Monday, 30th October 2017

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A continent adrift

Europe is a soft target for jihadis because of a moral collapse

By Swapan Dasgupta
  • Published 1.06.17
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On the afternoon after the horrific explosion in the foyer of the Manchester Arena killed 22 people attending a concert by Ariana Grande, so adored by teenage girls on both sides of the Atlantic, I travelled by the London Underground from Mayfair to Hampstead. It was an uneventful ride. Many passengers were reading the Evening Standard - the free newspaper now edited by a former chancellor of the exchequer - containing exhaustive coverage of the terrorist outrage. I could not detect any obvious nervousness or tension. It was life as usual.

To many, the fact that Britons had taken adversity in their stride and refused to be cowed down by those who fancy the establishment of a global Caliphate is evidence that terrorism won't succeed. Along with the candlelight marches, multi-faith prayer meetings and assertions that 'Islam is a religion of peace', the stiff upper lip can well be construed as evidence of resilience.

In normal circumstances, there would have been some outrage over the sheer ingratitude of the 22-year-old Salman Ramadan Abedi, the suicide bomber. Born in Libya, his parents had fled Muammar Gaddafi's persecution and had been given asylum in Britain. Salman and his younger brother had benefited from a State education and even a generous education loan. The British State had probably contributed more towards the upkeep of the Abedi family than had got back in taxes. Yet, Salman repaid that debt by killing 22 innocent people, including children, in the city he had grown up in. His was an act of perfidy.

That, apart from the usual tut-tutting, there has been no overt backlash may well be a sign of maturity. Calls for recrimination against British residents whose only link with the suicide bomber is a common religion may even have sectional appeal. Yet, Britain has coped with the Manchester bombing with an exemplary show of dignity, and no ugliness.

There is, however, an alternative perspective. The Manchester bombing on the night of May 22 was the latest in a long line of jihadi attacks in Europe, whether carried out by those favouring either al Qaida, the Islamic State or just an idea. The 2004 train bombing in Spain (192 killed), the London tube bombings of 2005 (56 killed), the 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris (12 killed), the March 2016 Brussels bombing (35 killed), the November 2015 Paris massacres (137 killed), the July 2016 truck attack in Nice (87 killed) and a similar outrage in Berlin's Kurfürstendamm before Christmas 2016 (12 killed) are among the more spectacular acts of Islamist terror in Europe this century. They don't include the targeted killings of individuals, the 'lone wolf' attacks and the foiled conspiracies. What they add up to is the undeniable reality of the battle for Islamic hegemony reaching Europe.

That the frontline has now been extended is worrying. However, even more worrying is that all the European democracies, apart from some countries of Eastern Europe, have proved to be utterly helpless in coping with the attacks. Apart from keeping its fingers crossed, improving policing and surveillance, and hoping for good sense to prevail, Europe appears to have been paralysed by despondency. In a war that often involves taking tough and even ruthless decisions, it has lost the ability to confront uncomfortable questions. It has become a victim of its own existential uncertainties.

In a recent book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, which is certain to be greeted by either outrage or stunned silence, Douglas Murray has documented Europe's complete loss of direction and its retreat into a permissive, make-believe world. To Murray, the problem is partly a consequence of awful political miscalculations, to which can be added a moral collapse.

At the heart of the problem is the startling reality of the ethnic reinvention of Europe, particularly over the past two decades. Uncontrolled immigration has resulted in a complete transformation of large chunks of the European landscape. According to an assessment by David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, judging by present trends the people who can be called 'white British' in 2011 will cease to be a majority by the 2060s. The Britain of today will be "unrecognisable" to its present inhabitants in 50 years. Even as things stand today, in 23 of the 33 London boroughs, White Britons are in a minority.

There are historical reasons why a disproportionate number of non-White immigrants to Britain are Muslims. According to the census, the Muslim population in England and Wales rose from 1.5 million to 2.7 million between 2001 and 2011. In other European countries, however, recent immigration has resulted in a sharp spike in Muslim residents. Demographers have suggested that by 2050, a majority of under-15s in Austria will be Muslims. And in Switzerland, there is a suggestion that by the end of this century, 40 per cent of the under-14s will be Muslims.

The issue is not one of religion. What has made immigration messy and unmanageable in Europe is that it has been accompanied by no concerted strategies aimed at assimilation and the inculcation of the values inherent in the host cultures. Multiculturalism, it was acknowledged by Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, was faltering, but it was Europe's loss of self-confidence and a denial of the problems associated with allowing hostile value systems to flourish unchallenged that have turned the problem into a crisis. The result, according to Murray, "was that what had been Europe - the home of the European peoples - gradually became a home for the entire world. The places that had been European gradually became somewhere else. So places dominated by Pakistani immigrants resembled Pakistan in everything but their location."

This is a harsh truth that no politician can risk repeating for fear of being dubbed a racist or an Islamophobe.

The problem wasn't aggravated by a lack of political will. It also flowed from the wave of self-abnegation that has gripped Europe. Murray has called it "blackmail from history": "Today's Europeans expect themselves, long before anybody raises it, to bear specific historical guilt that comprises not only war guilt and Holocaust guilt, but a whole gamut of preceding guilts." This mentality of self-hate has made Germany continue to carry the burden of 2.2 lakh people who have been served deportation orders and Sweden to accommodate 80,000 fraudulent asylum seekers.

It explains why the grim reality of New Year's Eve 2015 in Cologne, when a gathering of 2,000 immigrant men assaulted and robbed 1,200 women, was sought to be kept away from the public gaze. It may even help understand the conduct of a 24-year-old German Left activist in Mannheim who was raped by three migrants in January 2016 and who actually apologized to the rapists: "I wanted an open Europe, a friendly one. One that I can gladly live in and one in which we are both safe in. I am sorry. For us both I am so incredibly sorry. You... aren't safe here, because we live in a racist society... I am not safe here, because we live in a sexist society. But what truly makes me feel sorry, are the circumstances by which the sexist and boundary-crossing acts that were inflicted on me, make it so that you are beset by increasing and more aggressive racism... I will not stand by idly and watch as racists and concerned citizens call you a problem. You are not the problem... You most often are a wonderful human being..."

It is this terrible moral collapse that has made Europe an easy picking for jihadi killers. Blessed with a perverse sense of certitude, they sense that this enemy is rudderless.