The discovery that more than 2,000 European Muslims are fighting for the Islamic State has reignited a familiar, feverish chorus that both reprimands European Muslims for refusing to integrate and rebukes European governments for failing to integrate their Muslim citizens. Alas, incriminations are rarely accompanied by elucidations, and when they are, they are plagued by shortsightedness. The prevailing narrative neglects a sweeping chronological trajectory, which, unfortunately, reveals why the problem at hand is unfixable — that is barring a philosophical transformation across the continent.
Critics, by focusing on Muslims — and their supposed obstinacy — as well as on European governments — and their alleged action, or rather inaction — are tossing out the baby and leaving the bathwater untouched. They are allowing the real culprit behind today’s precarious situation off the hook: the postwar European project. For the postwar European project created a society devoid of incentives for Muslims to integrate, a society that, because of pervasive self-hatred and tyrannical multiculturalism, is hopelessly submissive and cowardly.
After Europe nearly destroyed itself twice in the span of three decades, its nations quixotically banded together to make war, in the words of French foreign minister Robert Schuman, “not only unthinkable, but materially impossible.” The orientation of the union that resulted was economic, yet over time, it became primarily political and cultural. The European Coal and Steel Community, which fused together the economies of France and Germany in 1951, became the European Economic Community in 1957, which became the European Union in 1993. Bureaucrats entranced by the mirage of inevitable progress sought to create a new supra-civilization that would be, paradoxically, social-democratic — meaning post-nationalist, post-individualist, post-ethnic, post-racial, and post-religious — but concurrently “tolerant” of diversity.
Through media and public institutions and with the obstinacy of a psychosis, European elites censured the continent’s past as a succession of bloody horrors and pushed its citizens to shun all variations of particularism. The outcome was a vacuum of meaning. Europeans became — and remain — unhealthily saddled with guilt and sapped of dignity. The few who have challenged the trend, daring to display patriotism, nationalism, and religiosity, have risked being branded as jingoistic, dogmatic, and xenophobic.
With the intensification of European self-loathing came a fall in European fertility rates. But at the same time, Europeans, relieved by the defense umbrella provided by the United States, demanded more stuff from the public coffers. A social welfare system, however, let alone a comprehensive one covering 400 million people, does not pay for itself. Succor stems from taxable income, which stems from a tax base. As such, ballooning expenses paired with a shrinking, graying, and less productive population struck politicians with a difficult choice: encourage citizens to have a greater number of children or allow immigration. The former, at least to the cultivated European palette, tasted too akin to fascism. Besides, the majority of the citizens themselves had already concluded that holidays to Magaluf and Mykonos offered a more satisfying return on investment than screeching progeny.
Lo and behold, many Europeans wanted it both ways. Habituated to generous welfare, they expected the gravy train to keep rolling and, as illustrated by the dramatic ascent of far right-wing sentiment, for their countries to stay predominantly non-brown and non-Muslim. So their elected officials — and often non-elected officials in Belgium — chose for them. Immigration, they wished with fingers tightly crossed, would not only prove that Europe had transcended its bigoted heritage, but that it would also compensate for the “birth dearth.” It would deliver the tax base required to continue floating the social welfare state, a tax base prepared to scrub toilets and mop floors, jobs that working-class (Western) Europeans gradually felt were below them.
Things, nonetheless, haven’t worked out so well. It’s by no means clear that immigrants are supplying a net contribution. But more importantly, the socialist European project stripped its diverse peoples of sense of purpose, in turn, reducing once triumphant, sturdy cultures into malodorous mists of shame and doubt. This is why it’s peculiar that doomsayers wail about Muslims declining to “integrate” into “European culture.” In this purportedly enlightened age, what does it mean to be “British,” “French,” or “Dutch,” not to mention “European”? “Native” British, French, and Dutch — and those mysterious creatures who classify themselves first and foremost as European — have tremendous difficulty answering. (The recent rise of far-right political groups in Europe is a frightening reminder of what happens when intrinsic forms of identity are long suppressed from on high.) Moreover, “integration” itself is a vague concept. What does the suitably integrated European Muslim look like, act like, and believe? This matter is taboo and seldom, if ever, addressed.
The really interesting question though: Do Muslim immigrants have an incentive to become a part of Europe? I don’t believe it’s easy to answer strongly in the affirmative. Muslims are proud of their culture and have faith in its vitality. Additionally, they are plainly aware that European society, as evidenced by rising rates of alcoholism, violent crime, vandalism, drug use, teenage pregnancy and suicide, is coming unraveled. Gamblers don’t bet on losing horses, particularly when those horses are partially blind and three of its four legs are broken. The odds are further stacked against Muslim immigrants given Europe’s socio-economic rigidities and systemic racism. And it is a discouraging omen for the wider Muslim community when its members who actually manage to surmount the barricades by achieving educationally and professionally still aren’t looked upon as “European.”
Pessimists will assert that Muslim immigrants, by choosing to move to Europe and benefiting from its services, are obligated to accept European values. This scenario would be ideal, but European values are none other than schmaltzy notions like “tolerance” and “respect.” They are a far cry from the classical virtues of prudence, industriousness, temperance, and self-restraint upon which America was founded.
What’s the takeaway? Excepting a complete revolution in the European mindset, the most extreme manifestation of Muslim particularism, Islamization, will persist as an issue that cannot be stopped, but only managed. Human beings are inherently self-interested; they will exploit the exploitable and project onto the projectable. Immigrants, Muslim or otherwise, won’t feel pressure to amend their ingrained ways of life until Europe stares in the mirror, rediscovers what makes for a robust society, and reconstructs its backbone. Few counterterrorism experts and civil servants will readily admit this for fear of revealing their impotence. The crises involving Muslim culture are very much those of European culture. And regrettably, public policy is far more effective at ruining culture than improving it.
Though it’s easy to sling arrows at Muslims and faceless bureaucrats, the arrows remain misguided and laden with pretense. Short of a total existential awakening, the solution for Europe is to pursue free-market solutions in the realms of education and economics to offer those on the periphery of society more opportunity for self-advancement. It really shouldn’t be a mystery why Muslim separatism and “homegrown” radicalization are not endemic problems in America like they are in Europe. Individual liberty, as opposed to engineered collective parity, is the ultimate equalizer and the only natural guarantor of communal harmony.
Jonathan Bronitsky received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge where he also wrote his master’s thesis on the ascent of British Islamism in the early-1990s. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @jbronitsky.