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Immigration and Islam: Europe’s Crisis of Faith
France and the rest of Western Europe have never honestly confronted the issues raised by Muslim immigration
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By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
The Wall street Journal
Jan. 16,17, 2015
The terrorist assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 may have been organized by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. But the attack, along with another at a Paris kosher market days later, was carried out by French Muslims descended from recent waves of North African and West African immigration. Well before the attacks, which left 17 dead, the French were discussing the possibility that tensions with the country’s own Muslim community were leading France toward some kind of armed confrontation.
Consider Éric Zemmour, a slashing television debater and a gifted polemicist. His history of the collapse of France’s postwar political order, “Le suicide français,” was No. 1 on the best-seller lists for several weeks this fall. “Today, our elites think it’s France that needs to change to suit Islam, and not the other way around,” Mr. Zemmour said on a late-night talk show in October, “and I think that with this system, we’re headed toward civil war.”
France’s problem has elements of a military threat, a religious conflict and a violent civil-rights movement. It is not unique. Every country of Western Europe has a version. For a half-century, millions of immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa have arrived, lured by work, welfare, marriage and a refuge from war. There are about 20 million Muslims in Europe, with some 5 million of them in France, according to the demographer Michèle Tribalat. That amounts to roughly 8% of the population of France, compared with about 5% of both the U.K. and Germany.
Europeans drew the wrong lessons from the American civil-rights movement. In the U.S., there was race and there was immigration. They were separate matters that could (at least until recently) be disentangled by people of good faith. In Europe, the two problems have long been inseparable. Voters who worried about immigration were widely accused of racism, or later of “Islamophobia.”
In France, antiracism set itself squarely against freedom of speech. The passage of the 1990 Gayssot Law, which punished denial of the Holocaust, was a watershed. Activist lobbies sought to expand such protections by limiting discussion of a variety of historical events—the slave trade, colonialism, foreign genocides. This was backed up by institutional muscle. In the 1980s, President François Mitterrand’s Socialist party created a nongovernmental organization called SOS Racisme to rally minority voters and to hound those who worked against their interests.
Older bodies such as the communist-inspired Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among the Peoples made a specialty of threatening (and sometimes carrying out) lawsuits against European intellectuals for the slightest trespasses against political correctness: (Sound familiar?) the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for her post-9/11 lament “The Rage and the Pride,” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut for doubting that the 2005 riots in France’s suburban ghettos were due to unemployment, the Russia scholar Hélène Carrère d’Encausse for speculating about the role of polygamy in the problems of West African immigrants.
Speech codes have done little to facilitate entry into the workforce for immigrants and their children or to reduce crime. But they have intimidated European voting publics, insulated politicians from criticism and turned certain crucial matters into taboos. Immigrant and ethnic issues have become tightly bound to the issue of building the multinational European Union, which has removed vast areas of policy from voter accountability. “Anti-European” sentiments continue to rise.
So impressed were the Europeans with their own generosity that they failed to notice that the population of second- and third-generation immigrants was growing bigger, stronger, more unified and less inclined to take moral instruction. This is partly a demographic problem. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western Europe has had some of the lowest birthrates of any civilization on record. Without immigration, Europe’s population would fall by a hundred million by midcentury, according to U.N. estimates.
In a world that prized “identity,” Muslim immigrants were aristocrats. Those who became radicalized developed the most monstrous kind of self-regard. A chilling moment in the most recent terrorist drama came when the TV network RTL phoned the kosher supermarket where the Malian-French hostage-taker, Amedy Coulibaly, was holding his victims at gunpoint. He refused to talk but hung up the phone carelessly.
The Muslim community is not to be confused with the terrorists it produces. But left to its own, it probably lacks the means, the inclination and the courage to stand up to the faction, however small, that supports terrorism. In 1995, there were riots among French Muslims after the arrest of Khalid Kelkal of Lyon, who had planted several bombs—in a train station, near a Jewish school, on a high-speed rail track. In 2012, when Mohamed Merah of Toulouse was killed by police after having gunned down soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish elementary-school children, his brother professed himself “proud,” and his father threatened to file a wrongful-death suit against the government.
And when Charlie Hebdo printed a memorial cover that had a picture of its controversial cartoon character “Muhammad” on it, it was as if the attacks had never happened: Muslim community spokesmen, even moderate ones, issued dire warnings about the insult to them and their coreligionists. To many Muslims in France and the rest of Europe, the new drawings were evidence not that the terrorists had failed to kill a magazine but that the French had failed to heed a warning.
It may seem harsh to criticize the French in their time of grief, but they are responding today with tools that have failed them in previous crises. They reflexively look at their own supposed bigotry as always, somehow, the ultimate cause of Islamist terrorism, and they limit their efforts to making minority communities feel more at home.
• On religion: Mr. Hollande has insisted that the attacks have “nothing to do with Islam.” At the same time, Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaks of “moderate Islam” and rails against “conservatism and obscurantism”— as if the violence had everything to do with Islam, and even with religious devotion in general. (Huh?)
• On spying: Some in the French government blame intelligence failures, since the secret services tracked the Charlie Hebdo killers Said and Chérif Kouachi until last summer. But government officials boast of about their principled unwillingness to legislate a “Patriot Act a la française”—even as they draw daily on intelligence gathered by the U.S.
In France, it is the Front National, a party with antecedents on the far right, that has been the big beneficiary. In the last national election, for seats in the European Parliament, the FN, led by Marine Le Pen (daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen), topped the polls. But the ruling Socialists froze the Front National out of the recent national ceremonies of mourning, limiting participation in the Paris rally to those parties it deemed “republican.” This risks damaging the cause of republicanism more than the cause of Le Pen and her followers.
France, like Europe more broadly, has been careless for decades. It has not recognized that free countries are for peoples strong enough to defend them. A willingness to join hands and to march in solidarity is a good first response to the awful events of early January. It will not be enough.
Mr. Caldwell is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and the author of “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.”
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