| Threats and opportunities
Soon after the American presidential election results were announced, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, declared to his European Union colleagues that 'the American people have spoken', and it was time to restore the transatlantic partnership between Europe and President George W. Bush. This was essential in order to resolve the conflict in Iraq, find a solution to the Palestine question, and deal with issues related to terrorism and trade. Blair's clarion call was almost instantly repudiated by Jacques Chirac of France who, in the company of Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and Spain's Jos' Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, publicly declared that it was now even more important for Europe to reinforce its own identity and politics, some of which would remain at significant variance from those of the United States of America.
Incidentally, Zapatero's was the only congratulatory telephone to Bush, which was not returned by the White House while Bush spent time with his friend, the former Spanish prime minister, Jos' Maria Aznar, who happened to be on a private visit to the US. Bush finds it difficult to forgive Spain for withdrawing its troops from Iraq as soon as the socialists came to power after Spain's last general elections. Blair thus remains isolated as the sole, publicly acknowledged ally of the US in Europe. In the coming months, how the transatlantic rapprochement will pan out remains totally uncertain as Bush re-launches his second term with the religious fervour of a born-again leader having received his mandate from anti-gay, anti-abortion and conservative Americans.
In the ongoing war of words, Chirac rubbed more salt by declaring that the world has become more dangerous since the US attacked Iraq. In order to deal with these dangers, France will seek a multi-polar world order between Europe, China and India, as a counterweight to the bipolar UK-US power-centre. These are rather strong public utterances. However, all is not well in Europe. Homeland Islamic terrorism and growing anti-Semitism plague countries across Europe. This is not helped by the continuing poor economic performance in Germany, France and Italy, rising unemployment and influx of immigrants from the east European countries which have recently joined the EU. Meanwhile, the east-west economic disparity continues to plague a united German nation while growing trade-union militancy spreads across Europe.
The Netherlands, which is held up as an example of government by consensus (the 'Polder' model), finds this social consensus, which has worked so well and efficiently since the war, now breaking down, to the great dismay of its citizens and neighbours. A couple of weeks ago, matters were exacerbated when Theo van Gogh ' the grand nephew of the great artist, Vincent, and a film-maker whose films often attacked radical Muslims ' was riding along on his bicycle in Amsterdam when a Muslim fanatic first shot him dead and then butchered his body on a busy street with what Dutch newspapers described as the nonchalance of an abattoir-worker. A note was stuck to a knife plunged into van Gogh's heart with the names of people who were on the terrorists' target list.
The next day, a mosque was set on fire and an Islamic school was bombed, and thus began a macabre chain of ugly incidents in one of the most peaceable nations in Europe. Although in the Fifties, Holland, France and Germany permitted entry of temporary guest-workers, mainly from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria, in order to help rebuild their war-ravaged nations, the second and third generations are now naturalized citizens who speak Dutch, German or French, but practice Islam. Although not large in numbers, the Muslim population in Holland is close to five per cent of its 16 million citizens, and growing. The hugely tolerant post-war generation of the Dutch now find their own younger generation far less tolerant of immigrants.
This is not the only factor which is weakening the Polder consensus in Holland. The Netherlands was one of the first European nations to open its doors to Jewish refugees from Germany at the start of World War II. Soon Holland was occupied by Germany, and hundreds of thousands of Jews rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The post-war generation of the Dutch always deeply regretted the tragedy which befell the nation, and especially the Jews, in the hands of the Nazis.
This is all ancient history. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is, once again, on the rise in Holland and other parts of Europe. That it should raise its ugly head in Holland is all the more a tragedy. The majority of the Dutch nurture their reputation for tolerance and moderation, with loving care. They now feel bewildered at the threat these values face. The latest anti-Semitic outburst involved the most loved Dutch sport, football. Ajax, the well-known Amsterdam team, has a long history of being known as 'the Jewish Club', although Ajax has hardly any Jews in its team. But Amsterdam had a sizeable Jewish population before the war and many of them supported Ajax. Hence the reputation.
In a recently reported incident, apparently, football hooligans started taunting the Ajax team during a football match, with anti-Semitic curses. Ajax supporters responded by flaunting Israeli flags, which prompted the appearance of Palestinian flags amongst their opponents. In another soccer encounter, the anti-Ajax hooligans made hissing noises, mimicking escaping gas, an obvious reference to the gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps. Although football hooliganism in Europe is widespread and the work of a handful of criminals, in Holland they have provided a front for organized extremists as a recruiting ground. The majority of the Dutch population is aghast at these public displays of anti-Semitism, which are no longer sporadic or isolated events. Incidents of anti-Semitism in other parts of Europe do not always catch world headlines; nevertheless these represent a menace potentially no less dangerous than Islamic terrorism.
Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism in Holland provide a glimpse of a growing Europe-wide malaise. These events are local manifestations of a wider geographical and social problem, which Europe is having to grapple with. There is also the European dilemma of whether or not to allow Turkey to join the EU. Turkey is extremely keen to reinforce its status as a proper candidate, and has fulfilled most of the preconditions to join the Union. Bush and Blair have publicly declared their keenness for Turkey, as a sign of the inclusiveness of a modern and forward-looking Western society. France is stridently and publicly opposed to the Turkish membership of the EU and would be prepared, at best, to accommodate Turkey, not as a full member but as a country with which the EU would have special and preferential relationship, whatever that may mean. This is, of course, totally unacceptable to Turkey, and it has made it abundantly clear that it does not wish to be treated as a second-class European country. The D-Day is in December 2004. What France is voicing openly is silently shared by many of its close European allies. EU members are afraid of hordes of Turkish immigrants flooding Europe in search of employment, exacerbating the Islamic problem as well as the rising unemployment in Europe. Europe's economic and social problems continue to grow without an end in sight.
While America is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the growing domestic problems in Europe battering its identity, the last thing that the West wants is a very public discord across the Atlantic. Blair was the first official visitor to the White House soon after Bush began his second term. On the day of Yasser Arafat's funeral, Blair and Bush declared their determination to pursue the creation of a democratic Palestinian state, which would live in peace with Israel. Given the current state of west Asia, this appears to be an impossible dream. On the other hand, Chirac seems determined to defend the glory of France at the head of a powerful Europe, pursuing his goal of a multi-polar global order. In stark contrast is Blair's commitment to reconciliation between Europe and the US rather, than with civilizations beyond their shores.
The postures and public statements are hardening on both sides of the Atlantic. The ripple effect on the rest of the world represents threats as well as opportunities.