Berlinski on Europe and Islam
I’ve previously criticized Claire Berlinski, author Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too, because of her ridiculous idea—“typical of the modern, secular, materialist intellectual, whether liberal or neoconservative”—that the way to solve the Islamic problem in Europe is through consumerism. Integrate Muslims better into Europe’s consumerist culture, and the poisons of Islamic jihad would go away. Such superficiality made Berlinski seem instantly dismissible.
However, as seen in her interview with Jamie Glazov at FrontPage Magazine, Berlinski does have some interesting ideas, not about Islam, but about what’s wrong with the Europeans—about what makes them incapable of noticing, let alone responding to, the Islamic threat. She has an insight into the state of spiritual non-existence, the profound Eloi-hood, in which the Europeans now live.
Berlinski: … Within a generation, many European cities will have Moslem majorities. So if forty percent of these Moslems believe Islamic law should be imposed on Europe, this is obviously a cause for concern. Obvious to me, anyway. You would think it would be obvious to Europeans, as well.First, is it true that Europe experimented with utopianism? Communists (and Nazis) had a utopian vision, but did the Dutch? The English? The French? The Italians? On the face of it, then, Berlinski’s analysis does not seem to be true. Yet something very like it is true. It’s not that the Europeans as a whole adopted utopianism, the belief in the literally perfect society, but that they adopted the Religion of Man, the belief that man, without reference to anything higher than himself, can sufficiently organize his society to achieve the good life. So, the Europeans first rejected God and Christianity, as Berlinski points out; then they elevated man in God’s place. But with the belief in man having collapsed by the end of the twentieth century (for reasons too complex and uncertain to go into here), the Europeans were left with nothing to believe in except physical comforts, the social model, and vacations, all of which are escapes from the reality that has failed them, or, rather, the reality that they have failed.
Berlinski goes on to suggest that this loss of belief is responsible for some of the more troubling and bizarre behaviors of today’s Europeans.
FP: You connect the death of Christianity in Europe with Europe’s anti-Americanism. Can you comment on this?Now this strikes me as an original and interesting analysis: irrational hatred of the U.S. as a substitute religion, a religion that includes belief in utterly insane conspiracy theories such as that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attack, subscribed to by one fifth of Germans! I had previously thought that the belief among Muslims that Jews were behind the 9/11 attack was proof of the most sick, extreme anti-Semitism; but now it turns out that one out of five Germans has a similar belief about the U.S.
Speaking of anti-Semitism, Berlinski at the start of the interview seems to be unfairly leveling that charge at the Europeans: “We are seeing a recrudescence of violent anti-Semitism. Again, no surprise. The hatred of Jews has been woven through the fabric of European life since the early Middle Ages…. I am particularly concerned with the intersection of these two sets of problems: unassimilated immigrants plus unexpurgated anti-Semitism, for example, or class conflict plus the rise of Islamic radicalism.” [Italics added.] This seemed utterly off-base, as she seemed to be attributing the violent anti-Semitism of the Muslims in Europe to the Europeans. But then she made this clarification:
Muslims in Europe have become the authors of the worst wave of anti-Semitic crime—in Europe, anyway—since the Holocaust. Attacks on Jews are rising throughout Europe, rabbis have been assaulted in the streets, synagogues torched, Jewish graves profaned. I should add that while it is Muslims who are carrying out these attacks, there is no doubt in my mind that European elites, by embracing and propagating a loosely-disguised anti-Semitism that takes the form of hysterical animus toward Israel, have encouraged and emboldened them.Agreed. The fact that 90 percent of Europeans (not just the elites, but essentially the entire population of Europe) believes that tiny besieged Israel, the country that half or more of the world wants to destroy, is the greatest threat to world peace (the U.S. comes in as the second greatest threat to world peace), and that this hateful condemnation of Israel has filled the official airwaves of Europe for many years, undoubtedly has played a role in releasing and legitimizing the more extreme and violent anti-Semitism of Europe’s Muslims. Also, Europe’s anti-Israelism would seem to be, like its anti-Americanism, a substitute religion.
Those are the good parts of the interview. When it comes to the Islam problem, however, Berlinski is much weaker.
FP: … So why do you think Islamic radicalism is so widespread in Europe?Her answer is contradictory. First she insists that it is not poverty and other extrinsic factors, but the Islamicist ideology that is the cause of the Islamic radicalism. But then she turns around and says that “an extremely important” reason for the radicalism is the Muslims’ poverty and their lack of assimilation in Europe. In either case, whether her proffered cause is ideology or poverty-and-humiliation, she misses the core truth of the matter, that the problem is Islam itself. And it is this fundamental failure of comprehension that is responsible for Berlinski’s stunningly clueless and inapt “solution” to the Islam problem in Europe:
FP: What will Europe have to do to save itself?Thus her view comes down to the standard neocon view: Europe is too statist and economically rigid, and has relegated Muslims to permanent unassimilable welfare status. The solution is for Europe to imitate America’s freer economy, which would assimilate the Muslims better. A big objection immediately arises: How can the Europeans—who are, according to Berlinski, so utterly lacking in any faith in themselves and their civilization—assimilate Muslims? The answer, not spelled out in Berlinski’s FP interview but implicit in her earlier interview with Brad Miner (previously discussed at VFR), is that the Europeans don’t need to believe in themselves in order to assimilate the Muslims, since (and this is her explicit point to Miner) what is going to assimilate the Muslims is not European culture, but European consumerism.
Berlinski said to Miner:
For every young Muslim male sitting alone in his mother’s state-subsidized apartment in France, hiding out from the police and muttering darkly over his copy of the Koran, there are ten more who just want what every other young European wants—money, cars, a new cellphone, a pretty girlfriend. Indeed, many want much more than this, and what they want is fully admirable. This is a point I make in my book; in fact, since I can’t say it better than I do there, permit me to quote: “In the war against Islamic radicalism, Europe’s chief weapon will be its enormous seductiveness. While Europe has been home to history’s most extraordinary forms of religious fanaticism, European civilization has also had a corrosive effect on the religious life, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. [LA note: For Berlinski, the totality of Christendom and Christian culture are reduced to “religious fanaticism” that has thankfully been replaced by seductive consumerism.] There is no reason to expect the Muslim experience to be different. The temptations of Western civilization, as the characters in British novels repeatedly discover, are corrosive … That which disgusts the Islamists—alcohol, promiscuity, faithlessness, decadence—will for many be their undoing. These are what Europe has to sell, and they are commodities that have repeatedly proved more appealing than abstract salvific ideologies—at least, in the long run. The Berlin Wall did not fall simply because the Soviet Union was militarily and economically bankrupt, nor even because the citizens of the East longed to be free. It fell because those citizens said screw this to communism’s utopian message. They wanted video recorders, not the dictatorship of the proletariat. They wanted Michael Jackson albums. They wanted motorcycles. They wanted Penthouse magazine, combination washer-dryers, twenty-four-hour convenience stores, rave music, and a lot of Ecstasy to go with it. Communism provided none of that. The West, by comparison, demands no adherence to grim, self-sacrificing ideologies, even as it offers infinite possibilities for pleasure in the temporal realm. Of course it is that very seductiveness—accompanied by the complete absence of a redemptive message, the disdain for redemptive messages—that introduces into the West its anomie and hopelessness, but surely it is far better to have newly faithless immigrants moping around the cafés, fretting about the toxins in their diet and complaining that none of it makes any sense, than to have them planning to blow up buildings. Unfortunately, it is that very anomie and hopelessness that prevents the West from defending itself aggressively until this happens.Berlinski doesn’t say any of this in the FP interview, but apparently she spells it out at length in her book. The Europeans must become more like the U.S., free up their economy, get the Muslims into jobs, and Islamic jihad will fade away. In this neoconservative paradigm, America with its materialist consumerism has become the exemplar of the successful assimilation of Muslims (after all, Norman Podhoretz keeps telling everyone he knows that the Muslims are assimilating into America and there’s nothing to worry about). Berlinski does not call for the Europeans to repent and turn back to God and to a belief in their own culture and then to start removing the Muslims, which is the only solution to Europe’s Islam problem. No, she just tells the Europeans to infect the Muslims with their own godless materialism. But, in a confession of her own ultimate—and typically neocon—unseriousness, it turns out that even she doesn’t have much confidence in the viability of her plan.
FP: … So how will this kind of reform ever happen?This reminds me of the National Review Conservative Summit in 1994 where Irving Kristol, who at that point was presenting himself as a big culture warrior (he had written in the Wall Street Journal in 1993 that the culture war was larger and would last longer than the Cold War), casually commented that in the long run the West was finished anyway: “It’s going slowly. Enjoy it while you can,” he said, and the audience laughed. It seems appropriate that the people who have elevated the career into an ethical principle have also defined our civilization as consumerism, and that these same people then turn around and shrug—not with a Gallic shrug, but a Kristolesque shrug—as they see our civilization going down the tubes.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 09, 2006 09:45 AM | Send