Scandinavians have a dual reputation for tolerance and homogeneity: a population of pale, polite people who speak English perfectly. But that’s your grandfather’s Scandinavia. Over the last several decades, the region has become a great deal more diverse after a steady influx of immigrants from the east and south. And the tolerance has become considerably frayed with the more recent rise of several right-wing xenophobic parties.
Five years ago, writer Bruce Bawer published a screed against Islam, immigrants, and multiculturalism called While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within. An American living in Oslo, Bawer watched with distaste as the Scandinavia of his dreams became a very different reality. He has many ugly things to say about Muslims in the book, but he reserves his greatest scorn for average Europeans: “In the end, Europe’s enemy is not Islam or even radical Islam. Europe’s enemy is itself — its self-destructive passivity, its softness toward tyranny, its reflexive inclination to appease.”
Passivity in the face of neo-Nazis? Softness toward right-wing extremism? An inclination to appease demagogues? Not quite.
Bawer, like many of his co-religionists on the right, attributes this European “inclination to appease” to the disease of multiculturalism, which they argue has fostered a tolerance for intolerance and generated an anti-racism that has excused racism. Tolerance was fine when Europe was mostly white and Christian. But then Europe brought in guest workers and accepted former colonial subjects and provided safe havens for refugees. And the right wing suddenly didn’t like how different Europe began to look and how uppity the newcomers were getting. They blamed the immigrants, to be sure, but also the gatekeepers who let them in. Borrowing from the critiques of neocons of the 1980s — Dinesh D’Souza, William Bennett — the European right picked up the cudgel of multiculturalism with which to beat the left over the head. These views on multiculturalism eventually found their way into the speeches of major European leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in the form of laments about the failures of Rainbow Europe.
This scorn for multiculturalism has also shown up in the ramblings of Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing Norwegian extremist who shot his way into the headlines last week. “Multiculturalism,” he wrote in a diary that also extensively cites Bawer’s book, “is an anti-European hate ideology designed to deconstruct European cultures and traditions, European identities, European Christendom and even European nation-states. And, as such, it is an evil genocidal ideology created for the sole purpose of annihilating everything European.”
Breivik did not open fire on Islam or even radical Islam. He targeted what he perceived as the primary enemy of his cherished European ideal. He bombed a government building to take out the ruling Labor Party and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Then he went out to a Labor Party youth conference and gunned down as many people as he could.
This was an attack on social democracy, on tolerance, on the very best of post-war Europe. What Bruce Bawer condemned in his book and what conservative European politicians have bemoaned in their speeches, Anders Behring Breivik made the focus of his bloody crusade. And “crusade” is the apt word, for he was pushed along this path toward violence by NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. Breivik approved wholeheartedly of Serbia’s oppression of Kosovo Albanians, because they were Muslims on the edge of Europe. Breivik’s technology was very modern; his thinking, however, is medieval in the worst sense of the word.
The original Crusades also relied on atrocities, like the ethnic cleansing the knights conducted in Jerusalem in 1099. The crusaders accepted these “necessary evils” in order to wage the larger battle for the soul of the West. They too were focused as much on establishing a certain understanding of Europe — as a Christian, militant, autocratic space — as they were with fighting a distant enemy. Today’s crusaders, from Breivik on the fringe to Bawer in the unfortunately respectable mainstream, talk about the Islamic threat. But they really fear a diverse, democratic, and egalitarian Europe. Their disgust produces intolerance as palpable as the Taliban’s. And their actions, like Breivik’s terrorism, resemble nothing so much as al-Qaeda’s shock attacks.
It took a while for the talking heads to abandon their narrative of “us against them” for the reality of “us against us.” From CNN to Fox, the pundits were quick to assume that Muslims were behind the atrocity, with John Bolton reluctant to give up even after the revelation of the identity of the culprit. Experts on British television talked about why Muslims hate Norway. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin teamed up with Thomas Joscelyn of the Weekly Standard to pin the blame on a “jihadist hydra.” When their error became obvious, instead of apologizing or retracting, Rubin simply reloaded: “the world remains very dangerous because very bad people will do horrendous things. There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West.” This is almost comically beside the point. No one has said anything about blond Norwegians out to kill Americans any more than Timothy McVeigh was out to kill blond Norwegians. Does the world care only about Americans in the crosshairs?
This talk of an “ideological war with the West” obscures what is really going on: an ideological war within the West. It is an ideological war against the social democratic underpinnings of Europe, against the inclusive multiculturalism of the United States, against the whole project to overcome the legacy of the Crusades, slavery, colonialism, and absolutism. Immigrants, whether Muslims or Mexicans, have become pawns in this larger struggle.
Bawer, in the end, is right: the enemy is not Islam or radical Islam. The enemy is pale and probably speaks English perfectly. Make no mistake, though. This enemy is not polite or passive. It is armed and dangerous.
Rubin and the hard right insist that the West not let down its guard in the grand ideological war with the enemies of the West. The election of Barack Obama was supposed to signal the end of this grand narrative of the Bush era. The release of the National Strategy for Counterterrorism last month suggests, however, that the Obama team has edited the narrative, to be sure, but not changed its essential logic.
Although the new National Strategy speaks of certain limits on U.S. power, “the self-limitations on the part of the United States are, in many cases, vast expansions in authorization for the use of force against ‘ungoverned spaces,’” writes FPIF contributor Kailash Srinivasan in Obama’s Expanded Militarism. “The symbol of this expansion of power is the predator drone, which will police these ungoverned spaces by surgical strikes of unlimited scope.”
The limits coming from the Obama administration are more a consequence of economic restraints and political challenges, not a fundamental rethink of the enterprise of war. “We are all too familiar with the typical end game that results from war fatigue,” writes FPIF columnist Hannah Gurman in War Fatigue and the Un-Critical Critics of War. “For various, and sometimes contradictory reasons, we opt to wind down the current battle, but not the larger war. The winding-down phase is as symbolic as it is actual, with military bases and defense dollars continuing to flow well after the media stops reporting on the conflict.”
Nor has the war at home come to an end. The FBI is still targeting Muslims and Muslim-Americans as part of its effort to prosecute its own war on terror. In an excerpt from Patriot Acts, a forthcoming book of oral histories edited by Alia Malek, FPIF contributor Yasir Aladdin Afifi talks about his own strange encounter with the FBI.
“In October 2010, I took my car to my mechanic in Santa Clara for an oil change,” he relates in A Visit from the FBI. “As the mechanic was elevating the car on the hydraulic lift, I noticed that there was something like a piece of string or wire coming out from the back. Then, when the car was fully elevated, I noticed this black device under the back of the car. I asked the mechanic to pull it out, and he handed it to me. He was somewhat freaked out.” Follow the link for the rest of the story.
String of Pearls Unstrung
China has been up front about its plans to beef up its naval capabilities. But is it really constructing a set of overseas bases – a “string of pearls” – to control the shoreline from East Asia all the way to the Middle East? FPIF contributor Vivian Yang takes a hard look at the commercial ports that China is building or helping to build in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and elsewhere and concludes that the pearls are not quite so valuable.
“Popular as it might be, the string of pearls theory is more a matter of speculation than hard reality. For one, commercial ports do not necessarily lead to naval bases,” she writes in Is China’s String of Pearls Real? “Fear of the string of pearls also masks the reality that China has yet to achieve the capability to turn these ports into naval bases.”
Fear of a different kind has been at the heart of U.S. policy toward the Arab Spring. Consider, for instance, Washington’s continued refusal to support democracy efforts in Bahrain, which stands in stark contrast to administration policy toward Libya or Syria. Bahrain, after all, hosts a major U.S. naval base.
“On May 13, the administration ‘declined’ to send diplomats to a hearing held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Capitol Hill about the situation in Bahrain,” writes FPIF contributor Anthony Newkirk in Bahrain and Human Rights. “Lest critics accuse the State Department of insensitivity to Congress, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner did appear before the same committee in July to testify about repression in Syria. It remains unclear why the former human rights lawyer cited HRW and Amnesty International reports on Syria but has said nothing of their work on Bahrain.”
Haiti, Afghanistan, July 27
Haiti has a new leader, Michel Martelly, but does it have a new hope for the future? “Martelly began his presidency with the wind at his back, eager to make sweeping changes,” writes FPIF contributor Tania Smith in Martelly: Haiti’s New Hope. “But only eight weeks after his inauguration, Martelly’s honeymoon period has ended. He has yet to successfully pick a prime minister: parliament shot down Gerard Rouzier’s appointment, and the prognosis for Bernard Gousse’s nomination doesn’t appear any better. Martelly also made big campaign promises including free access to education and universal healthcare. But these are goals that even the most developed countries in the world, let alone battered Haiti, have been unable to achieve fully.”
In our FPIF Pick this week, contributor Adam Cohen reviews Peter Tomsen’s The Wars of Afghanistan. “Tomsen criticizes U.S. policy as incoherent and lacking direction,” Cohen writes. “The United States ought to honestly and precisely dictate its interests and create a plan of global action. Policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan requires consideration of local history, custom, and realities.”
Finally, for those in the Washington, D.C. area, FPIF will hold an event on Wednesday, July 27, the anniversary of the end of the Korean War. We’ll be holding a workshop on East Asian security from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the IPS conference room, with presentations on the current situation on the Korean peninsula, the struggle over U.S. military bases in Okinawa and Jeju, and the role of China. It will be followed by a candlelight vigil at the White House.
FPIF, July 26, 2011