Tuesday, September 21, 2004

"The European Union Could Rename Itself the Community of Envy"

In the International Herald Tribune, John Vinocur writes about how three American academics have tried to put Islam on Europe's agenda.
About nine months ago, Francis Fukuyama, the historian, said that one of the big things distinguishing America from Europe was that, while the United States had staged its great debate on race, Europe hid from dealing frontally with how much Islam it could live with inside its borders.

Now, Fukuyama, author of the celebrated essay "The End of History," has taken this message to the Europeans. In a speech in Germany about two weeks ago, he urged Europe to stop being intimidated about using its right to defend its own humanist culture. He even employed the expression "leitkultur," or leading culture — touchy among Germans because of its supposed elitist resonance — to describe the legitimacy of shoring up a distinctly European identity.

Fukuyama will return to speak in Europe this month and next. His desire to raise the issue of Islam and Europe is intriguing at the least, and surely intrusive for some Europeans. But it reflects a central concern of other leading American academics. Samuel Huntington of Harvard and Bernard Lewis, the Princeton emeritus professor and Middle East expert, men sometimes schematized with Fukuyama as conservatives (although Huntington and Fukuyama are tough critics of aspects of America's involvement in Iraq), have recently questioned the extent of Europe's stability over the coming century as a result of Islam's growing presence.

…Lewis is known to think that if Europe does not deal with its Islamic and Arab presence — confronting the arithmetic of Muslim population growth and setting guidelines for Muslim assimilation — then the control of the issue will fall into the hands of racists and fascists.

All this, on both sides of the Atlantic, involves entry onto treacherous terrain.

…In Europe, apart from its current focus on its relations with Turkey, there is next to nothing that could be described as coherent, pan-European debate about the more vast question of the parameters for Islam's possible integration.

In fact, Europe's circumstances are tortured. Beyond considering taking Turkey's Islamic population of 62 million into the European Union, its citizens must also must digest the idea of increasingly ceding their national identities to an elusive (or illusive) EU identity. It's here that the American academics think Europeans have to start actively defining who they are in relation to the Muslims in their midst.

…Lewis also went on to point out to Die Welt what he saw as ambiguous feelings among Europeans about Muslims and the United States, saying: "In this connection, the European Union could rename itself the community of envy. Europeans have reservations about an America which has surpassed it so clearly. And that's why the Europeans understand the Muslims — because they have similar feelings about America."

Lewis regards plans in France and the Netherlands to train their own French and Dutch imams with national instincts and loyalties as illusory. And although the United States supports Turkey's entry into the EU, other Americans consider na?ve the European elite's argument that a link to Turkey will be a bridge to Islam and an example to the Arab world. Rather, they say, the resentment lingering from the Ottoman Empire's historical subjugation of the Arab nation makes unlikely any Turkish secular role-model for the Arabs.

Although France's defense of its secular, republican tradition against Islamic head scarves was seen as an important development, and the Netherlands was cited for a rare level of political frankness in its national debate on Islam, there was concern among the scholars about how stubbornly Europe would make the case for its identity. Reality was also a report this summer from a French government internal security agency telling of 300 areas in the country where separatistlike situations, grouping Islamic fundamentalist preachers, contempt for France and the West, and violence held sway.

In a conversation here, Fukuyama said it would be a mistake, with dangerous exclusionary overtones, for Europe to hold up Christianity as its sole defining mark.

"There is a European culture," he said. "It's subscribing to a broader culture of tolerance. It's not unreasonable for European culture to say, 'You have to accept this.' The Europeans have to end their political correctness and take seriously what's going on."

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