A few years ago I wrote a favorable review of Christopher Caldwell’s book on Islamic immigration to Europe for Mondoweiss, the important post-Zionist website. Most of mondo’s readers are progressives, and most are pretty sanguine about multiculturalism, Muslim immigration into Europe, etc. A regular Mondoweiss commentator, Indrees Ahmad, counterattacked with vigor and probably a fair number of Mondoweiss readers wondered why a reactionary, skeptical about multiculturalism piece was doing on the website. (Idrees, whom I’ve gotten to know a bit since, is an extremely talented Anglo-Pakistani scholar, an author of a brilliant forthcoming book on the politics pushing America into war in Iraq.)
No subject splits me down the middle like this. I just returned from five days in in Paris, where I found that I oppose Muslim rioters, Muslim terrorists, and Muslim free-speech intimidators as fervently as any yob from the English Defense League. When I read of the British soldier who was hacked to death by some self-styled Nigerian jihadist (who speaks fluent English and was raised in Britain in a Christian home) I think, basically, Britain would be every bit within its rights to deport a million Muslims. As for Stockholm and its rioters, forget about it. The Swedish ministers who thought it a good idea to import rapidly a population of Somalis into a fairly healthy homogenous society should probably be tried for treason. And the Somali rioters, give them ten thousand dollars and an airline ticket be done with them.
And yet, and yet. It is hard to dismiss entirely the argument of the London jihadi—your soldiers can’t be safe when your drones, your soldiers, kill innocent Muslims every day. We in America are almost completely shielded from the violence we inflict; unlike the Vietnam war, this one isn’t televised. It is waged by professional soldiers who “protect our freedoms” as the beginning-to-sound-tiresome phrase goes, far from our sight. We honor them on Memorial Day by dressing major league baseball players in desert camouflage hats for an evening, a gesture born of guilty conscience. Few of us really believe anymore the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have much to do with our freedom, even if we pretend otherwise. Such falsehoods have become emotionally necessary, to absolve us of having this huge class of less fortunate young Americans face danger all the time so that most of us don’t have to. Indeed, we barely have to know about it.
Obviously mass immigration would cause tensions even without the wars, but with the wars ongoing managing the tensions may prove impossible. It is simply human nature that people will oppose violence inflicted on their homelands, and that a certain percentage of these opponents, young men with not much else to totally occupy them, will find jihadi violence a reasonable course. Or as in the case of the Nigerian London jihadist, defense of the mythical or symbolic homeland belonging to all Muslims.
I do think Obama realizes the impossiblity of the present course. As a Democrat, as a black man with an odd name, he recognizes also his political vulnerability: he might like to withdraw from Afghanistan, perhaps even pursue a sophisticated detente with Iran, and really tamp down the whole forever war with the Muslim world. Such impulses are wise and practical, and we are fortunate to have a president who is at least trying to think out loud about them, even if he is too politically weak or unskilled in the exercise of power to translate his thoughts into practice. But I fear neither we nor the Europeans will get a handle on domestic terrorism until we stop killing lots of Muslims in their own countries.
Unsurprisingly Commentary manages to get this backward: Max Boot criticizes Obama’s recent speech by arguing that the wars on terror must continue because of jihadi attacks in Paris and London. This is surely wrong. If the wars served any purpose beyond protecting Obama from a rightwing backlash, it wouldn’t be hard to find support for them. But despite their exorbitant costs they serve none. I feel safe in betting that at least one in hundred young Muslim immigrants in the West wants to do something violent in return. Given the immigrant numbers, in Europe especially, that’s quite a few potential terrorists.