Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Decline of Europe?

Bruce Bawer
While Europe Slept
(Image from

I've been asked to teach a course on multiculturalism in Europe next fall for Yonsei's Underwood International College, so I'm trying to plan well in advance and have come up with the following course description:
Multiculturalism in Europe: Political Implications

In his book Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Robert Kagan argues that Europeans believe that "Europe is turning away from power . . . [and] moving . . . into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation . . . . a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel Kant's 'perpetual peace'" (page 3). But is Europe's self-perception realistic, or merely self-delusion? European integration has drawn into the EU a collection of distinct nations, each with its own unique culture, making the EU a genuinely multicultural political entity. These various nations, however, largely share the same civilizational identity, as Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations) would observe and Remi Brague (Eccentric Civilization) would seek to define. Yet, continuing, large-scale immigration from various parts of the world may be introducing a more radical version of multiculturalism as communities with other than Western civilizational identities begin to emerge and to practice, if not outright demand, cultural autonomy. Do these emerging communities pose political difficulties for the European paradise of peace? Are the Paris riots a harbinger of multicultural -- perhaps even civilizational -- conflict to come? This course will focus upon these and related questions.
In preparing for this course, I ordered four books from, and they arrived yesterday, ahead of schedule, so I've already begun reading by reading Bruce Bawer's critical look at multicultural Europe: While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. What Bawer describes is the way in which an official commitment to radical multiculturalism combined with rigid political correctness has prevented Europeans from openly discussing the problems that now confront them in a Europe being transformed by immigrants who do not share Western values and -- as in the case of radical Islam -- sometimes intend to impose their own values upon the native European population.

Bawer, who is gay, gives an example of gay-bashing -- at a multicultural festival!
Gay-bashing is on the upswing. In May 2002, a German gay couple, Dennis and Aribert Otto, were attending a multicultural street festival in Berlin when someone behind them shouted: "Gay pig! You should all be gassed." They turned to see ten immigrant youths coming toward them. The gang beat them viciously. "Five minutes later," reported Welt am Sonntag, the two men "were lying on the ground bleeding while 'One World' was being sung two blocks further down. That day they lost their belief in the ideal of a multicultural society in which minorities act together in solidarity."

I wasn't familiar with "One World," so I looked it up online. I found the lyrics -- where else? -- on a UN Web site. Here's an excerpt:
Even if we are different in ages and gender
We make friends in the same way
Even if we live in different continents and countries
We play in the same way
We are the friends of One World
We are the children of one family.
In short, it's multiculturalism set to music. The message: all cultures are equal, and all cultural differences superficial. No matter where people come from, their values are essentially the same: they all cherish peace, they all believe in "live and let live," they all want the best for their children. Where serious differences do exist, moreover, it is invariably the West, with its evil history of colonialism and racism, that is inferior; in case of conflict, it is invariably the West that is at fault. There is, moreover, nothing that the West can teach other cultures, though we can of course learn much from them. This is the line the political and media establishment has sold to the people of Western Europe. To suggest that it's not entirely true -- that, indeed, there exist cultural differences that can cast a dark shadow over this sunny "It's a small world" sensibility -- is verboten. (Bawer, While Europe Slept, pp. 39-40)
Bawer is a journalist, and he clearly has an ax to grind, but he has grounds for his grinding -- and as a gay man, he feels especially threatened by the direction that Europe is currently headed. Bawer notes the irony in this:
The main reason I'd been glad to leave America was Protestant fundamentalism. But Europe, I eventually say, was falling prey to an even more alarming fundamentalism whose leaders made their American Protestant counterparts look like amateurs. Falwell was an unsavory creep, but he didn't issue fatwas. James Dobson's parenting advice was appalling, but he wasn't telling people to murder their daughters. American liberals had been fighting the Religious Right for decades; Western Europeans had yet to even acknowledge that they had a Religious Right. How could they ignore it? Certainly as a gay man, I couldn't close my eyes to this grim reality. Pat Robertson just wanted to deny me marriage; the imams wanted to drop a wall on me. I wasn't fond of the hypocritical conservative-Christian line about hating the sin and loving the sinner, but it was preferable to the forthright fundamentalist Muslim view that homosexuals merited death

Given what I'd seen and heard of evangelical Christianity in America, I hadn't been terribly upset that Christian belief in Western Europe had declined precipitously since World War II and that the churches were now almost empty. But I was beginning to see that when Christian faith had departed, it had taken with it a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose -- and left the Continent vulnerable to conquest by people with deeper faith and stronger convictions. What's more, no longer able to take religion seriously themselves, many Europeans were unable to believe that other people might take religion very seriously indeed. (Bawer, While Europe Slept, pp. 33-34)
I don't agree with some of what Bawer thinks about evangelical Christianity -- for instance, his remark about "the hypocritical conservative-Christian line about hating the sin and loving the sinner." I don't consider this 'line' hypocritical. It's surely a central Christian virtue to make such a distinction, and this distinction partly accounts for the fact that the Falwells, Dobsons, and Robertsons of American evangelicalism don't advocate dropping walls on somebody.

Despite some disagreements, I'm finding Bawer's book mostly agreeable about some disagreeable aspects of a changing Europe. He is a journalist, however, so I'm looking forward to reading the other three books that arrived yesterday, including one by the scholar Walter Laqueur: The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent.

It promises to be just as depressing...

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At 12:51 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Two things I don't understand, is why those who break the law would not be prosecuted. I don't see why now Muslims are unable to live in democratic societies. The second is why a country would let a headscarf get in the way of a womans education. Banning it, would seem to create more illiterate women willing to stay barefoot and pregnant and follow any radical way, because they have no where to go.
My point of view is that gay bashing and racism are on the rise because people have given themselves permission to give in to such views and because of youtube and other media it is thought acceptable behavior.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I also don't understand why people would be allowed to break the law -- though I understand Bawer's argument about European resistance to assimilating immigrants and the reigning, extreme political correctness about radical multiculturalism that has prevented Europeans from 'imposing' even their laws upon those whom they view as 'foreigners' in their society.

It's just so shortsighted.

The headscarf issue is more complex, for the scarf does reflect Muslim male notions of how to control female sexuality. All sexual blame is placed on the female, and the only way to prevent males from feeling uncontrollable sexual urges is to cover up the women. I don't know the real solution to this one, but I acknowledge the logic to what you say.

Whenever I think of the ethnic enclaves in Europe, I also reflect upon the federal, state, and city governments in the US that have similarly failed in America's inner cities, where the communities have been abandoned to drugs, guns, and gang violence.

That's also extremely shortsighted.

Thanks for commenting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:49 PM, Blogger John B said...

This is fairly tangential, but have you looked into Bolshevik multi-culturalism? My own studies are pushing me to that direction, although I don't have access to the texts right now. It provides, 1) an interesting model to contrast with the Western European model, and 2) a big part of early pan-Islamism, which is linked (how much is arguable) to modern globalized Islam.

Re: Muslim feminism (ie headscarves) PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi is an excellent subjective account both of women's experiences in the rising fundamentalism of Iran and of a young Muslim in multicultural Europe. And, there are lots of nifty pictures.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, I know that the Soviet Union had a multicultural policy in the 1930s, if I recall correctly, but I presume that this was a 'multiculturalism' constructed for the purpose of providing Bolshevik totalitarianism with a veneer of tolerance and cultural diversity -- a sort of Potemkin facade.

The link to Pan-Islamism sounds surprising, and perhaps worth looking into.

Also the Satrapi reference.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:35 PM, Blogger John B said...

When the Soviet Union annexed the nearby territories, particularly the Muslim -stans, it needed to determine where to tolerate local diversity and where to impose authoritative (usually Russian) culture.

It was authoritative, in the sense that the lines ended up being drawn very solidly by Stalin, but it's pretty fascinating to read what was allowed and what wasn't, and the struggles over these boundaries.

The pan-Islam movement took the formation of the USSR as an opportunity to try to collect the Muslim states into one large unit with Arabic as the official language. It was overruled by Lenin, and later Stalin, but it seemed to be a pretty pivotal moment.

I found it in Robert Young's POSTCOLONIALISM: AN HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION. His most interesting reference was THE GREAT CHALLENGE: NATIONALITIES AND THE BOLSHEVIK STATE 1917-1930 by Helene Carrere D'Encausse.

It was a major point of discussion at the 2nd and 3rd Internationals and the Baku Congress.

Pan-Islamism obviously underwent some major transformations since then: I would like to find out what exactly happened between then and now, but it's not the part of the world I'm supposed to be studying right now. ^_^ Academic ADHD . . . .

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If the term is "pan-Islam" rather than "pan-Islamism," then it might be something other than what I thought.

I suspect that this 'movement' was more a matter of the Bolshevik avant-garde brainstorming over how to co-opt the Islamic world for the Communist revolution, for if Lenin was involved, the beginning of this thinking must date to the early 1920s, at the latest.

It seems to have come to nothing.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:46 PM, Blogger John B said...

It may be my own inconsistent use of terminology. By pan-Islam, I was referring to the movement to create a unified national identity among Muslims. This is related to, and sometimes contrary to, the pan-Arab movement.

It survived, and I suspect it informs much of the current globalized Islam -- solidarity amongst diverse ethnic groups as fellow Muslims. It's certainly changed a great deal.

It's relationship with Bolshevism was at odds as often as not. For example, Sultan-Galiev, founder of the Musburo, or Central Bureau of the Muslim Organizations of the Communist Party, was imprisoned several times and eventually executed, but not before creating a network of underground Muslim groups.

Things have obviously changed, but much of the anti-colonial rhetoric that comes from the Anglo/Francophone Islamists today has roots in this time.

Likewise, Soviet multi-culturalism had ups and downs, but it's definitely worth taking a look at, in my view.

My Soviet history is weak, but the Soviet Union allowed the non-Russian republics to create independent national identities based on shared culture and language. The conflict came from what aspects of culture and which languages should be used to construct these national identities, and there was a lot of dialog between central Bolshevik authority and local communities.

Which is, I think, the same problems surrounding multiculturalism in Europe. The immigrant population must construct a new identity, where they identify as nationals of the host state but still identify as culturally unique. Which elements are okay to keep and which to reject are the source of conflict.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Do these emerging communities pose political difficulties for the European paradise of peace? Are the Paris riots a harbinger of multicultural -- perhaps even civilizational -- conflict to come?

Yes, and yes.

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, the terminology might not matter, for given what you describe about "pan-Islam," it could have played some role in the Islamists movements that we see today. If so, the information would be worth knowing about, for I've not seen it mentioned in the materials that I've looked at this semester in my course at Yonsei on Islamism.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, yes, I was afraid of that.

Jeffery Hodges

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