- - Sunday, March 27, 2016


In the wake of the Islamist terrorist bombings in Brussels, we learn a number of things of high significance. We learn, from an Associated Press dispatch, that the Islamic State, or ISIS, has sent some 400 trained terrorists into Europe with the wave of refugees flooding into the Continent. We learn that Belgium lacks the law enforcement and security services needed to monitor the current level of terrorist activity in the country. We learn that certain Brussels districts, notably Molenbeek and Schaerbeek, have Muslim populations that are sufficiently large (approaching 50 percent in Molenbeek) and culturally coalesced to harbor dangerous terrorists and shield them from government security forces. We learn that some 5,000 Western European Muslims have traveled to the Middle East to connect with ISIS, and that many of these (including many European citizens) are filtering back with the know-how and intent to kill Europeans.

What does all this add up to? It adds up to the reality that Europe’s problem with Muslims is first and foremost an immigration problem. Europe has allowed into its midst too many Muslims on the theory that they will be assimilated into the prevailing Western culture. Many have assimilated just fine, but large numbers have not and will not. The gap in religious thinking and cultural sensibility is just too large. The historical hostility between Islam and the West is just too intense and goes back too far.

No one is supposed to say such things. Until recently — before the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, as well as Donald Trump’s devil-may-care assault on political correctness — many people felt inhibited from suggesting as much by the prospect of ferocious counterattacks with such bludgeon terms as “xenophobe” and “racist.”

The view of the Western globalist elites, with their push for mass immigration, goes something like this: Western civic values and cultural sensibilities are superior to those of the rest of the world, and people from the rest of the world want to come here to share in those values. Hence over time the result will be successful assimilation into a homogenized culture. It will all work out just fine.

The late Samuel Huntington of Harvard punctured that view with brutal realism when he said, “Some Westerners have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise.” He elaborated by saying the underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism but rather Islam itself, “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, conversely, is not the CIA or U.S. military but rather the West, “a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture” and thus assume an “obligation to extend that culture throughout the world.”

Mr. Trump took a plenty of heat when he said there is a lot of hatred toward the West within Islam. He wasn’t supposed to say that; instead he was supposed to carefully isolate out Islamist terrorism as a special phenomenon that has nothing to do with the broader civilization of Islam. But Mr. Trump’s characterization didn’t seem to have much impact on his political standing, based on polls and subsequent primary results. Why?

Perhaps it’s because many ordinary Americans know that that is true, irrespective of what the elites want them to believe. Leslie Gelb, one of the leading foreign policy thinkers of his generation, said recently in an interview with The National Interest that the rise in “anti-Muslim nationalism” results in large measure from deeply held concerns about the growing refugee problem. “It’s frightening,” he said. “And it’s frightening because they seem to be angrier than other groups that Europe and America has absorbed. And there’s uncertainty and fear about where this anger will turn.”

And why wouldn’t they be angry, given the West’s intrusive meddling in the lands of Islam over many generations?

There is much tough talk among this year’s presidential candidates about “destroying ISIS,” defeating the caliphate at the source. This isn’t going to happen because this is a civilizational clash — and civilizational clashes, as Huntington pointed out so lucidly at the dawn of the post-Cold War era, are the most difficult to adjudicate or settle. The issues involved are too emotional, too grounded in cultural identity. Certainly ISIS can be contained, and must be. But the cultural sensibilities that fuel ISIS aren’t going away and will spawn similar movements in hospitable venues in the Middle East and North Africa.

That’s why the first line of defense should be an immigration defense. The more immigration the West gets from Muslim lands, the greater the prospect for jihadi cells to emerge; the greater the prospect for population enclaves that quietly abet and succor terrorist activity; the greater the likelihood that the numbers will challenge or even overwhelm the capacity of a nation’s security forces, as they have in Belgium.

It’s all about the numbers. In Europe, the numbers pose a fearsome challenge, as Mr. Gelb points out. In America, less so — but the numbers are moving in the direction of the European experience. The policy should be slow, steady absorption and assimilation, not the kind of mass immigration that is destroying Britain and challenging the European Continent. That’s the lesson of Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels.

• Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author of, among other books, “Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition” (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

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