There is an idea growing in right-wing circles in the US that part of the reason for the divergence between the US and Europe over the war on Iraq and the issue of Islamicist terrorism is that Europe is subject to a gradual takeover by Islam through the mechanism of immigration from Islamic countries. The fact is that commentators who see this are being misled into overestimating the social effect in Europe of Muslim immigrants, and underestimating the long-standing differences between American and European culture. The first illusion is that there are many political battles in various European countries which appear to be between “native” Europeans and Muslim immigrants. In fact, these political issues are argued between left and right within the native political community, with the immigrants themselves as interested but largely powerless bystanders. It could be argued that it makes no difference whether the Islamic side is being advanced by its own effort or by that of native allies, if the effect is the same, but the fact is that the allies (usually on the left) are only able to hold these pro-minority positions and achieve power while the Muslims are not seen as a threat by the majority population. In fact, in Britain at least, the Muslim population as a whole is not seen as any threat at all. Though a significant percentage of the population, they come overwhelmingly from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and their culture does not include any recent history of jihad, such as can be found in North Africa and the Middle East. Those Muslims in Britain who have become prominent in the media advocating jihad, such as the infamous Abu Hamza, are of a totally different cultural background and are completely unrepresentative of the Muslim population in the country. That is not to say that there can not be any problems with Muslim immigration in Britain, but it is not of an unprecedented kind. Tensions can rise in areas with very large immigrant populations, but these are triggered the usual political issues – conflict over allocation of government resources, and so on. The Muslim immigrants to Britain are integrating slowly into British culture. Note that the Indians and British have been linked for a hundred and fifty years, and there is a lot of common ground beyond tea and curry. Europeans feel much less threatened by terrorism than Americans, having in many cases lived with it for generations. While the World Trade Centre attacks caused a larger scale of death than Europe has experienced from terrorists (but not from WWII), the sequels have been much nearer the scope that Europeans have come to accept. Also, extremist Islam is not a new or unfamiliar enemy to Europeans. France has been fighting for half a century; Britain fought a 50,000 strong jihadi army under Muhammad Ahmand at Omdurman. The battle was of course extremely one-sided, but the only thing making the handling of the enemy more difficult today is the necessity to limit civilian casualties. Carpet-bombing Fallujah from the air would be the equivalent in force ratios to Kitchener’s Maxim guns in the Sudan. The recent murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by Islamist extremists illustrates one further point. In the days following, more than 20 Mosques or Muslim schools have been burnt down. For a European country, the prospect of a civil war against radicalised Muslim immigrants is something to be feared, but there is no need to fear losing one. At the end of the day, like any other immigrant group, Muslims in Europe live on the sufferance of the majority population. The Muslims would trigger genocidal violence against themselves long before they could become a serious threat to the host populations. This is little comfort from a humanitarian viewpoint, but it exposes talk of “Eurabia” as so much hyperbole. Another factor which has tended to mislead American observers is, I suspect, that during the period of the cold war they tended to underestimate the differences between Europeans and Americans. Confronted for the first time with these differences in the context of the war on Iraq, they are falsely attributing long-standing attitues to Islamic influence. One longstanding European position is secularism. While the trappings of Christianity survived past the middle of the twentieth century, the Northern European countries have not been Christian for a hundred years, or in the case at least of France, for two hundred. Another of these attitudes is anti-Americanism. I believe that this is pervasive across the European elite, at least at an emotional level. This emotional attitude can be suppressed for political reasons, and largely was during the cold war, but if one considers the substantial minority of Europeans who saw the USA as more of a threat than the USSR through the 60s and 70s, it is hardly surprising if a larger group is more afraid of the vastly more powerful USA of the 21st century than of the likes of Saddam Hussein. Nor is this fear of the USA as irrational as some Americans might think. Western Europe has not been in conflict with the USA since the end of the Second World War, but that was a result of Europe’s acceptance of American dominance in the face of the threat of the USSR. With that threat removed, many Europeans wish actively to prevent a single-superpower world. The rhetoric is about providing a balance or counterweight to American power, as in some quotes from an article in The Observer:
“The implications of a unipolar world are bad for everyone concerned. If America stands aloof from global problems, it is accused of isolationism. If it intervenes, it is accused of imperialism. Either way, it becomes a target of resentment and violence. For the rest it means frustration and impotence.
Complaining won’t do any good. The rest of us have to raise our game and provide America with partners they can’t ignore. For Britain, that means building a more united Europe with a more coherent foreign policy and a strong single currency. It’s either that or another American century.”
– David Clark, former special adviser to Robin Cook at the Foreign Office.
“If one country must be so dominant militarily, then it is probably better that it is the United States rather than another country. However, history suggests that such dominance leads to abuse and it is encumbent on the rest of the world to find ways of restraining the United States through international law, countervailing power and dialogue.
The European Union, which has achieved parity with the United States in trade and investment, has a major responsibility in this endeavour. Plans for a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) therefore need to be accelerated and EU governments need to commit adequate resource to it”.
-Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
These people are not commentators or pundits, they are policy makers. Implicit in phrases like “find ways of restraining the United States through … countervailing power” is the option of at least credibly threatening the USA with military conflict. This is one of the major driving forces behind enlarging and strengthening the EU. If European politicians are already thinking in terms of fighting against the USA, then they are not going to be in any hurry to oppose the wave of Islamism which is currently the USA’s most active enemy. Just as France supported North American rebels against the British Empire in the 1770s, and Britan and France supported the Confederacy against the Union in the 1860s, these Europeans are likely to be sympathetic to any minor power that is likely to weaken the USA. I am attempting to characterise a political view that is widespread across Europe. In Britain, it is known as the “Post-War Consensus” — essentially the mainstream political othordoxy prior to the Thatcher revolution. It is a significant minority view in Britain, but is
still the dominant ideology across much of the Continent, notably France, and, equally importantly, in the institutions of the European Union. The key elements of this ideology are a highly regulated economy, protected industry, the welfare state, and international institutions such as the EU and the UN. Since 1980, some compromises have been made on the economic front, towards liberalisation of trade and deregulation of markets, but they have been strongly resisted and there is still a huge constituency for reversing them. It can be described as a left-wing but it was shared by the mainstream right until the 1980s, and is in a sense conservative — seeking to return to the status quo of the 1960s and 70s. If you ask a member of this group whether there is a “clash of civilisations”, he will probably tell you that there is. But the threat to civilisation he sees is not militant Islam, it is Hollywood, and deregulated markets, and globalised world trade. It is not the crescent moon that is overwhelming Old Europe — they’re coping with that fairly well — it is the Stars and Stripes that is the banner of the enemy. That is the real problem, as far as many Europeans are concerned, with the War on Terror. There are ways of dealing with a terrorist threat at home, other than attacking its sources abroad. These ways may be more effective or less effective, but that is not the issue. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, whatever their effect on Islamist terror, demonstrate that there is one military superpower in the world, that can act alone even beyond its traditional “sphere of influence”. This is more of a shock to them than a few airliners flying into skyscrapers. Even to moderate British, who would not align themselves with this Post-War Consensus view, there is still a tradeoff: damaging terrorism is good, but it has to be set against making the USA more powerful and confident. It must be amusing to the anti-American thinkers in France or Germany when American critics paint them as weak or effete allies, when in fact the reason they are not joining the fight alongside the USA is that their sympathies lie with the other side.
Updates: Thanks for your comments. Please look also at the follow-up post looking at Europe’s chances of actually attaining superpower status.
Professor Reynolds also linked to Transatlantic Intelligencer, by John Rosenthal. I’m concentrating on Britain, and he’s looking at US-European relations with the emphasis on France and Germany. As I would expect, he finds no evidence of “Islamisation” but a very high degree of ingrained anti-Americanism.