Berlinski : It’s a pleasure. Please call me Claire.
FP: Okay Claire. So introduce us briefly to the menace in Europe.
Berlinksi: In brief: Europeans are lazy, unwilling to fight for anything and willing to surrender to anyone; they are fascinated by decadence; they favor the bureaucracy over the corporation; they are unable to assimilate their immigrants; they no longer have children; they no longer produce much of cultural or scientific significance; they have lost their religious vocation and they no longer hold their lives to be meaningful.
FP: Sounds like nihilism and suicide to me. And just to crystallize matters, why exactly do you use the word “menace”?
Berlinski: Because the circumstances I describe have rendered Europeans more or less completely blind and incapacitated when confronting threats to their own civilization.
FP: Tell us about the threats.
Berlinski: There are two general categories. The first set of threats are what I’ll call the Return of the Living Dead. To wit, the political, religious and social conflicts of the past two millennia of European history—a history characterized by unrelenting bloodletting, mind you—have never fully been resolved, and we are seeing the consequences of that now. Many of us (Americans, and Europeans, too), thought they were resolved, but it seems we were in error. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not observing the return of the Inquisition; I am not saying the Nazis are on the march again. What I am saying is that Europe’s conflict with the Islamic world, one that dates from the era of the Crusades, remains unresolved. Europe’s reckoning with its ancient systems of class and governance remains unresolved. Europe’s infatuation with socialism remains unresolved. The conflict between the ideal of European unity and the nationalism of its member states remains unresolved. Grandiose nationalism, ancient hatreds, concentrations of power where power does not belong, pervasive class envy—sure, these have in the period since the Second World War been repressed. But the repressed returns. It is returning now.
We grew up with an atypical Europe, one dominated by the superpowers. This profoundly distorted our perception of the Continent’s essential nature. My perception, anyway, perhaps I shouldn’t speak for you. But with the collapse of the Soviet empire, Europe’s history is now re-asserting itself. So, for example, the project of European integration is coming up against its natural limits. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; these are countries that have loathed one another for millennia. We are seeing a recrudescence of violent anti-Semitism. Again, no surprise. The hatred of Jews has been woven through the fabric of European life since the early Middle Ages. We are seeing a violent conflict between Europe and Islam. Of course we are. This dates from the time of the earliest caliphs.
The second general category of threat is what I’ll call Wild Cards. In this category there are an entirely new set of problems, ones Europe has never confronted before, the consequences of which simply can’t be predicted. Europe has imported a massive number of immigrants from its former colonies and failed completely to assimilate them. The postwar welfare states have given rise to utterly unrealistic popular expectations—this is why France, for example, is now routinely crippled by what appears to be entirely pointless labor unrest. Birthrates of native Europeans have, for reasons not well understood, plummeted. (This has happened before, during the Great Plague, for example, but never through what seems to be a voluntary collective disengagement from the task of perpetuating the human race.)
I am particularly concerned with the intersection of these two sets of problems: unassimilated immigrants plus unexpurgated anti-Semitism, for example, or class conflict plus the rise of Islamic radicalism.
FP: Kindly expand a bit on Islamic radicalism and terrorist indoctrination in Europe.
Berlinski: Big, big problems. Regular readers of Frontpage know all about this, I’m sure. Radical Islamic terrorist cells in every major European city—that’s our problem, too, in a very direct way; recall that the September 11 attacks were plotted in Hamburg. European mosques have for years been importing a particularly bellicose strain of Islam—these mosques are funded by foreign money, headed by foreign clerics. Saudi Arabia now provides 80 percent of the funding for the 1200 mosques and Islamic centers in France, for example. These mosques teach the rejection of assimilation, the complete subjugation of women, grotesque anti-Semitism, jihad. There has been a proliferation, too, of radicalizing Islamicist media, disseminated through cable and satellite, the Internet. Hezbollah’s propaganda station, for example, al-Manar, is widely pumped into Europe via satellite.
Muslims in Europe have become the authors of the worst wave of anti-Semitic crime—in Europe, anyway—since the Holocaust. Attacks on Jews are rising throughout Europe, rabbis have been assaulted in the streets, synagogues torched, Jewish graves profaned. I should add that while it is Muslims who are carrying out these attacks, there is no doubt in my mind that European elites, by embracing and propagating a loosely-disguised anti-Semitism that takes the form of hysterical animus toward Israel, have encouraged and emboldened them.
Many, many Islamic spokesmen in Europe and abroad envision a Continent governed by Islamic law. Many Muslims in Europe hope for this. Not a tiny minority. That’s nonsense. Still a minority, yes, but not a tiny one—some forty percent of Muslims in Britain, when polled, say they would favor the imposition of sharia. The number of Moslems in Europe has doubled in the past decade. The birthrate among non-Muslims is sinking like lead. Islam is Europe’s most vital and fastest-growing religion. There are more worshippers in Britain’s mosques now than in the Church of England, and there are more practicing Moslems in France than there are baptized Catholics. The most popular name in French maternity wards is Mohammed. Within a generation, many European cities will have Moslem majorities. So if forty percent of these Moslems believe Islamic law should be imposed on Europe, this is obviously a cause for concern. Obvious to me, anyway. You would think it would be obvious to Europeans, as well.
FP: So it isn’t obvious to Europeans?
Berlinski: Not really. Most Europeans, when asked, will declare themselves more alarmed by American imperialism than by Islamic radicalism.
FP: This is insane.
Berlinski: Hey, how much sanity can you expect from the Continent that within living memory gave us the First and Second World Wars?
FP: Okay, we’ll come back to this in a minute. So why do you think Islamic radicalism is so widespread in Europe?
Berlinski: It’s widespread everywhere. The context—the root cause, so to speak—is the global rise of a virulent, radicalizing ideology. This ideology is the cause. Not poverty, not underdevelopment, not the existence of Israel, not the American presence in Iraq, not the sight of Britney Spears in her undergarments. But the interesting question, to my mind, is this: Why are European Muslims so much more susceptible to this ideology than American Muslims? This is a particularly important line of inquiry. I explore this at length in my book. I argue that there are many reasons. Some are as simple as this—Muslims are a smaller percentage of the population in the US; they are geographically dispersed, rather than ghettoized.
But another answer, an extremely important one, is that Europe does not seem to be able to offer its Muslim immigrants an attractive alternative, an attractive future. Muslims have done very poorly, socio-economically speaking, in Europe. This is an ongoing source of humiliation. When a viral ideology is at large, humiliation and poverty—poverty, at least, compared with the ambient society; even the poorest Muslims in Europe are still better off than Muslims in, say, Sudan—constitute a growth medium for its propagation. In the United States, Moslems have for the most part been successfully integrated into American political culture; they have been very economically successful, like most immigrants in the US. This is not so in Europe. Europe’s Moslems remain for the most part uneducated and poor. Crime rates in Moslem neighborhoods are high. Unemployment in those neighborhoods vastly exceeds national averages—Moslems comprise 50 percent of France’s unemployed, for example.
This marginalization extends to the political sphere. The percentage of Moslems in France exceeds that of African-Americans in the United States, but not one single Moslem sits in France's 577-seat Chamber of Deputies. So you’re an immigrant in France, unemployed, unemployable, you live in some neo-Stalinist housing project in Sarcelles … along comes some imam who says: No, you are not inferior to the Europeans. Indeed, you are superior. They are pigs and dogs …
I know a typical family of immigrants in Paris, for example. Five children. They’re from Batna, Algeria, which by the way was constructed by the French in 1844, as a military camp, in order to protect the roads running into Sahara. Military officers from Batna controlled the army and, by extension, state power since independence, so this was an area targeted by the FIS for particular cruelty. The eldest daughter is the only survivor of her childhood classmates—the other girls’ throats were slit in FIS massacres. The father is dead, the mother lives in a state-subsidized apartment in Paris and cleans public toilets. The eldest daughter has been in France for nine years as a legal immigrant; she’s still trying to obtain French citizenship. She speaks fluent French, albeit with a noticeable Arabic accent. Nine years in France, she still doesn’t have a job. Her youngest sister, on the other hand, has French citizenship, so she has full access to the French system of medical insurance, social security, education, job training. Her French is completely unaccented. She has a job with the national electricity company. So that’s a success story. But the oldest brother is in France illegally. His French is poor. He lives in fear of arrest and deportation. He rarely leaves his mother’s apartment for fear of apprehension. He can’t go back to Algeria, of course. Now he spends his days studying the Koran. That’s the kind of guy who becomes radicalised, who spreads the virus. This family is interesting precisely because it is unremarkable. You find families like this on every block. Some make it, like the youngest sister, some don’t. Too many don’t.
By the way, the three sisters in this family have six children of their own among them. Their birth-rate, in other words, is more than three times that of indigenous Parisians.
FP: So why has Europe been such a failure in coping with the threat of Islamic radicalism?
Berlinski: Well, for one thing, they generally refuse to acknowledge it. The problem is seen, but it isn’t recognized, its gravity has not been suitably assessed. This passivity or indifference to the threat of Islamic radicalism has complex roots, and I discuss them at greater length in my book, but essentially I believe the answer is this: Europeans have in recent memory suffered two great losses, that of their religious faith and that of its replacements—ideologies involving the idea of human perfectibility absent supernatural guidance. The failure of European experiments in Utopianism—which not only failed to provide the promised paradise but indeed gave rise to the most criminal regimes ever inflicted on the human race—has left Europeans paralyzed by shame and self-doubt. They have retreated into a kind of cocoon of technological and physical comfort; they bathe themselves in vapid clichés about “tolerance.” It would be almost unimaginable, for example, for a European politician to say of Islamic radicalism, “this is an unspeakably evil belief system and we must fight it to our last breath.” Unfortunately, not much short of that kind of resolve is of much use when you’re in a battle against what is, indeed, an unspeakably evil belief system.
Another important point is that Europe is now dominated by powerful bureaucracies. Societies dominated by bureaucracies give rise to particular habits of thought. Entry into every single EU position, for example, is based on an endless series of competitive examinations, and Europe’s leaders are bred of young Europeans who want nothing more than to pass those examinations. The governing class of Europeans, produced by exactly the same elite schools and competitive examinations, is bureaucratic, anti-entrepreneurial, and risk-averse.
So, for example, I once overheard a conversation in a Madrid coffee house between two young woman, bright students, I guessed, in their early 20s. One was apparently poised to accept a lifetime sinecure in Brussels, where she would participate in the administration of the Common Agricultural Policy. She would be a cow expert, if I understood correctly. She was among the majority of Spaniards who placed the blame for the terrorist attack on the Atocha train station not on the terrorists but on the United States. What does this woman want from life? The answer, evident from her conversation with her friend, was that above all, she wants stability. Like many young Europeans, she is completely risk-averse. The social structure that best represents this state of mind is the bureaucracy—a kind of a machine in action. But when everyone in society lives in a machine, everyone loses the ability to perceive the kind of danger that threatens the machine as a whole.
FP: I would like to talk about Denmark a bit. Illuminate for us some examples of Dutch passivity in dealing with the Islamic threat to its society.
Berlinski: Dutch passivity is something of an oxymoron, historically. Now this has its positive side, no doubt. In the Golden Age, the Netherlands was a sanctuary to religious dissenters, to intellectuals such as Erasmus, Spinoza, and Descartes, and in Holland today, tolerance remains the value above all other values. Drugs are tolerated; prostitution is tolerated; euthanasia is tolerated. So perhaps it is no surprise that now Islamic radicalism is tolerated. The Dutch state has funded, with taxpayer money, hundreds of mosques and Islamic clubs headed by radical clerics who are committed to destroying Dutch civic order. Here’s an example: In 2003, the Dutch government granted the Arab European League permission to open its first branch in the Netherlands. This was the league founded in Belgium by Dyab Abou Jahjah, a member of Hezbollah. It had already incited vicious riots and anti-Semitic violence in Antwerp. The League issued public approvals of September 11. It’s a genuinely disgusting organization. Jahjah seeks the implementation of Islamic law throughout Europe. The organization has pledged solidarity with the Iraqi insurgency. Now, why on earth should the Dutch tolerate this? Why should they give legal sanction to a terrorist organization dedicated to erasing Dutch civilization?
Of course, it hardly needs be noted again that Pym Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh were both murdered for speaking frankly about the problems posed by Islamic immigration. And no -- Fortuyn was not murdered for his stance on animal rights; the idea is absurd.
Members of the Dutch parliament are now in hiding. Fortuyn’s murderer is expected to be free by 2014. Yes, after Van Gogh’s murder, the Dutch began deporting terrorist suspects, closing extremist mosques, and shutting down Islamist web sites. But God forbid someone should say, as Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm did, that the Netherlands is at war with Islamic extremism. You know who was particularly exercised by Zalm’s alleged intolerance? The mayor of Amsterdam, the Jewish mayor of Amsterdam. He was deeply, deeply offended by this suggestion, that the Netherlands was at war with Islamic extremism—even though Van Gogh’s murderer had called for him to be murdered next! In a note stabbed with a butcher knife to Van Gogh’s chest! Then there is of course the famous story of the “Thou shalt not kill ”mural in Rotterdam. The head of a local mosque complained to police that he found the mural offensive and racist. The mayor of Rotterdam ordered the mural removed. Sums it up, really.
FP: How and why are these threats you describe not just
Berlinski: Well of course they’re not just Europe’s problem. Since when has Europe ever kept its problems to itself? Look, Europe, collectively, is a major economic power, a major diplomatic power, too—bigger than the United States in territory and population—and it is profoundly morally unmoored. Europeans do not share the American view of the world. This threatens American interests. It threatens, our policies in Iraq. It threatens our attempts to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict, our posture toward North Korea, toward Iran. If Europe is fundamentally in disaccord with American idealism—and it is—this is a big problem for us. Europe’s economic problems will inevitably be ours, too. Taken collectively, Europe is our biggest trade partner, the biggest source of foreign direct investment in the US. When Europe’s economies end up where they are inevitably headed, it is unimaginable that this will not have a profound impact on American daily life.
FP: You connect the death of Christianity in Europe with Europe’s anti-Americanism. Can you comment on this?
Berlinski: I can. It is believed, for example, by one in five Germans that the September 11 attacks were staged by the Pentagon. This is common belief throughout Europe. Why are Europeans so eager to embrace this arrant hogwash? The astonishing persistence of these beliefs, their imperviousness to revision in the face of reason or evidence, needs to be explained. What I’ve noticed is a quasi-religious and messianic character to this anti-Americanism, particularly in the way it seems inevitably to be linked to anti-modernism and anti-Semitism. Indeed, my grandmother—who would know—upon witnessing footage of the anti-American rallies in Europe prior to the invasion of Iraq instantly reached for the word “Nuremberg.” It is this mystical element of the anti-American movement that is both most interesting and alarming. Freud’s reflections about religious belief might better be applied to European anti-Americanism: “The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.” Anti-Americanism, particularly as it is expressed in Europe, seems to me more than an expression of simple inanity, nostalgic yearning for greatness past, or an external projection of failed social programs. The critical question, I think, is what kind of spiritual void, what kind of existential emptiness, does anti-Americanism serve to fill?
You know, to the extent that anti-Americanism is a religious surrogate, so is Americanism. I note in my book how much more hopeful for the future Americans are than Europeans—at least they declare themselves to be, in opinion polls. It is quite possible that Americans feel more hope because they are more religious in a conventional sense. But Americans also have an idea of what it is to be American, and it is still possible to believe that this represents something greater than oneself. America’s sense of itself doesn’t include the memories of the Somme and Passchendaele; it doesn’t include the memories of Auschwitz and Dachau. It is still possible for Americans to revere their own nation without irony, to revisit its past without despair.
Americans also worship at the temple of Democracy; this too is a functioning religious surrogate. In the standard trope of presidential elections, the defeated candidate defers to the higher authority of the people. We must now unite around our Commander-in-Chief because the people have spoken. Europeans practice democracy. But they do not worship it.
FP: Are any of Europe’s criticisms of the United States legitimate?
Berlinski: Sure, of course. The United States is imperfect, like all human societies. Some Europeans are serious, rational and sober critics of American foreign policy, but a large number and even a majority, it seems to me, are responding to something that has nothing to do with America. We have to explain the completely disproportionate animus. Where, for example, was all this political energy when Europeans were confronted with the disintegration of Yugoslavia? Nowhere to be seen. Europe was indifferent. The members of the European Community squabbled. Genocide in Europe—once again—was halted only by American intervention. And a decade later, no one even talks about it. Saddam Hussein’s regime was rooted in the aftereffects of European fascism and anti-Semitism, but his annihilation of the Kurds and Marsh Arabs left Europeans indifferent. The American invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam, however, outraged them. Genocide in Sudan? No one in Europe cares. But the majority of Europeans earnestly believe that the United States is the second-greatest threat to world peace.
FP: What do you think is the worst case scenario in terms of the future of Europe?
Berlinski: Just recently Mark Steyn wrote that “[t]he only question about Europe is whether it's going to be (a) catastrophically bad or (b) apocalyptically bad,” and since he wrote those words while defending my book against its critics, I am not inclined to disagree. The specifics can easily be imagined, given what I have described above. France is a nuclear power. What will happen when it’s a majority-Muslim nuclear power? And not a majority-Muslim state in the way that Turkey is a majority-Muslim state, but in the way that Lebanon is?
FP: What will Europe have to do to save itself?
Berlinski: The single most important thing Europeans can do, practically and immediately, is to take urgent steps better to integrate its immigrant population. Not an easy task by any means and perhaps an impossible one. But here is the fact: immigrants are in Europe to stay. They must be integrated; there is no acceptable alternative.
The only hope for the integration of these new Europeans is dramatic social and economic reform. End multiculturalism as a doctrine. All immigrants must learn to speak the language of their new countries. Not another penny to fund extremist mosques and Islamic clubs. Deport the fire-breathing imams. Most urgently, Europe’s economies must be liberalized to give those at the bottom of the latter a point of entry. No more job protection for pampered Sorbonne students. No more lavish social payouts.
Right now economic initiative throughout Europe is crippled by excessive taxation, rigid labor laws, labyrinthine bureaucratic regulation. The European Union issues some 80,00 pages of regulations a year. It requires far more paperwork to start a small business in most European countries than it does to become inscribed on the welfare registers. Venture capitalists steer clear of Europe, preferring to invest in the United States. Scientific initiative and scholarship is stifled in Europe too—between 1900 and 1920, France produced 20 percent of the world’s Nobel Prize winners and the United States produced three percent. Between 1980 and 2000, France produced only three percent of the prize winners; the United States, 58 percent. The world’s great universities are no longer in Paris and Heidelberg and Bologna. They’re in the United States. Europe’s most talented scientists and researchers have moved en masse to the America, where funding is more generous, facilities are superior and the culture more meritocratic. There is, by the way, still an enduring and seemingly ineradicable split in European cultural life between the humanities and the sciences. By comparison with the States, Europe is scientifically illiterate in a double sense: Leading intellectuals know nothing about science, and science is widely regarded as some sort of technological tinkering.
Without economic reform, there will never be the kind of social mobility in Europe that gives people at the margins of society hope. The system as it stands now is just nuts. You know, I have a friend in Paris who was working as a contractor for Total. They fired him after two years because French labor law prohibits employing contractors for more than two years; this to ensure that no corporation can evade paying a laborer his enormous due in social security. They declined to hire him as a permanent employee because it would then have been nearly impossible, under French labor law, ever to fire him. No one could be found with equivalent knowledge and competence to replace him at his salary, so they had to hire two inexperienced new contractors to do his job. So my friend is on the dole, where, by law, he is paid a percentage of the salary of both new contractors—130 percent of his former salary! Needless to say, he is not looking for a new job. Politicians who so much as whisper about reforming this system of jobs-for-life and the spigot-dole are—well, you see what’s happening to poor Monsieur Villepin, don’t you?
FP: Yes, I do. So how will this kind of reform ever happen?
Berlinski: Beats me. That’s why I called the book Menace in Europe, not The Bright Future of Europe.
FP: Claire, it was a real pleasure to speak with you, thank you.
Berlinski: My pleasure, Jamie.
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