Terror in Europe

Enemies Inside And Out, The Double Threat Facing The West

What connects the violence in Barcelona and Charlottesville? Where have Western democracies gone wrong since the turn of the century?

Vigil in Barcelona, days after the Aug. 17 attack on Las Ramblas
Renaud Girard


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.


In Barcelona on Aug. 21 — Photo: Jordi Boixareu/ZUMA

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."

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Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.

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