A Year of Living Dangerously: Remember Theo van Gogh, and shudder for the future. (FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, November 2, 2005, Opinion Journal)
Contemporary Europeans downplay national identity in favor of an open, tolerant, “post-national” Europeanness. But the Dutch, Germans, French and others all retain a strong sense of their national identity, and, to differing degrees, it is one that is not accessible to people coming from Turkey, Morocco or Pakistan. Integration is further inhibited by the fact that rigid European labor laws have made low-skill jobs hard to find for recent immigrants or their children. A significant proportion of immigrants are on welfare, meaning that they do not have the dignity of contributing through their labor to the surrounding society. They and their children understand themselves as outsiders.
It is in this context that someone like Osama bin Laden appears, offering young converts a universalistic, pure version of Islam that has been stripped of its local saints, customs and traditions. Radical Islamism tells them exactly who they are–respected members of a global Muslim umma to which they can belong despite their lives in lands of unbelief. Religion is no longer supported, as in a true Muslim society, through conformity to a host of external social customs and observances; rather it is more a question of inward belief. Hence Mr. Roy’s comparison of modern Islamism to the Protestant Reformation, which similarly turned religion inward and stripped it of its external rituals and social supports.
If this is in fact an accurate description of an important source of radicalism, several conclusions follow. First, the challenge that Islamism represents is not a strange and unfamiliar one. Rapid transition to modernity has long spawned radicalization; we have seen the exact same forms of alienation among those young people who in earlier generations became anarchists, Bolsheviks, fascists or members of the Bader-Meinhof gang. The ideology changes but the underlying psychology does not.
Further, radical Islamism is as much a product of modernization and globalization as it is a religious phenomenon; it would not be nearly as intense if Muslims could not travel, surf the Web, or become otherwise disconnected from their culture. This means that “fixing” the Middle East by bringing modernization and democracy to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not solve the terrorism problem, but may in the short run make the problem worse. Democracy and modernization in the Muslim world are desirable for their own sake, but we will continue to have a big problem with terrorism in Europe regardless of what happens there.
The real challenge for democracy lies in Europe, where the problem is an internal one of integrating large numbers of angry young Muslims and doing so in a way that does not provoke an even angrier backlash from right-wing populists. Two things need to happen: First, countries like Holland and Britain need to reverse the counterproductive multiculturalist policies that sheltered radicalism, and crack down on extremists. But second, they also need to reformulate their definitions of national identity to be more accepting of people from non-Western backgrounds.
The first has already begun to happen. In recent months, both the Dutch and British have in fact come to an overdue recognition that the old version of multiculturalism they formerly practiced was dangerous and counterproductive. Liberal tolerance was interpreted as respect not for the rights of individuals, but of groups, some of whom were themselves intolerant (by, for example, dictating whom their daughters could befriend or marry). Out of a misplaced sense of respect for other cultures, Muslims minorities were left to regulate their own behavior, an attitude which dovetailed with a traditional European corporatist approaches to social organization. In Holland, where the state supports separate Catholic, Protestant and socialist schools, it was easy enough to add a Muslim “pillar” that quickly turned into a ghetto disconnected from the surrounding society.
New policies to reduce the separateness of the Muslim community, like laws discouraging the importation of brides from the Middle East, have been put in place in the Netherlands. The Dutch and British police have been given new powers to monitor, detain and expel inflammatory clerics. But the much more difficult problem remains of fashioning a national identity that will connect citizens of all religions and ethnicities in a common democratic culture, as the American creed has served to unite new immigrants to the United States.
The tragedy of Mr. Fukuyama is that his secular rationalism leaves him no access to nor comprehension of how America’s founding ideals bind the many into one and so an essay like this ends up being only half written because he can’t make the recommendations that Europe needs if it is to sustain healthy democracy.