February 15, 2006

Europe Doomed?

Theodore Dalrymple has an essay up at Cato Unbound questioning whether Old Europe is doomed. It brings up the usual suspects of over-regulation, demographics, unassimilated immigration, and protectionism. There are some interesting followups from Timothy Smith, Charles Kupchan, Anne Applebaum.

I have to say, though, that if this is the response to cartoon riots for much longer, they may very well be doomed:

“We had to watch how they were ripping off car mirrors. We wanted to stop this vandalism but were ordered to withdraw,” an anonymous policeman says in today’s Flemish daily De Standaard. “An ambulance was told to switch off its siren because that might provoke the Moroccans.” Another anonymous officer told the press: “There you are watching this, while citizens can see that you are powerless.” According to an anonymous police chief the authorities decided, that “it was better to have a few cars vandalized than risk open war in the streets.” On Monday the city council, led by the Socialist mayor Patrick Janssens, decided that the city would compensate the damage to cars and property.
The thing that the authorities don't seem to understand is that, rather than defusing the situation, they are pouring gasoline on the flames. These actions will be seen as nothing more than additional examples of Western weakness and decadence. The capitulation will engender nothing but scorn and loathing from the radical Islamists and unassimilated immigrants.

It seems to me that they are falling further into the wishful-thinking trap of "if we just don't provoke them...." Posted by richard at February 15, 2006 09:50 AM


Britain responded similarly last week. Even as that wild-eyed Abu Hamza character was convicted on charges of inciting racial hatred, people were in the streets calling for terror attacks in response to the cartoons. And there were no arrests.

The thing is, what would you have them do? Here's the last paragraph, as written by a left-winger:

"The authorities are doing their best to defuse the situation, and they understand that if they made arrests, they would just be pouring gasoline on the flames. Police action against the protests would be seen as another example of Western prejudice against Moslems. Arrests would engender nothing but outrage and reprisals from the radical Islamists and unassimilated immigrants."

Are you really going to fault the Europeans for this? We're talking about a damned if you do/don't situation. I don't doubt that they did a risk calculation before they settled on this policy. Do you really think that arresting these protesters will put a lid on this thing?

This is an enduring problem in dealing with these people — if you don't act, you embolden them. If you do act, you help them recruit.

So you do your best to prevent attacks (or in Europe, uprisings) in the short term, while at the same time you try to bridge the understanding gap in the long term.

That last bit is where I part company with the Administration. I admire the fact that they've thought about it, and they've concluded that giving the Middle East democratic regimes that empower the people will make them more more susceptible to notions of rights, freedoms, and peaceful interchange among nations. I appreciate the theory — our ideas are better, and given a situation where they are able to compete with al Qaeda's, they'll always win, in the long run, because they just make people's lives better.

What I regret is that the Administration doesn't calculate how much it might set the project back with certain of its methods. Images of bombed-out homes and Iraqi kids without limbs, of Iraqi prisoners piled up naked with bullet-welts on their backsides, are oddly compelling to people, whereas unfamiliar abstractions like "constitutional democracy" and "free speech and press" just aren't. If you have the benefit of these abstract values, you take them for granted; if you don't, you're skeptical about how useful they'll be.

How much real, useful intelligence did the Army get out of Abu Ghraib? I think we lost a lot of ground in the long-term fight there, for negligible short-term "gain."

Back to Europe, then, and the lack of a response to vandalism. I like the fact that they're thinking about the long-term implications of what they do. I know there's this theory out there that "they're going to hate us anyway, so we have to be forceful with them, or else we send the message that we're weak, and they'll walk all over us."

But think about that. Really — think about it. If that's really the case, then we don't have any hope, as a species. There will come a point at which East and West square off and destroy one another, and in the meantime we're just playing out the string. I can't bring myself to believe that. I have to think that people aren't fatalistically programmed to hate and kill one another. History seems to bear that out: look at how France and Britain get along. Ireland is healing. My God, France and Germany — they're actually friendly. I don't doubt there were people in the 1940s who thought that could never happen.

I know it's not en vogue these days to ask certain questions, such as Why do these people hate us, and what can we do about it? Everybody is frothing at the mouth to fight this millennial battle; they'll carve you up for even thinking such things. But for my part, I think it's a question worth asking. The terrorists don't "win" if we stop and re-evaluate how we interact with the Middle East, if we think about what we can do to make people not hate us so much, if we try to reach out across the aisle and meet people halfway. The terrorists don't "win" if some cop makes a judgment call and decides to let some car vandalism slide, rather than escalate a dicey situation.

All I'm saying is, we need to think long term. And we need to consider the role that images play in the struggle, as we fight with al Qaeda and the Moslem Brotherhood for the hearts and minds of the Islamic rank-and-file. If democracy really is our best bet for peace, then we have to care about what people think of us. Photos of a Dutch riot trooper beating on a protester would only hurt that cause.

Posted by: Phutatorius at February 15, 2006 01:50 PM

One quick point about historical enemies eventually becoming allies: they don't tend to get there by just hoping to get along. More often they actually fought tooth-and-nail and in many cases one side was defeated roundly. That is what allowed the board to be reset and their new interests to become aligned.

Would we get along as well with the Japanese if we had stopped short of unconditional surrender? I doubt it.

Now, I believe, as you do, that it is quite likely that the West and Islam will reconcile in the end.... I'd just rather we do it on our terms rather than the radicals'.

Posted by: richard at February 15, 2006 04:30 PM

Also, there's something to be said in those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations for just doing the right thing.

The right thing is to arrest people for vandalism. Yes, that may help them recruit, may lead to clashes, but in addition to breaking the stereotype of the pansy-ass West, it also is the law of the land. And it should be enforced.

Posted by: richard at February 15, 2006 04:37 PM

Pfft. If you asked me for an over/under on the percentage of time the law gets enforced, I'd have to say 35-40%. Judicial decisions make great hay of the principle of prosecutorial discretion; otherwise, you'd have hundreds of civil suits based on a "that other guy was doing it, and you didn't arrest him" theory.

Politics always affects prosecutorial decisionmaking. If it didn't, we would have Lawrence v. Texas, or the "culture of life" euthanasia charges brought against doctors in hospitals hit by Katrina.

For my part, I'm glad some thought was given to how video of tear gas and beatings would play on the news. If only we'd exercised similar discretion before we shot nude Iraqi men in the ass repeatedly with rubber bullets . . .

But we're not pussies like the Europeans.

Posted by: Phutatorius at February 15, 2006 10:17 PM

Vandals are not protestors. Denmark has got to figure out how to secure its property, or matters will get worse. I agree with Richard on that.

However, I agree with you that we need a long-term solution. In addition to a show of strength and commitment, we need to get some arab street cred somehow that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem. That's winning the war of ideas and making sure that our foreign policy includes carrots as well nuclear-bunker busting sticks.

Posted by: Michael at February 16, 2006 12:41 AM