Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Root Cause of Islamic Fascism?

Is Western Europe itself a root cause of Islamism? That's what Francis Fukuyama, argues in the Wall Street Journal on the first anniversary of the murder of Theo van Gogh: A Year of Living Dangerously:

There is good reason for thinking, however, that a critical source of contemporary radical Islamism lies not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe. In addition to Bouyeri and the London bombers, the March 11 Madrid bombers and ringleaders of the September 11 attacks such as Mohamed Atta were radicalized in Europe. In the Netherlands, where upwards of 6% of the population is Muslim, there is plenty of radicalism despite the fact that Holland is both modern and democratic.
This isn't a case of blaming the victim though. Fukuyama contends that Europe's lazy embrace of multiculturalism and its inability to absorb muslim immigrants is a contributing factor:

Contemporary Europeans downplay national identity in favor of an open, tolerant, "post-national" Europeanness. But the Dutch, Germans, French and others all retain a strong sense of their national identity, and, to differing degrees, it is one that is not accessible to people coming from Turkey, Morocco or Pakistan. Integration is further inhibited by the fact that rigid European labor laws have made low-skill jobs hard to find for recent immigrants or their children. A significant proportion of immigrants are on welfare, meaning that they do not have the dignity of contributing through their labor to the surrounding society. They and their children understand themselves as outsiders.

It is in this context that someone like Osama bin Laden appears, offering young converts a universalistic, pure version of Islam that has been stripped of its local saints, customs and traditions. Radical Islamism tells them exactly who they are--respected members of a global Muslim umma to which they can belong despite their lives in lands of unbelief. (snip)

If this is in fact an accurate description of an important source of radicalism, several conclusions follow. First, the challenge that Islamism represents is not a strange and unfamiliar one. Rapid transition to modernity has long spawned radicalization; we have seen the exact same forms of alienation among those young people who in earlier generations became anarchists, Bolsheviks, fascists or members of the Bader-Meinhof gang. The ideology changes but the underlying psychology does not.
And much like the Luddites at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Jonah Goldberg had previously compared Islamism to Bolshevism here.

If Fukuyama is right, then, as he points out, bringing Democracy to the Middle East will not help the problem currently. There is an argument however, that it will over time. If Middle Eastern societies move closer to global norms (i.e., as Thomas Barnett would say, they start integrating into the core) then not only will there be more opportunity at home, but Western Europe will seem less alien.

The problem is unique to Western Europe and not the US:

Contemporary Europeans downplay national identity in favor of an open, tolerant, "post-national" Europeanness. But the Dutch, Germans, French and others all retain a strong sense of their national identity, and, to differing degrees, it is one that is not accessible to people coming from Turkey, Morocco or Pakistan. (snip)

Many Europeans assert that the American melting pot cannot be transported to European soil. Identity there remains rooted in blood, soil and ancient shared memory. This may be true, but if so, democracy in Europe will be in big trouble in the future as Muslims become an ever larger percentage of the population. And since Europe is today one of the main battlegrounds of the war on terrorism, this reality will matter for the rest of us as well.
Anyone though can be an "American" - we're a self-selected country. Given the ongoing riots in France, this warning is very timely.