Islam could soon be the dominant force in a Europe which, in the name of political correctness, has abdicated the battle for cultural and religious control, Prof. Bernard Lewis, the world-renowned Middle Eastern and Islamic scholar, said on Sunday.
The Muslims "seem to be about to take over Europe," Lewis said at a special briefing with the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post. Asked what this meant for the continent's Jews, he responded, "The outlook for the Jewish communities of Europe is dim." Soon, he warned, the only pertinent question regarding Europe's future would be, "Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?" The growing sway of Islam in Europe was of particular concern given the rising support within the Islamic world for extremist and terrorist movements, said Lewis.
Lewis, whose numerous books include the recent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, and The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, would set no timetable for this drastic shift in Europe, instead focusing on the process, which he said would be assisted by "immigration and democracy." Instead of fighting the threat, he elaborated, Europeans had given up.
"Europeans are losing their own loyalties and their own self-confidence," he said. "They have no respect for their own culture." Europeans had "surrendered" on every issue with regard to Islam in a mood of "self-abasement," "political correctness" and "multi-culturalism," said Lewis, who was born in London to middle-class Jewish parents but has long lived in the United States.
The threat of extremist Islam goes far beyond Europe, Lewis stressed, turning to the potential impact of Iran going nuclear under its current regime.
The Cold War philosophy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which prevented the former Soviet Union and the United States from using the nuclear weapons they had targeted at each other, would not apply to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, said Lewis.
"For him, Mutual Assured Destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement," said Lewis of Ahmadinejad. "We know already that they [Iran's ruling ayatollahs] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. If they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick, free pass to heaven. I find all that very alarming," said Lewis.
Lewis acknowledged that Ahmadinejad had made the notion of Iran having the right to acquire a nuclear capability an issue of national pride, and that this should be borne in mind in trying to thwart Teheran's nuclear drive. "One should try to make it clear at all stages that the objection is not Iran having [a nuclear weapon] but to the regime that governs Iran having it," said Lewis.
This idea already had support among those Iranians who, on the one hand, believed that their country has a right to possess such a capability but, on the other, feared it being acquired by a government that they do not support.
Israel and the West should work to strengthen moderate forces within the Iranian population, he urged, via an aggressive propaganda campaign including the use of television and radio programs.
"All the evidence is that the regime is extremely unpopular with their own people," he said. "I am told that the Israeli daily [radio] program in Persian is widely listened to all over Iran with rapt attention." Israel and the West should also be looking to reach out to moderate forces within the Arab world, which are equally alarmed by the spread of extremism in their midst, said Lewis. "The Arab governments understand that Israel is not their biggest problem," said Lewis.
Here too, he said, Israeli media had a positive effect in the region, particularly in Jordan, where Israeli programs were broadcast and were widely watched. Jordanians "get the message of how a free society works. As one fellow put it, it is amazing to watch these great and famous people banging the table and screaming at each other. Even more striking is the fact that Arabs can denounce the Israeli government on Israeli television. That has an impact." Lewis also highlighted the Washington-based Syrian Reform Party, whose leader Farid Ghadry openly admires Israel.
Regarding the summer's war against Hizbullah, Lewis warned that a second such conflict could break out in the near future.
He quoted a Christian Lebanese friend saying soon after the fighting ended that "Israel has lost the war, but Hizbullah has not won" because many people in Lebanon were blaming Hizbullah for bringing conflict to their country. Now, though, he added, it was his sense that Hizbullah had "gained some ground since then."
Amir Mizroch contributed to this report.