What connects the violence in Barcelona and Charlottesville? Where have Western democracies gone wrong since the turn of the century?
PARIS — From a Western point of view, the month of August 2017 will be remembered for a new wave of terror attacks in Europe (in Spain and Finland) and the resurgence of the racial issue in the United States. The bloody events in Barcelona, Turku, and Charlottesville are a brutal reminder that, for a generation, the West has been facing a double challenge.
The leading Western countries are suffering from both a lack of internal cohesion and an accumulation of inconsistencies in foreign policy.
The integration model in European countries worked successfully during much of the second half of the 20th century with immigrating populations from diverse origins successfully brought into society. But one major exception has emerged: this model doesn't seem to have the means to truly integrate Muslim populations.
Why is this the case? Is it because of Islam's lack of separation between politics and religion? Is it because of the rejection, since the 12th century, by Sunni Islam of all efforts of critical interpretation of its sacred texts, the consequence of which is the strict application of precepts that ruled the life of 7th century Bedouins in the Arabian Peninsula? Or are there other reasons? The existence of an initial cultural gap that immigrants need to overcome isn't a satisfactory explanation. The Jews from the Russian Empire who emigrated to France or the U.S. in the late 19th century had grown up in an entirely different civilization, and yet, they eventually integrated perfectly into French and American societies.
We approach the issue with the assumption, and rightly so, that immigrants are the ones who must adapt to the societies they're joining, and not the other way around. We often forget to take into consideration what the situation in the countries of destination looks like to those who arrive. Admittedly, there's little about our contemporary European societies that can win over the hearts of young Muslims. Older Europeans are testaments to a once flourishing Christian civilization, one, alas, that has been deserted by the younger generations, plunged as they are into a frantic consumerism.
If you are a young Muslim and you feel ill-at-ease in the world of shopping malls, Disney World, reality television and fast-food chains, and you're looking for an ideal, what options do you have? Communism? It has failed. Christianity? Most Europeans have abandoned it. What's left, admittedly for those with little cultural knowledge, is the fantasized Islam of the first Caliphs. The young Muslim immigrant is led into thinking, as the Muslim Brotherhood proclaims, that "Islam is the solution." The solution to all problems, his own and that of the society around him. Sharia law becomes the only possible way to rule over men. Society needs to return to the customs of our pious ancestors (the Salafs). The infernal machinery is in motion: A jihadist is a Salafist who's decided to take his commitment to its logical conclusion. How else could you explain the hatred shown in Barcelona by the young Moroccan terrorists that Spain had generously taken in?
American society also lacks cohesion. It's never been so divided. Young whites are in open rebellion against the cult of minorities and the globalized economy their academic and media establishments are trying to impose on them. They can no longer accept being despised for who they are and blamed for what their grandparents did. They form such a strong electoral base behind Donald Trump that nobody can seriously claim he can't be reelected in 2020.
The West has been fighting the wrong battle.
Authoritarian regimes around the world used to look upon the West's democratic political system with indifference. Now they look upon it with contempt. If Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan share one thought, it's that the West is weak, that it doesn't believe in anything anymore, and that it can collapse at any moment like a house of cards. In Beijing, Moscow, and Ankara, leaders think that the European cohesion won't resist the migratory pressure much longer and that the racial issue irrevocably weakens American society.
What's more, their contempt — unwarranted given their own weaknesses — feeds on Western inconsistencies in foreign policy. It's been almost 16 years since the West sent its troops to Afghanistan in order to "rebuild" it and "democratize" it. To no avail. In his August 21 address, President Trump admitted that this "nation building" attempt was a failure. He rightly lashed out at Pakistan, which takes U.S. aid with one hand while, with the other, offering a safe haven to the Taliban. But he said nothing about the absurdity of seeing Americans endlessly fight against Afghan Pashtuns, probably out of respect for all the sacrifices the West consented to in its war in the "Kingdom of Insolence".
The West engaged in costly wars in the deserts of the Hindu Kush, Mesopotamia, and the Sahel. Wars they can never win, for lack of being willing to resort to the level of cruelty of 19th century colonial expeditions. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the West has been fighting the wrong battle. It forgot to defend its own populations against creeping, dissimulated attacks from the outside, to better engage in resounding military expeditions in faraway lands, not unlike the "civilizing mission" advocated by 19th-century French leader Jules Ferry.
What does it mean to defend one's own populations? Two examples. First, on trade, the West has proven incapable of blocking China's technological plundering. Small EU nations just blocked Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron's project to curb Chinese investments in European high-tech companies. Second, on culture, the West was incapable of stopping the infiltration inside Europe of such a dangerous ideology as Islamism.
The West's great mistake in this new millennium has been to believe that no violence would result from allowing in so many different cultures, and in the whole world adopting the West's political principles — the ones it claims are "universal."