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Merkel's Message to the West: Be Not Afraid

German Chancellor Angela Merkel this month told an audience of her Christian Democratic Union party colleagues that Germany’s decades-old policy of multiculturalism has “utterly failed.”

The political backdrop here is growing German popular opinion against immigration. This sentiment is fueled by the sense that immigrants, especially Muslims, reject the fundamental values of the country to which they have moved.

Looking over a society divided between Muslim immigrants and native-born German citizens, Chancellor Merkel argued that government policy should seek to incorporate immigrants by teaching them how to speak German and by integrating them into the workforce and into society generally. Merkel’s speech is a profound break with the obeisance that Western societies have been paying to multiculturalism since the 1960s. It acknowledges that Western liberalism is sufficiently worthy of preservation to expect at a minimum that those who live in Western liberal society should understand its language, laws, and basic tenets.

However, Germany is not alone in facing the consequences of a bifurcated society. Nearly all liberal democracies suffer from one dismaying result of multiculturalism: increasing intimidation of the media by Islamists and the slow but steady undermining of our tradition of free speech.

How was such an important departure from the assumptions of the past half century reached? In his poem “Youth and Age,” Samuel Coleridge Taylor looks wistfully at aging. “Ah! for the change ‘twixt Now and Then,” he writes. Changes in people you see daily go largely unnoticed. If you haven’t seen someone for a long time, the transformations are apparent at once.

This applies equally to politics. Think back more than 20 years to when Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses. A year later — in February 1989 — Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a decree calling for Rushdie to be murdered. I was an official at the U.S. Defense Department at the time and I am happy to say that the U.S. government took note and considered how best to protect him should the need arise. Even the European public stood to defend Rushdie’s freedom of speech. The writer Ian McEwan is said to have hidden Rushdie, as did Christopher Hitchens, before more formal protection could be offered. Rushdie was invited to the stage at rock concerts in England and received a thunderous and approving reception. Twenty years ago states and the public together supported free speech.

Two decades later it’s quite a different story. After the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (the Jutland Post) published its cartoons of Mohammad in September 2005, Denmark and its courageous Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen stood alone.  Imams in Denmark and ambassadors from nearly a dozen Muslim-majority states sought a meeting with Rasmussen to, as the American writer Tom Wolfe put it in 1970, “mau mau the flak catchers.” The prime minister steadfastly refused to take part in such antics. He responded in a letter noting that “freedom of expression has a wide scope and the Danish government has no means of influencing the press.”

How far we have come. The Bush administration shamefully declared that “we find (these cartoons) offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.” American conservative publications barked but did not publish the cartoons.

The Obama administration echoed its predecessor’s mindless efforts at appeasing the unappeasable. One of the religious leaders who was invited to speak at a prayer service that preceded President Obama’s inauguration two years ago was Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America. In 2007, U.S. federal prosecutors included the Islamic Society of North America along with almost 300 other co-conspirators in a criminal case that accused the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Texas, of having funneled more than $12 million dollars to Hamas, which the U.S. government had officially designated as a terrorist group in 1995. A small Washington political journal picked up on the story. Otherwise the U.S. media largely ignored it.  Such events have now become sufficiently normal to merit little or nor interest.

No matter where you look, our free media, governments, and publics are increasingly open to Muslim intimidation. More worrisome, a growing body of opinion implicitly holds that appeasing such intimidation will diminish or overcome it. Last year the Yale University Press published a book on the Danish cartoon incident. After a lot of consultations the Press decided not to publish the cartoons but also to leave out illustrations of Mohammad from an Ottoman print, a sketch by Gustave Dore, and an episode from Dante that Botticelli, Blake, Rodin, and Dali have all depicted. So it is now clear that at least one highly respected Western academic institution whose single most important intellectual principle is freedom of thought can be intimidated into self-censorship by not even so much as a spoken or written threat.

Late in September a cartoonist for the Seattle Weekly, Molly Norris, disappeared. It had occurred to her that if enough people make it clear that they support freedom, those who oppose it will retreat. She advocated an “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.”  An American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, now hiding in Yemen to escape being killed or captured for his leadership in al-Qaeda, issued a fatwa for Norris’s murder. Norris changed her mind about the proposal — understandable in the circumstances — and on the advice of government security personnel is now in hiding.  A couple of U.S. journals recorded the event. Otherwise it was ignored. We have come to accept intimidation as normal.

Americans, however, are not alone in appeasement or self-censorship. Seven years ago a report on anti-Semitism in Europe was commissioned by the European Union and authored, among others, by Professor Walter Bergmann of Berlin’s Technical University. The report found that Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups were responsible for a large portion of anti-Semitic violence in Europe. The E.U. decided not to publish the report.

Professor Bergmann said publicly that E.U. officials feared that “the report will discriminate against Muslims and that this would show that the E.U. was siding with Israel.” E.U. spokespersons said that the reason for withholding publication was the “insufficient scope of the work.” It’s another example of self-censorship which is all the more disturbing because of Europe’s history. Will a continent that claims to value human rights so deeply be able to preserve them if it cannot face the disagreeable truth of rising anti-Semitism?

Can ignoring the rights of one group to protect the sensibilities of another lead to greater respect for the basic human freedoms we all hope to enjoy?

Muslims praying in the streets of Paris raises the same issue. No one objects to their praying in mosques. But there are laws against praying in streets and blocking the access of those who live in buildings along them. When these laws are deliberately broken to demonstrate the mob’s power and the police stand by as observers, where are we going? And I ask the same question when the man who videotaped the large number of Muslims praying in the streets is threatened with death. Where does all this lead?

Nowhere good is the obvious answer. Europe may experience increasing terror and efforts to intimidate the press and snuff out the academic freedoms which are at the core of shared trans-Atlantic values. Just as likely are other invidious expressions of Muslim colonization as demographic shifts continue to diminish the majority of native European populations. A severe reaction in Europe could be worse than the ill that provokes it. Most of Europe has gone to great lengths to convince itself that external threats are a relic of a past they’d just as soon forget. The gathering momentum toward self-disarmament is an invitation to trouble.

Turkey, for example, possesses NATO’s second largest military — after the U.S. The Turks have gone on military excursions in Europe before, for example in the Balkans in the 14th and 15th centuries: they reached as far westward as the gates of Vienna in the late 17th century. An increasingly Islamized Turkey could respond to a European reaction in the face of Muslim excesses by using force, and there’s not much that Europe’s shrinking militaries could do, now and even less in the future.

So what is to be done? Turkish voters have recently approved constitutional measures proposed by Prime Minister Erdogan that, among other things, will give him more power to increase judges in the senior parts of Turkey’s judicial system and tighten his control over the military. This trend is likely to tilt the country away from secular and toward Islamic control.

Turkey’s sponsorship of the effort to break Israel’s blockade this past spring expresses the same political direction. Do we really want this powerful, centrally located, and strategic state to continue its drift into Islamization? Should we not be seeking to bring it closer to us rather than drive it in the direction of the Iranian clerics? How democratic must we look to a Turkey whose application to join the European Union is dismissed out of hand by the older and more democratically experienced members of the Western alliance?

In Aesop’s well-known fable the sun wins the contest with the north wind over which can make the traveler remove his cloak.  The E.U. chose the north wind’s approach in rejecting Ankara’s application, and the partial consequences speak for themselves as Turkey drifts slowly toward an Islamized, religious state.

However, as important as military and diplomatic actions are to the future of trans-Atlantic relations, they are dwarfed by the ideas that are the foundation of the relationship between Europe and the United States. The most basic of these ideas is political freedom and the most tangible expression of freedom is in what we write and say. These freedoms are under attack today, as I stated in the first part of my remarks. They are under attack from Islamists who regard freedom of speech as a challenge to their ambition for power, and who see the questioning and rational discourse that characterize the liberal tradition as a threat to the subservience of women, vilification of non-believers, and justification for violence that today most accurately describe what they stand for.

And in our self-censorship, we aid them. The West is threatened by a host of dangers today: terrorists, pacifism (especially in Europe), nuclear proliferation, and the ambition of powers such as China whose notions of international order are profoundly different from our own. But no threat is more immediate than our willingness to allow intimidation to lead to self-censorship and the acceptance of such intimidation as a normal state of affairs. No threat is greater than our loss of outrage at the slow but steady bending to fear that the examples I mentioned at the beginning of this article demonstrate.

Freedom, as Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural speech as governor of California, is threatened in every generation. “Be not afraid,” repeated John Paul II three times during his installation sermon. There is nothing more important in protecting the values at the core of the West than to take his advice. Self-censorship in the face of Islamist violence directed against free speech does not demonstrate respect for other cultures. It shows fear. And it underlines Chancellor Merkel’s warning about the failures of multiculturalism.

This article is adapted from a presentation the author delivered at a conference sponsored in Brussels the week of October 11th by the International Republican Institute and the Centre for European Studies.