Spain, Greece, Italy—these are where we fear Europe’s failures will be revealed. There is no denying the European south is suffering, but if the Eurozone dies, there may be worse consequences, a revenge of a Europe we had thought buried. Though not as long as you might think.
Already, the Eurozone’s crisis has overturned Serbia’s government, bringing to power a new leader who wasted no time denying that genocide took place in Srebrenica in 1995 (Apparently, accession to the EU isn’t what it used to be). In Greece, elected members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn refused to stand when Muslim parliamentarians took the oath of office on the Qur’an.
Yet read Christopher Caldwell on Europe, and you will find that Muslims are the continent’s “most significant chronic problem.” In “Europe’s Other Crisis,” his most recent contribution to The New Republic, Caldwell presents what may seem at first like typical Eurabian alarmism: Islam and the West are incompatible. Europe with Muslims will cease being Europe.
But there is more to it. As Caldwell puts it: “Europe is not rich enough… to withdraw from the world, but for the first time in half a millennium it is not strong enough to engage with the world either.” Maybe the Muslims aren’t the problem, so much as evidence of the failure.
The Second Amendment Doesn’t Apply Internationally
Caldwell has written on the intersection of European decline and Islamic intransigence before. In my review of his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, I found Caldwell alternately contemptuous and envious of Muslims. The same Muslim confidence in Islam that allegedly left Muslims resistant to European culture became, in other contexts, a kind of stubborn, even dumb, inertia.
But don’t give him too much credit. Caldwell’s idea of Muslims is just that—an idea. As Caldwell laments the looming death of Europe, he carelessly and inaccurately uses Muslims as a foil, though for his arguments to work Muslims must be, and must remain, foreign. The particulars of actual Muslims are beside the point.
Caldwell claims, for example, that a majority of Pakistanis adhere to the Deobandi school of thought, though I’ve never heard such a thing, nor do I believe theology could adequately explain Pakistan—or any other country for that matter. Even when Caldwell turns to polls to describe Muslims, he does so deceptively and selectively.
Muslims’ claims of moderation must be read against, and tempered by, evidences of ongoing sympathy for resistance in places like Chechnya and Kashmir. This, Caldwell thinks, proves a uniquely Muslim taste for violence. Though if you read on, you’ll find that Caldwell’s problem isn’t actually with the use of force, but rather with who wields that force and against whom.
It is true that a number of Muslims hold uncomfortable political views, even on matters of violence. It is also true, however, that most human beings generally speaking do the same. Many Muslims saw the 1990s sanctions on Iraq as horrific; in the United States, our leadership didn’t have too much of a problem with them—even defending them as painfully necessary.
When asked her reaction to half a million dead Iraqi children, Madeleine Albright admitted to the moral difficulty of the situation, but concluded, “The price is worth it.”
For every Caldwell who links incidents of Muslim violence together to present a grand narrative of Islamic brutality, there is a Middle Easterner or South Asian who links Iraqi sanctions, Condoleezza Rice’s cruel “birth pangs of a new Middle East,” and ongoing drone strikes to paint a parallel picture of an essentially violent West.
The sad fact is, many people are untroubled by violence or extremism, except if it affects them, their interests, or those considered “like” themselves. This explains why it was so hard for the West to sustain interest in Afghanistan during the ’90s and why wars in countries with oil get our attention more quickly. The great challenge of the present deficit between cultures and societies is not policy; empathy precedes strategy.
Are we able to see conflicts from various perspectives, or is our own fear so great and terrifying that it forces us back into ourselves, favoring a posture of emotional cowardice that no public intellectual worth the name can afford to propagate? This is, time and again, Caldwell’s greatest shortcoming. He, too, claims he has a problem with violence, but what he really has a problem with is Muslim violence. (There are, of course, plenty of Muslims who similarly equivocate.)
A Pyrrhic Victory
Caldwell intimates that, while Europe suffers, Muslims are either waiting patiently for its inevitable end or occasionally hurrying the process along through wily recourse to multiculturalism. In this scenario, Europe is the Titanic, Muslims are the stowaways, and something je ne sais quoi is the iceberg—it’s a disaster, no matter how long it takes the European ship to go down.
It still isn’t clear—as Caldwell might be seen to suggest—that European Muslims benefit from this or want it to come to pass. For one thing, immigrant-origin European Muslims came to Europe, often against great odds, for economic opportunities. The loss of those opportunities is not a good thing. (Stowaways drown too.) More to my point, there are many European Muslims whose ancestry in Europe goes back very far, and it’s safe to assume that they care about Europe as they would their home—because it is their home.
The last two times European political structures imploded (the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia), European Muslims had the worst time of it. These were not recent immigrant-origin Muslims, too. In the early ’90s, when the Soviet Union fell apart, a brutal war in Chechnya led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. Estimates vary widely, but the scale of the violence cannot be easily discounted—although that is just what Caldwell does.
And what of the most recent European genocide? In To End A War, the late Richard Holbrooke’s memoir of the Balkan peace process, he estimated that some 300,000 died in Yugoslavia’s dissolution. The victims were disproportionately Muslims: tens of thousands died, thousands of women were raped, and many more were made refugees.
Caldwell makes no mention of any of this, nor of Eastern Europe’s ancient Muslim communities. There have been Eastern European Muslims for longer than Protestantism has existed, and yet Islam is still, centuries on, the Other; notable only as immigrant victimizer. As a public intellectual one might expect that he has some interest in another perspective, that he might give a holistic account…
Caldwell’s Other Crisis
Though Caldwell might say that his concern is with Western Europe, it isn’t an island and it can not wash its hands of Eastern Europe and what so recently happened there. In a letter to the Financial Times (where Caldwell is a columnist), Robert Hunter, U.S. Ambassador to NATO during the war, found Britain had “a huge burden of responsibility for what happened at Srebrenica.”
Or, as Richard Holbrooke described it, the war was a “catastrophe,” in which “the Europeans chose not to take a strong stand.” Gutless European leaders (as well as many in the United States) imposed an arms embargo that crippled the defensive capacities of the war’s primary victims.
It was not until the July 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed over three days, that the international community was pushed into action. We are coming up on the 17th anniversary of that attack, and already there is concern that the peace settlement in the Balkans cannot hold. It certainly doesn’t help that the new Serbian president backpedaled on this very issue.
Caldwell is so busied with Europe’s “lopsided” relationship with its Muslims that he overlooks the outright slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims as Western Europe sat by, or even actively hampered the victims’ right to self-defense. It’s unfortunate that such selectivity might be Caldwell’s greatest consistency.
Take, for example, how “Europe’s Other Crisis” opens:
In two separate incidents in March, Mohammed Merah, a French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad, ambushed four soldiers around Toulouse, killing three of them. A week later, he shot dead three children arriving for morning classes at a nearby Jewish school, along with a young rabbi who was father to two of them.
These killings were clearly vile. But Caldwell moves unblinkingly from the particular to the general. Several of Merah’s family members were allegedly in sympathy with him, Caldwell underscores, which leads us, through twists and turns, to an identification of all of Islam with anti-European hostility.
What you won’t learn from the piece is that Merah attacked four French soldiers of Arab and African descent. In a long essay about the incompatibility of Europe and its Muslims, Caldwell forgets to mention that the extremist with whom his argument begins also killed French Muslim soldiers.
What were their names? What did their families think of this “French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad?” Why does one French Muslim murderer outweigh several French Muslims murdered by him?
None of this is to say that Europe’s Muslims do not face, and even present, challenges. Nor should we deny that there are Muslims who claim an Islamic mandate for their horrific acts. Working on these challenges and threats will not be easy, especially as economic opportunity gives way to fears of a European lost decade.
But such honesty mustn’t be one-sided: For all the challenges Europe’s Muslims present, they face many, too. Since World War II, Europe has seen no wars that can compare to the systematic brutality unleashed against Bosnian and Chechen civilians. In the last few decades, more European Muslims have died violently than Europeans of any other faith—and at the hands of their fellow Europeans.