- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

European discontent with America's anti-terrorism policies is frequently in the news. But there's a bigger story afoot on the continent, one that makes clear that European voters, if not the governing elite, recognize that something resembling a clash of cultures is underway between the Muslim and Western worlds. The flashpoint is Muslim immigration, which is causing upheaval across Europe, as many politicians have found to their extreme discomfort. Indeed, the failure to take this challenge seriously has put many of them out of work, at least if they are on the leftward end of the political spectrum.

For decades, Europe has been known for its socialist or at least semi-socialist democracies. Yet in recent years this center-left coalition has broken down, as conservative governments have come to power in a number of countries, including Spain, Italy, France, Austria and the Netherlands. I recently interviewed two leading observers of European politics John O'Sullivan, editor-in-chief of United Press International, and Christopher Hitchens, a widely published journalist and popular television commentator who agree that Muslim immigration has played a large role in this profound political shift. Both also agree the shift will continue for years to come.

"Muslim immigration of a very considerable size has meant that the liberal traditions and liberal political values of some of these countries have come under attack," says O'Sullivan. As a result, many voters "have switched to the right because they're worried that Muslim immigration is transforming their societies in illiberal ways as well as in more obvious cultural ones." Hitchens saw this illiberal spirit during mass demonstrations in Britain by young Pakistanis who not only wanted to burn The Satanic Verses, but who "wanted to burn the author, Salman Rushdie, too."

Book burnings and insistence that girls be allowed to wear veils in state schools are not the only complaints. Crime has soared in places with heavy immigration, including Paris, Madrid, Stockholm and Amsterdam. According to the Statistical Assessment Service, London now has almost as many murders per capita as New York, half again as many rapes, twice as many assaults on auto thefts and four times as many burglaries. Indeed, London is far more dangerous than New York City. Much of this crime is blamed on Muslim immigrants, as is the massive increase in rape in Norway and crime spikes in Scandinavia and France.

"It is from these groups that the recent rise in crime has come," says O'Sullivan. "People know that and they can't be persuaded otherwise." The Social Democrats lost support because they did try to persuade otherwise. In fact, liberal governments made a habit of denouncing complaints against Muslim immigrants as racist. That attitude, O'Sullivan insists, "has fueled popular resentment and other parties have emerged to take advantage of this discontent."

Not surprisingly, Muslim immigration is also tied to the resurgence of European anti-Semitism, as seen in synagogue burnings and attacks on Jewish citizens. In this case, the anti-Jewish feelings are linked to Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians. Whatever the cause, the revival of Europe's old and discredited hatred is yet another source of friction across the continent.

Immigration hasn't been the only problem in Europe, to be sure. For two decades now, the economic growth rate has hovered around half that of the United States. The unemployment rate is about twice ours. Tax burdens in the European Union account for about 40 percent of GDP in some countries. This of course causes hardship for large numbers of people. Interestingly enough, however, many Europeans wouldn't have it any other way.

"Europeans have made a decision," says O'Sullivan, "to have high levels of unemployment and high levels of job security rather than lower levels of job security and low unemployment as you have in the United States." Hitchens agrees, noting that any politician who tries to challenge this arrangement "does so at his electoral peril."

Where is this all leading? A decade from now, says Hitchens, the center will be politically "much to the right" of where it now stands. O'Sullivan offers a much more troubling scenario. If these trends continue, he warns, widespread upheaval may result in conflicts that spiral out of control. We have seen that happen before, which is why O'Sullivan hopes for an increasingly close relationship between the United States and Europe: "You can predict that Europe in the future will have internal convulsions, and if America is there to make sure they're settled peaceably, we can all sleep more soundly in our beds."

In other words, we ignore Europe's problems along with problems in the Middle East at our own peril. These are not good days for our isolationists.


Peter Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is host of Uncommon Knowledge, which appears on PBS Plus.


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