Blindly Staggering To The Precipice
Well, it certainly sounds like the police in Bristol, England, have taken the right lesson from the terrorist truck attack on the Christmas market in Berlin:
Police in Bristol have stepped up patrols in the city centre due to concerns about Islamophobia in the wake of the Berlin terror attack.
The Christmas markets in the German city were the target of a terrorist attack on Monday where a lorry was driven into crowds of people, killing 12 and injuring another 48.
Since then mounted police officers, bobbies on the beat and PCSOs have been spotted around the Bristol Christmas market in Broadmead.
If you read the story, you’ll see that the lede wasn’t simply a matter of media spin, but what the police spokesman said. Do the police actually believe this lie, or do they feel that they have to say it? Either way, it’s pathetic.
The prime suspect for the Berlin massacre was under covert surveillance for months as a possible terrorist threat until police let him slip through their grasp earlier this month.
Anis Amri, 24, a Tunisian asylum seeker who arrived in Germany last year, was investigated for “preparing a serious crime endangering national safety”, involving funding the purchase of automatic weapons for use in a terrorist attack.
Amri had been arrested earlier this year and was known to be a supporter of the terrorist group thought to be behind the Sousse terrorist attack in Tunisia, as well as being a suspected disciple of a notorious hate preacher.
He had multiple identity documents with six different aliases under three nationalities, and a criminal record in Italy and Tunisia. He spent four years in an Italian prison before travelling to Germany after an expulsion order expired.
The German authorities, who were on Wednesday facing serious questions about how Amri was still at large, tried to deport him in June, but because he had no valid papers proving his nationality he was allowed to stay.
It’s insane that such a person was allowed to run free in Germany, or even be in Germany. But think about it: how are the police supposed to monitor every potential Islamic terrorist in Germany, a country that took in a net total of 1.14 million immigrants — mostly refugees — in 2015 alone?
I can’t recall where I first read the story, but sometime in the past year, I saw a lengthy magazine piece going into detail about the security problem facing French authorities. There are far too many radicalized Muslims in the country for the police to monitor. There simply aren’t enough cops, and never will be enough cops, not in a free country.
Angela Merkel is having a very bad week. From the NYT:
That all reflected the danger she feels from the right-wing Alternative for Germany, which was established in 2013 as an anti-euro party but which swiftly pivoted in 2015 to an anti-migrant platform that has now propelled it into 10 of Germany’s 16 state legislatures.
Alternative for Germany has steadily eaten into the market share of Ms. Merkel’s mainstream, conservative Christian Democratic Union. This week, Alternative for Germany’s leaders wasted no time in blaming Ms. Merkel and her policies for the Berlin attack.
More ominously for the chancellor, Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Bavarian sister party to her Christian Democrats, demanded a complete overhaul of immigration and security policy.
German establishment figures are doing what European establishment figures always do in these situations: blaming the right for, you know, noticing that there is a massive problem with violent Muslims living in Europe. Remember the regional government leader who, back in January, said that the right-wing people griping on social media about the Muslim men who assaulted women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were just as bad as the rapists? Remember the left-wing pro-immigrant activist who was gang-raped on a playground by refugees, then later felt guilty for ratting them out to the police? Yeah, these loony leftists are still at it. On NPR this week, German newspaper journalist Stefan Kornelius told host Robert Siegel that the problem is really with the right wing. From the transcript:
SIEGEL: What do you make of Angela Merkel coming out so quickly well before ISIS claimed responsibility, say, (unintelligible) to the issue of refugees?
KORNELIUS: Well, Angela Merkel was trying to preempt the debate, which she certainly did. But she will be framed now by this shadow which basically blames her for inviting those people to Germany and, by inviting them, bringing in danger and threats to the German public. Even though this argument is extremely short-cut and wrong if you ask me, it sticks. And it frames the campaign which actually starts next year, the campaign for federal elections. And so Angela Merkel is out to fight for her reelection.
SIEGEL: What have been some other reactions to this attack in Berlin from German politicians?
KORNELIUS: Quite honestly, most reactions were calm and considerate. There was no blaming going on apart from two camps, and those are the right-wing populist camps, first of all – the newly founded and now very strong AfD party, which is trying to make its way into the federal parliament next year.
No blaming going on except those horrible people from the AfD. Seems that “blaming” is a synonym for “holding the government responsible for its policies that contribute to these mass murders.”
This cannot go on forever. Ed West foresees big trouble ahead from the pigheaded refusal of European establishment leaders to see what is right in front of their noses:
German social media is apparently filled with anger, not with Islamic extremists or Angela Merkel but with Alternative für Deutschland and its supporters. I’m not sure what the psychological condition is called; I suppose it’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
West points out that the huge wave of Islamic immigrants washing through Merkel’s open doors into Germany dramatically lack the skills to make them fit for work there. Unsurprisingly, very few have found jobs. What’s more:
On top of this, we need to look at what technology is coming our way: in the next ten years, for example, automated cars are going to be putting hundreds of thousands of men out of work just in Britain. All the Uber drivers I’ve spoken to have come from the Muslim world; all have been hardworking, courteous and obviously doing their best by their family; unlike me, they’ve made the effort to move country and have to put up with boring drunks like myself talking to them. But the low-skilled jobs they are currently doing are not going to exist for that long, and many of their sons will grow up with workless fathers, feeling confused about their identity in a rootless world, at far higher risk of mental illness, struggling to find work themselves, and feeling neither fully part of this country nor that of their father’s. In these circumstances an internationalist ideology rooted in a sense of brotherhood and rage at the rich, decadent, western world is going to appear hugely attractive.
It will sooner or later occur to Europeans that liberal democracy is not a suicide pact. It may be too late already, but I doubt very much that most Europeans will give up without a fight. Writing in The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra says that 2016 revealed some stark realities about the world we live in. The essay is long and left-wing, but worth reading. Excerpt:
Our political and intellectual elites midwifed the new “irrationalism” through a studied indifference to the emotional dislocation and economic suffering induced by modern capitalism. Not surprisingly, they are now unable to explain its rise. Indeed, their universal assumption, hardened since 1989, that there are no alternatives to western-style democracy and capitalism – the famous “end of history” – is precisely what has made us incapable of grasping the political phenomena shaking the world today.
It is clear now that the exaltation of individual will as something free of social and historical pressures, and as flexible as markets, concealed a breathtaking innocence about structural inequality and the psychic damage it causes. The contemporary obsession with individual choice and human agency disregarded even the basic discoveries of late-19th-century sociology: that in any mass society, life chances are unevenly distributed, there are permanent winners and losers, a minority dominates the majority, and the elites are prone to manipulate and deceive.
Even the terrorist attacks of 9/11 left undisturbed the vision in which a global economy built around free markets, competition and rational individual choices would alleviate ethnic and religious differences and usher in worldwide prosperity and peace. In this utopia, any irrational obstacles to the spread of liberal modernity – such as Islamic fundamentalism – would be eventually eradicated. Fantasies of a classless and post-racial society of empowered rational-choice actors bloomed as late as 2008, the year of the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Today, however, the basic assumptions of cold war liberalism lie in ruins – after decades of intellectual exertion to construct flimsy oppositions between the rational west and the irrational east. The political big bang of our time does not merely threaten the vanity projects of an intellectual elite, but the health of democracy itself – the defining project of the modern world. Since the late 18th century, tradition and religion have been steadily discarded, in the hope that rational, self-interested individuals can form a liberal political community that defines its shared laws, ensuring dignity and equal rights for each citizen, irrespective of ethnicity, race, religion and gender. This basic premise of secular modernity, which earlier only seemed menaced by religious fundamentalists, is now endangered by elected demagogues in its very heartlands, Europe and the US.
That last sentence is somewhat dishonest, given that Mishra spends most of the essay arguing that liberal democratic elites in thrall to Enlightenment models of the human person have done much to cause this crisis by their own misplaced faith. Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause of the problem, but the result of the persistent failures of elites of both the left-wing and the right-wing parties.
Also in the Guardian, Wolfgang Streeck, a top left-wing German economist, says that we are headed for a collapse of capitalism and a new “dark age.” Yeah, I know, left-wing economists are not exactly shy about predicting the end of capitalism. But read the article. Streeck is not an outsider, but has worked for years at the summit of the German establishment. Excerpt:
“You look out here,” He gestures out of the windows of the National Gallery, at the domes and columns of Trafalgar Square, “And it’s a second Rome. You walk through the streets at night and you say, ‘My God, yes: this is what an empire looks like’.” This is the land of what Streeck calls the Marktsvolk – literally, the people of the market, the club-class financiers and executives, the asset-owning winners of globalisation.
But this space – geographic, economic, political – is off-limits to the Staatsvolk: the ones who fly yearly on holiday rather than weekly on business, the downsized, the indebted losers of neoliberalism. “These people are being driven out of London. In French cities it’s the same thing. This both reinforces them as a political power structure, and puts them completely on the defensive. But one thing they do know is that conventional politics has totally written them off.” Social democrats such as the outgoing Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi are guilty, too. “They’re on the side of the winners.”
International flows of people, money and goods: Streeck accepts the need for all these – “but in some sort of directed, governable way. It has to be, otherwise societies dissolve”.
Those views on immigration landed him in another fight this summer, when he wrote an essay attacking Angela Merkel for her open-door policy towards refugees from Syria and elsewhere. It was a “ploy”, he said, to import tens of thousands of cheap workers and thus allow German employers to bring down wages. Colleagues accused him of spinning a “neoliberal conspiracy” theory and of giving cover to Germany’s far right. Streeck’s defence is simple: “It is impossible to protect wages against an unlimited labour supply. Does saying that make me some proto-fascist?”
A reader passes along an Atlantic piece by sociologist Victor Tan Chen observing “the spiritual crisis of the modern economy.” Excerpts:
Where do people turn when left to the dictates of an economic system like this? One white worker in Madison Heights, Michigan, described himself as a conservative, but added that he didn’t care about party labels when choosing whom to vote for. “I want to see change. … I could care less if you’re a Republican or whatever,” he told me when I talked to him not long before the 2010 midterm election swept Tea Party candidates into office across the country. In any case, he no longer had the luxury of worrying much about politics. When I met him, he had lost his $11-an-hour job at a solar-panel manufacturer. His wife had left him soon afterward. She was working a low-wage job of her own, and, as he explained, “She’s tired of struggling, and she can do better by herself.” The man told me he was ashamed about having to rely on food stamps. “I’m dependent on the government right now. … That’s degrading, but I gotta eat.” As for unions, he’d become disillusioned with them years ago after a strike at the car-parts plant where he’d been working cost him and his coworkers their jobs.
One of the few things he could really depend on was his church. He volunteered on their Sunday-school bus, leading the kids in singing songs. “It helps to be around young people,” he said. For many of the jobless workers I interviewed, religion and tradition provided a sense of community and a feeling that their lives had purpose. No wonder, then, that a sizable proportion of white working-class America is skeptical of the faithless, lonely, and uncertain world that the cultural left represents to them. However exaggerated by stereotypes, the urbane, urban values of the well-educated professional class, with its postmodern cultural relativism and its rejection of old dogmas, are not attractive alternatives to what the working class has long relied on as a source of solace.
What? Do you mean that the working class is not satisfied that the Left is preoccupied with genderqueering their kids? How is that possible? Golly.
Sarcasm off. Read the whole essay to see how Victor Tan Chen, who describes himself as “an agnostic,” argues that America is in desperate need of the religious concept of grace.
I think he’s correct, but I would also bet that the professor has greater optimism that we can reknit the social fabric than I do. My sense is that it is going to get much worse before it gets better, and that those who stand a better chance of surviving the dark age upon us without losing our children and our humanity are going to be those who respond by committing themselves to solidarity through strong forms of religious community that produce strong families. This is what I mean by the Benedict Option. It’s not religious escapism; it’s a general strategy for surviving and even thriving in chaotic and tumultuous times.
Secular liberal democracy did not anticipate the importation into Europe of a large unassimilable religious population who are hostile to European cultural traditions. Modernity was supposed to dissolve them, make good liberal individualists and consumers out of them. Liberal democracy also thought that the market — the freer the better — would sort everything out. They did not want to see men as they actually are, and man as he actually is. They still don’t. Sooner or later, though, they’re not going to have a choice.