As the full magnitude of Friday’s Paris carnage became known, President Obama spoke to America people and the world about the horrific bloodshed in that great Western city. The president said this was not an attack simply on Paris or the French people. “It was an attack,” he said, “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
This is dangerously wrongheaded. History is not about all of humanity struggling to preserve and protect universal values against benighted peoples here and there who operate outside the confines of those shared values. History is about distinct civilizations and cultures that struggle to define themselves and maintain their identities in the face of ongoing threats and challenges from other civilizations and cultures.
Compare the president’s gauzy notion to what the late Samuel P. Huntington, probably the greatest political scientist of his generation, had to say about the relationship between the West and Islam. “Some Westerners,” wrote Huntington, ” have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise.”
This is not to say, of course, that all or even most Muslims are Islamist extremists or that Western values don’t inspire many within that civilization. But the Islamist fervor we see bubbling up within Middle Eastern Islam today emanates directly from the doctrines and history of Islam. Most Muslims of the Levant know in their hearts, in a way that most Westerners don’t recognize, that Islam and the West have been locked in a civilizational struggle for centuries — reflected in the Moors’ conquest of Spain and incursion into France in the 8th century; the centuries-long Spanish struggle to push the Moors south and finally expel them entirely from Iberia; the wars of the Crusades, inexplicable as anything but a civilizational clash; the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans and slow push up the Danube to Vienna; the two Ottoman sieges at Vienna; the long effort to push the decaying Ottoman forces back toward Istanbul (a highly civilized seat of Christianity before it fell to Islam in 1453); the European takeover of large segments of the Islamic Middle East after World War I; and the eventual pushback by angry and frustrated Muslims bent on protecting their civilization through whatever means they can devise.
That’s a lot of civilizational clash, and it belies the notion that the Paris slaughter reflects the forces of civilization struggling to preserve universal values against the forces of darkness bent on destroying those values. Huntington again: “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world.”
If Huntington presents the more accurate depiction of the relationship between the West and Islam, then certain conclusions follow. First, expect the clash to intensify with Western military incursions into the lands of Islam. This isn’t conjecture. President George W. Bush played into the hands of Islamist extremists when he invaded Iraq, and Mr. Obama did the same when he expanded the Afghanistan mission to reshape political structures and behavior in the Afghan countryside. The threat to the West is greater today than it was before those actions were undertaken.
Second, Muslim immigration into the West inevitably will heighten prospects for bloodshed of the kind we saw in Paris on Friday. We learn from news reports that at least one of the Paris killers probably entered the country with the refugees now flooding into Europe. That should not surprise anyone, certainly not those who understand the true nature of the civilizational clash between the West and Islam.
France’s 4.7 million Muslims now constitute about 7.5 percent of the country’s population, and that number is projected to hit nearly 7 million by 2030. Generally, these people have not assimilated well into French society and hence constitute a mass of political and cultural anger that can only intensify in coming years.
And yet we see the Continent’s most influential leader, Germany’s Angela Merkel, beating the drums for ever greater infusions of Muslim refugees into Europe. And we see the editors of The Economist labeling her “the indispensable European.” This is what happens when humanitarian universalism supplants civilizational consciousness.
Europe is beginning to show some signs of civilizational consciousness, and that sentiment likely will intensify in the wake of the Paris bloodshed. But humanitarian universalism is powerfully embedded into the Western consciousness. Mrs. Merkel’s remarks after the Paris massacre showed little inclination to adjust her view of the world or of Europe’s future. Certainly the editors of The Economist and other like-minded liberals will never alter their gauzy notions. And news coverage of the Paris aftermath reflected the prevailing sentiment by habitually characterizing those who want to curtail Europe’s Muslim immigration as “xenophobic” and “radical.”
But the Muslim infusion represents an existential threat to Europe and the West. Maybe the people there will get rid of their current leaders now living in another world and install leaders who understand the true nature of the threat. Then again, maybe not.
• Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author of books on American history and foreign policy.