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In 2006, I had a debate with Tariq Ramadan, the author of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. In the hypothetical event of a war between Egypt and Switzerland, for which community would he be prepared to die, I asked him. Mr Ramadan has dual citizenship. He’s an Egyptian by birth and a Swiss by naturalisation. His response was one of rage on different levels. Above all I think he was outraged that one should ask such a question. He refused to answer.
Mr Ramadan, like many other Muslims, may have two or more citizenships. From all that he expresses both in person and on paper, it is clear that his loyalty, above all, is to Islam. I do not doubt that he would die for Islam, like most Muslims, and that’s his prerogative. But what European countries have done is give citizenship to individuals who feel no obligation to share in their societies for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer and in the event of a catastrophe, sacrifice themselves.
No Debate Is More Explosive than the Debate on the Future of Islam in Europe
In this way, they evade one of the chief criteria of citizenship. Political allegiance to the constitution of your country is the minimum requirement. It is this state of affairs that makes Christopher Caldwell’s book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration and the West (Allen Lane, £17.99), which opens with the sentence, “Western Europe became a multi-ethnic society in a fit of absence of mind,” a chilling read.
This absence of mind, which Caldwell lays bare, is reflected in Europe’s immigration policies and especially in its response to Islam. No debate today is more explosive, more sensitive, more confusing and more frightening than the debate on the future of Islam in Europe.
In March this year, the French intellectual Pascal Bruckner and I spoke about Caldwell’s book. Bruckner said, “Americans [like Caldwell] do not understand Europe. There are many Muslims who, in their daily lives, are more agnostic and in their practices even atheist, but are just Muslim in name.”
This seems to be reassuring. But would these agnostic and unpracticing Muslims, if push came to shove, die for Islam or for France? My guess is they would, most likely, die for Islam.
Caldwell discusses this theme in an interesting light: he does not overlook the Europeans who feel that Islam is a danger to European values but asks, “How can you fight for something you cannot define?” And this is Europe’s problem–insecurity about who we are, what our various flags mean, why, with every turn, we spend less and less on the military.
Europe has become a place for new religions, new creeds, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, transnationalism. Everything is thus relative. This is an uncertainty that the Muslim does not share. The Muslim ethic and tribal spirit are far more resilient and fierce in war than the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
The numbers and insights that Caldwell has collected in his book are visible to many Europeans. During my life in Holland, and in my trips back, I have spoken to European intellectuals who see the revolution that Caldwell describes so well in his book. They may not call it a revolution, they may also not see it as complete, but they see the identity crisis in Europe.
Take the debate on freedom of expression. In 1989 and afterwards, the provocations in the name of Islam were greeted with a confident, “No way! This is Europe, and you can say what you like, write what you like,” and so on.
Two decades later, Europeans are not so sure about the values of freedom of expression. Most members of the media engage in self-censorship. Textbooks in schools and universities have been adapted in such a way as not to offend Muslim sentiment. And legislation to punish ‘blasphemy’, if not passed, has been considered in most countries–or old laws that were never used are being revived.
Today, in the Name of Islam, Synagogues Are Vandalised
Take anti-Semitism in Europe. The sensitivity and guilt Europeans feel about the Holocaust is comparable to the sensitivity and guilt that Americans feel towards black Americans. A decade or two ago, it was unthinkable for Jews to be slandered openly and be targeted for no other reason than their Jewishness.
Today, in the name of Islam, synagogues are vandalised. There are open denials of the Holocaust. There is an active network of Muslim organisations lobbying to curtail or even get rid of Israel. There are incidents of Jews being harassed, beaten, even killed. All this is met with grim silence and rationalisations that it’s not really anti-Semitic but anti-Israel. Can you imagine anything like this happening today in America to black people and it being met with silence?
Take the history of women’s liberation in Europe. In the 1970s, women were burning their bras, abortion was legalised almost everywhere and rape in marriage was penalised. Today, more and more European elites, including some feminists, argue that it might, perhaps, just be better to respect the culture and religion of a minority.
Women’s shelters have adapted their curriculum–instead of teaching the women who come to them how to become self-reliant, the shelters facilitate prayer rooms and employ mediators from the Islamic community. All this mediation serves only one purpose–that is, to return the woman to the circumstances of abuse she left.
Here is a system, which was a tool to emancipate, that has been completely transformed to serve the Muslim purpose of obedience. If the wife obeys, then the husband no longer needs to beat her. The matter is settled.
The same applies to gays. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that anti-gay sentiment would pass without condemnation. In Holland, for instance, we pride ourselves on allowing gays to have the exact same rights as heterosexuals. Yet today, they are beaten on the streets of Amsterdam. To be on the safe side in certain neighbourhoods in Europe, it’s advisable to conceal your identity if you are gay or lesbian.
Muslims Try to Abolish Freedom of Expression Using the Vocabulary of Freedom
The terrifying paradox about these developments is that Muslim immigrants were admitted into European borders on the basis of universal rights and freedoms that a large number of them now trample on, while others perhaps watch passively, or seek to defend only the image of Islam.
Even worse, those who lobby to abolish freedom of expression and to discriminate against Jews, women and gays do so while using the vocabulary of freedom and through the institutions of parliament and the courts that were designed to protect the rights of all.
American observers like Caldwell, Bruce Bawer, Walter Laqeur and many others who go to Europe and write candidly about these things can return to America, where they can write on another topic, keep their jobs and their social networks.
Europeans who do the same thing as Caldwell, often face a campaign of ostracisation from their own compatriots. They run the risk of losing their jobs or not being promoted or not getting invitations to the circles of which they are a part. The more stubborn, like Geert Wilders, get prosecuted, and access to a neighbouring country is even denied.
In reality, if Europe falls, it’s not because of Islam. It is because the Europeans of today–unlike their forbears in the Second World War–will not die to defend the values or the future of Europe. Even if they were asked to make the final sacrifice, many a post-modern lily-livered European would escape into an obscure mesh of conscientious objection. All that Islam has to do is walk into the vacuum.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident fellow at AEI.
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