a Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in defiance of the UN, the EU, and most of the “international community,” stand by that newspaper and refuse to meet with Muslim ambassadors who were out to intimidate his country and to force Sharia-like restrictions on Western liberties. I saw the people of Denmark, in overwhelming numbers, stand behind their prime minister in his refusal to yield to jihad. And I saw major newspapers across Europe reprinting the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in acts of free-speech solidarity.

I don’t mean to paint too rosy a picture. The Danish response wasn’t perfect. Not a single newspaper in Britain reprinted the cartoons. And both the Swedish and Norwegian governments provided textbook cases of cowering dhimmitude. But none of that was really a surprise. What did surprise, and disappoint, me was the American political and media establishment. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush condemned the Jyllands-Posten cartoons out of hand. The State Department denounced them too, and only reversed itself after getting an earful from the Danish government, one of its few allies in Iraq. In the entire United States of America, exactly one major newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted the cartoons. And while the major broadcast networks, as well as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, reported extensively on the cartoon riots, none of them ever showed the cartoons at all.

A big part of the reason for this dismaying American response to the cartoon affair is, of course, that Islamization hasn’t progressed as far in America as in Europe, and there’s consequently an incredible level of ignorance in America both about what’s really going on in Europe and about the very nature of Islam. In the current presidential campaign, only a small portion of the electorate seems to think that the war with jihadist Islam is a major issue. The one candidate who understood best what we’re up against, and who took it most seriously, Rudy Giuliani, was ridiculed across the political spectrum for being obsessed with 9/11 — as if the events of that day had been some kind of fluke or accident that has virtually no meaning for us today.

In depressing numbers, in short, Americans seem not to grasp the lessons of 9/11 — which should hardly be a surprise, considering how many journalists and politicians keep repeating that the terrorists are betraying a great and peaceful religion, that jihad means doing good works, and so on. A while back, in response to rumors that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argued that it would be a matter of utter indifference if the president of the United States were a Muslim. Of the hundreds of people who commented on this article on the Times website, the overwhelming majority applauded Kristof for his extraordinary courage in standing up to Islamophobia. Only a tiny handful of readers noted that there are, in fact, good reasons for free people to be concerned about the possibility of a U.S. president with a devout commitment to Islamic theology and law. The American media that do report honestly on the less attractive truths about Islam, moreover, tend to be media that people are encouraged to look down upon.

Make no mistake: if Europeans are, on average, more aware than Americans of the realities of Islam, it’s no thanks to their media but rather because they can see with their own eyes what’s going on around them. Yet many of them feel cowed — not only by Muslims but by politically correct politicians and media — into keeping their opinions to themselves, and feel powerless to prevent what now seems to many of them, in any event, inevitable. In other words, fatalism has taken hold.

In While Europe Slept I also contrasted European and American approaches to immigration. Ever since the Muslim influx began some decades ago, European countries have encouraged the newcomers to retain their cultural identity, to live apart from mainstream society, and to become clients of the welfare state. America, by contrast, has traditionally expected immigrants to learn English, to get a job, and to obey the law, and if they do so they’re every bit as American as anyone else. I didn’t argue in While Europe Slept that America was invulnerable to Islamization, but I did suggest that — thanks to this very dramatic difference both in the general public’s attitudes toward immigrants and in government immigration policy — America stood a far better chance than Europe did of seeing Muslim newcomers turn into loyal citizens rather than enemies within. I think I had a valid point there, though if I were writing the book today I’d probably be somewhat less sanguine about America’s ability to integrate absolutely everyone into its melting pot. I might also be less sanguine, I’m afraid, about the endurance of Americans’ love of freedom in an age of poisonous multicultural relativism.

I do feel, however, that there’s one very important difference between America and Europe when it comes to resisting cultural jihad, and that is this: that in America, a large proportion of the people who recognize the threat of Islam and who are determined to resist it are consciously fighting for freedom — for, that is, the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. In many parts of Western Europe, this kind of certainty and unanimity about freedom — simple freedom — as a first principle can be discouragingly hard to come by. The blogger Frank Martin has written about a teenage tour guide at a World War II battlefield in the Netherlands who told him that the Allied soldiers who fell there had been “fighting for bridges, how silly that they would all fight for something like that.” Somebody like that boy, who didn’t grasp that those soldiers had died for the very freedom that he had taken for granted his whole life, is incapable of standing up for freedom against Islamofascism. Yes, there are Europeans who realize that the opposite of Islam is indeed human freedom. But in Europe, with its checkered history of fascism and socialism, there are also all too many people on the right who are mounting the barricades in the name not of freedom but of ethnic identity, cultural tradition, or religion, and all too many on the left whose cri de coeur is not individual liberty but the welfare state.

Meanwhile Europe’s cultural elites are dominated by people who seem likely to continue to smile upon Islamization right up till the moment they’re stoned to death. At a recent Norwegian conference on integration, the Swedish government representative was asked: “Is Swedish culture worth preserving?” “Well,” she replied dismissively, “what is Swedish culture?” To people like that, European culture is a void waiting to be filled with something, and that something might as well be Islam. Granted, things aren’t quite that bad in the U.S. — not even at the New York Times. Yet to an extraordinary extent, the political and cultural elites on both sides of the Atlantic are in sync in their denial of the reality we’re up against.

This was driven home to me a few months ago when I took part in a day-long conference in Washington, D.C., about the America/Europe relationship. Nearly all the participants and audience members, I gathered, were Americans or Europeans who worked in the diplomatic corps. The day was crammed with panel discussions, and from early morning until late in the afternoon we talked about nothing but America and Europe. Yet aside from me, only one other person even mentioned Islam. And he did so in the most indirect way, as if he were bringing up something indelicate. Everybody present seemed to share an unspoken understanding that this subject was off limits. Indeed, pretty much everybody seemed to agree that Europe is doing great — that it’s moving from strength to strength — and that America should be more like it in every way.

How I even got invited to such a conference I have no idea. In any case, everything I said was dismissed out of hand. One genial fellow who seemed desperate to correct my folly and bring me into the tent came up to me after my talk and said, almost pleadingly, “But don’t you think that the real problem is not Islam but Islamophobia?” And on the panel that followed my talk, a retired diplomat with decades of experience (and a masterly command of the art of condescension) mentioned in a tone of both wonder and whimsy that I wasn’t alone in my peculiar affliction; even Walter Laqueur — the distinguished octogenarian historian of Europe whom the retired diplomat, as his tone made clear, had once, but no longer, held in high esteem — had written a book making the same bizarre arguments I was making! But neither this retired diplomat nor anyone else was willing to entertain the possibility that if both Laqueur and I, and many others, had made certain arguments, there might actually be something in them; no, it was as if, in their eyes, we had all simply been bitten by some exotic bug or contracted some mysterious new infection or had giant alien pods placed under our beds while we were sleeping.

Among those who are considered experts on Europe, or on transatlantic relations, that patrician diplomat’s attitude is ubiquitous. Tony Judt, in Postwar, his acclaimed 2005 book on Europe since 1945, pronounced the continent in magnificent health and all but ignored Islam. Timothy Garton Ash, in his 2004 book Free World, did the same, only pausing briefly on pages 197 and 198 to admit parenthetically that addressing Europe’s Islamization is “the single most urgent task of European domestic politics in the next decade” — after which he amazingly returned to pretending, as he had on the preceding 196 pages, that Europe’s most urgent tasks lie elsewhere. Meanwhile one book after another on the America-Europe relationship has contended that it’s America that’s the problem — that America is out of step with the world and needs to get back into line, pronto. In the title of Clyde Prestowitz’s 2005 book, America is a “rogue nation” because it refuses to go along and get along with the rest of the planet under the wise auspices of the UN. I don’t know exactly how to characterize or understand this mass self-deception, this determination to cling to an illusion of the West in which the ongoing Islamization of Europe simply is not a factor; it would appear to be rooted partly in confusion, partly in cowardice, partly in careerism — and partly, I think, in a perhaps not entirely conscious conviction that some truths are just too sensational to speak without sounding hysterical, too repulsive to be honest about without sounding (to some ears) vulgar and bigoted, and too challenging to face without being utterly overwhelmed by the scale and the horror of it all.

What happens to the West will depend, in large part, on what happens to this pervasive self-denial and to those men and women of power and influence who cling to it as if to a life raft in a raging sea. Will Europeans who have faced the facts manage to gain power and turn things around before Europe passes the point of no return in its gradual surrender to Sharia? Will the European elites collaborate to realize Nicolas Sarkozy’s dark dream of a Mediterranean Union and develop it in the same ominous way in which the EU itself was developed, steadily compromising individual freedom and representative democracy — and leaving America increasingly out in the cold? Or will the next president of the U.S. be someone who is every bit as eager to appease Islam as the archbishop of Canterbury, resulting in a strong transatlantic alliance devoted not to the joint preservation of freedom but to the joint pursuit of dhimmitude? I’m sorry to say that a year or so ago, when it looked as if the major-party presidential candidates would be Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton — the former of whom obviously gets it, and the latter of whom, I suspect, does so as well — I was considerably more hopeful on this score than I am now.

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