Europe appears to be falling apart.
Last week, an ISIS cell killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds more in twin suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and in the Maalbeek metro station, and the following weekend, a proposed March Against Fear was cancelled due to “security concerns,” which no doubt amped up the city’s anxiety even more.
On Sunday, riot police clashed with a mob of hundreds of angry men wearing black, some with shaved heads, who stormed into the square carrying an anti-ISIS banner and screaming Nazi-like slogans.
“It was important for us to be here symbolically,” a woman named Samia Orosemane said, but “there were lots of men who were here and doing the Nazi salute, shouting 'death to Arabs,' and so we weren't able to get through.”
Adam Liston told the BBC that the atmosphere in the square was “really positive” at first. “Then a bunch of skinheads just turned up, marched into the square, and started a major confrontation with the peace protesters. They got in the face of the protesters and police. They set off flares and chanted and it was getting quite ugly.”
There were no violent Nazi-like demonstrations in the United States against Arabs or Muslims, not even on or after September 11, 2001, when ten times as many people were murdered in the most spectacular terrorist attack in world history. But as Tom Wolfe famously put it, the dark night of fascism is forever descending on the United States and landing in Europe.
We can only imagine the violent convulsions that will wrack the continent if something on the scale of 9/11 ever happens on that side of the ocean. And it’s more likely to happen over there in the short and medium term than it is over here. Europe is already under much greater attack than the United States, and it has a far larger problem with Islamic radicalization.
There are five times as many Muslims in the United States as there are in Belgium, but the United States is not a hotbed of homegrown Islamic extremism. We’ve suffered some acts of terrorism since 9/11—the mass shooting in San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon bombing and the massacre at Fort Hood. If American Muslims and European Muslims were equally predisposed to jihadism, we’d experience roughly five times as many attacks.
But we don’t, mostly because Muslims feel more at home in the United States than they do in Europe.
The United States has always been better at assimilation than Europe. Ours is a nation of immigrants and always has been. Most of us on this side of the Atlantic have a civic identity, but Europeans, by and large, still have a national blood-and-soil identity.
Americans don’t want immigrants to self-segregate in cultural ghettoes. It happens to a certain extent anyway, but less so than in Europe. We not only welcome immigrants, we expect and encourage them to join us rather than live separately alongside us. In Europe, by contrast, Muslim immigrants are forever “the other.”
American Muslims are also more interested in joining mainstream American culture. Those who immigrate here must go through a rigorous selection process, and they can’t expect to just show up and live on state benefits in perpetuity like they can in Europe. They must work hard and assimilate to some extent, or they’ll fail. They have, on average, done a very good job of it.
American Muslims are actually a little richer on average than the general population. European Muslims, by contrast, are much poorer on average.
This is not, however, the reason Europe has a bigger problem with Islamic radicalization. Poverty is not a trigger for religious fanaticism. Islamic terrorists tend to be educated and financially successful. “Economists have found a link between low incomes and property crimes,” David R. Francis writes at The National Bureau of Economic Research. “But in most cases terrorism is less like property crime and more like a violent form of political engagement.” And political engagement requires education and the ability and wherewithal to engage in activities beyond mere economic survival. In that sense, American Muslims fit the terrorist profile better than European Muslims.
Yet Europe is still having more trouble.
Arab Muslims born and raised in the United States are just as American as I am, but Arab Muslims born and raised in Belgium will never be Belgian. They may or may not be citizens of the state of Belgium, but they won’t have a Belgian identity. A Belgian identity scarcely even exists. Most Belgians identify first and foremost as Dutch-speaking Flemish or French-speaking Walloons.
A Pew Research Center survey of 55,000 American Muslims in 2011 found that they are “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world… On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.”
A majority of American Muslims view themselves as Americans first, rather than as Muslims first, whereas 81 percent of British Muslims view themselves as Muslims first. French Muslims are as likely as American Muslims to identify first with the nation-state they live in, but France is the only country in Europe that has seriously attempted to nurture a French identity among its immigrant populations.
Europe’s Muslim population feels far more alienated from the general society, so it's easier for a violent anti-Western ideology to find traction. And when trouble erupts, as it is now, Europeans react far more harshly than Americans do.
“The Trump-Cruz police state exists,” Eli Lake writes in Bloomberg. “It's called France.”
Imagine if Ted Cruz or Donald Trump proposed a policy to monitor thousands of Muslim citizens even if they had no specific ties to terrorist groups. Then, for good measure, they called for a new law to allow the police to search the homes of suspected terrorists without a warrant and to place terror suspects under house arrest without a court order.
Sounds like a nightmare. One can imagine the indignation. Pundits and politicians of good conscience would intone against the politics of fear. Some on the right would respond that political correctness should not be a barrier to counterterrorism.
But what I have just described is not a Republican sound bite. Rather, it is the current counterterrorism posture of France.
France’s policies were put in place by a left-wing socialist government. It’s not hard to imagine the far-right shoving France over the edge if it ever wins power—and it might if Europe continues to be terrorized.
And Europe will continue to be terrorized. In The Observer, John R. Schindler argues that Europe now has so many ISIS-supporting extremists in its midst that it isn’t facing mere terrorism any longer, that the problem has been upgraded, if that’s the right word, to a guerrilla war or an insurgency.
The threat is now so great, with Europe possessing thousands of homegrown radicals bent on murder, that mere spying cannot prevent all attacks “left of boom” as the professionals put it.
Maintaining 24/7 human and technical surveillance on just one target requires something like two dozen operatives, and even the larger European security services can effectively watch only a few handfuls of would-be terrorists at one time.
Simply put, Europe has imported a major threat into its countries, one that did not exist a couple generations ago. It can be endlessly debated why this problem has grown so serious so quickly—for instance, how much is due to Europe’s failures at assimilation of immigrants versus the innate aggression of some of those immigrants (and their children)?—but that the threat is large and growing can no longer be denied by the sentient.
We should expect more guerrilla-like attacks like [in] Brussels yesterday: moderate in scale, relatively easy to plan and execute against soft targets, and utterly terrifying to the public. At some point, angry Europeans, fed up with their supine political class, will begin to strike back, and that’s when the really terrifying scenarios come into play. European security services worry deeply about the next Anders Breivik targeting not fellow Europeans, but Muslim migrants. “We’re just one Baruch Goldstein away from all-out war,” explained a senior EU terrorism official, citing the American-born Israeli terrorist, fed up with Palestinian violence, who walked into a Hebron mosque in 1994, guns blazing, and murdered 29 innocent Muslims.
When that violence comes, a practically disarmed Europe will be all but powerless to stop it.
Americans won’t likely ever forget how the supposedly “sophisticated” European opinion-makers said America’s chickens were coming home to roost when Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center, and how we—for one brain-dead reason or another—had it coming.
I wonder what Europeans think of that attitude now.