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The Coming Battle for European Civilization

The immigration crisis has pitted Europeans against their elites, and the stakes couldn't be higher.

In the next weeks, months, and possibly years, I plan to write here and elsewhere about the European immigration crisis. Alongside global warming, and of course the possibility of nuclear war, it strikes me as the most critical issue for today’s West, one that can make reasonable people feel they have no future, that there is no point in having children, etc. Many good books dealing with different facets of the subject have been published. The intellectual debate about immigration, diversity, and multiculturalism in Europe is generally richer than in the United States, reflective of the fact that theirs is a genuine civilizational crisis, considerably more dire than ours.

Two books are especially outstanding: Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, published nine years ago, and Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, which came out last year. Both are exemplars of subtle analysis, extensive research and reporting, and reasoned fair-minded argument. Both get to the essence of the problem of a weary and self-doubting secular civilization trying to accommodate a sudden and very large influx of people with a completely different sense of identity and often a theologically infused sense of the purpose and meanings of life. Both lay considerable blame on West European political leaders and academic and media elites who have a long record of hiding the nature of the problem from their publics and perhaps also from themselves.

Nine years ago, some in the American liberal establishment were at least willing to acknowledge that mass immigration in Europe could be a problem. Caldwell’s book was reviewed favorably in the New York Times by Fouad Ajami, himself a Lebanese immigrant to America, who had left knowing, as he put it, “there would be no imams or mosques awaiting” in the New World, but who made the trip anyway. Ajami praised Caldwell’s book and mentioned that it had been written in the aftermath of a high-casualty London subway bombing. That event had woken at least some Britons to the fact that a great many second-generation immigrants had not the slightest interest in becoming British, though the radical imams who inspired their terror had few qualms about accepting the benefits of the European welfare system. Ajami provides this pithy summary of one of Caldwell’s themes: “For their part the new arrivals, timid at first, grew expansive in the claims they made…they had fled the fire, and the failure, of their ancestral lands, but they had brought the fire with them.”

Nine years later, Spectator editor Douglas Murray published a book in many ways as impressive as Caldwell’s but that includes recent developments that have brought the immigration issue nearer to full boil. These include Angela Merkel’s summoning of a million young Muslim migrants to Europe, the acceleration of Muslim terror attacks (which the European prestige press and centrist political class invariably claim “have nothing to do with Islam”), the mass sexual assaults in Cologne and other cities, the “grooming” or child rape gangs found in several British cities, the emergence of the anti-immigration populist parties in both Eastern and Western Europe, and the now-pervasive recognition that the immigration issue is paramount in Europe. But by then the Times had chosen sides decisively. Murray was dismissed as a “tub-thumper” by a reviewer who ignored all of his actual arguments while ascribing to him “retro claims of ethnic religious community” and “fears of contamination”—none of which appear in Murray’s work in any form.

In short, the Times chose to go with a curt and dishonest description of a major book that covers enormous ground, ranging from Europe’s loss of Christian faith and the meaning it gave lives—including substantive and telling digressions about Europe’s contemporary art, philosophy, and academic culture—to the escalating assault on its freedoms (of speech most particularly) by Muslim immigrants. The last, of course, the acquiescence, is the largest and most interesting problem.

It’s perhaps beyond knowing what caused this large shift in the editorial line of the Times on European immigration, a shift manifested also in the paper’s incessant “news” coverage of the supposed “threat to European values” posed by the freely elected immigration-skeptic governments of Hungary and Poland. But it fortifies a new liberal American consensus that Europeans who worry that their home is being turned into something unrecognizable to them are little more than Nazis and bigots.

I don’t believe this for a moment. I believe that the European people’s desire that Europe remain home for them is the most natural and defensible of human political longings. I also believe that the elite globalist consensus, that China can be China and India can be India but Europe can be turned into a repository for anyone in the world who can get there, if it comes to full fruition, will destroy what has been one of mankind’s most fruitful and innovative civilizations. I, of course, say this with full cognizance of the dark points in Europe’s past, some of which have been very dark indeed.

I also believe, in ways perhaps analogous to what past American statesmen believed when Europe was threatened by Nazism and later communism, that America would not thrive in a world with a despotic or destroyed Europe. There are deep cultural reasons why we sent millions of men to fight in Europe during the last century, lavishly funded European postwar reconstruction, and consider our NATO allies to be cultural and political kin in ways we don’t feel about other nations. I am not optimistic by nature, and don’t believe success is inevitable or even likely. To prevail in the coming years, Europeans will have to elect governments that are able to say “no,” that are willing to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic or welfare-seeking migrants, that will deport some or all of the latter as they see fit, and that will institute measures that make immigrating illegally to Europe as unlikely as immigrating illegally to China (to take one example of a society that has no impulse to commit suicide).

The Europeans may yet succeed but the outcome is very much in doubt. On one hand, there are literally hundreds of millions in Africa and the Mideast and the Asian subcontinent who believe that their situations would be improved by moving to Europe and who increasingly have the means to set such plans in motion. They are enabled by a deeply entrenched European globalist elite that, out of a combination of guilt, civilizational weariness, and a genuine belief that borders are obsolete, wish to pose no serious obstacle to their entry. On the other side are burgeoning sentiments of the majority of the European people, who still have access to the tools of democracy and the ability to change their elites. Allied with them is a growing coterie of intellectuals, many of them formerly on the left, who realize that they don’t want their civilization to end after all.

As any reader of Caldwell’s and Murray’s books knows, this battle has deep and complex intellectual roots, profoundly linked to questions of belief, secularism, and the meaning of life. It will be fought in myriad ways—at the ballot box, in the media, sometimes in the streets. Unfortunately, it seems far from unlikely that it will eventually involve violence—that is, violence beyond what terrorists have already initiated.

It’s my hope as a journalist that I can add something to the American understanding of this battle by reading what I can of the European press, describing the main events and debates, quoting and linking liberally, and probably traveling to Europe as I’ve done previously to report on critical elections and events. In any case, that’s the plan.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars.



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