muslim woman 88.
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Three years ago - December 2002 - I was asked to take part in a symposium on Europe and began with the observation that "I find it easier to be optimistic about the futures of Iraq and Pakistan than, say, Holland or Denmark."
At the time, this was taken as confirmation of my descent into insanity. I can't see why. Compare, for example, the Iraqi and the European constitutions: Which would you say reflected a shrewder grasp of the realities on the ground?
Or take last week's attacks in Jordan by a quartet of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's finest suicide-bombers. The day after the carnage, Jordanians took to the streets in their thousands to shout "Death to Zarqawi!" and "Burn in hell, Zarqawi!" King Abdullah denounced terrorism as "sick" and called for a "global fight" against it. "These people are insane," he said of the husband-and-wife couple dispatched to blow up a wedding reception at the Radisson.
For purposes of comparison, consider the Madrid bombing from March last year. The day after that, Spaniards also took to the streets, for their feebly tasteful umbrellas-in-the-reign vigil. Instead of righteous anger, they were "united in sorrow" - i.e., enervated in passivity. Instead of wishing death on the perpetrators, the preferred slogan was "Basta!" - "Enough!" - which was directed less at the killers than at Aznar and Bush. Instead of a leader who calls for a "global fight," they elected a government pledged to withdraw from any meaningful role in the global fight.
My point in that symposium was a simple one: whatever their problems, most Islamic countries have the advantage of beginning any evolution into free states from the starting point of relative societal cohesion. By contrast, most European nations face the trickier task of trying to hold on to their freedom at a time of increasing societal incoherence.
True, America and Australia grew the institutions of their democracy with relatively homogeneous populations and then evolved into successful "multicultural" societies. But that's not what's happening in Europe right now. If you want to know what a multicultural society looks like, read the names of America's dead on September 11: Arestegui, Bolourchi, Carstanjen, Droz, Elseth, Foti, Gronlund, Hannafin, Iskyan, Kuge, Laychak, Mojica, Nguyen, Ong, Pappalardo, Quigley, Retic, Shuyin, Tarrou, Vamsikrishna, Warchola, Yuguang, Zarba. Black, white, Hispanic, Arab, Indian, Chinese - in a word, American.
Whether or not one believes in "celebrating diversity," that's a lot of diversity to celebrate. But the Continent isn't multicultural so much as bicultural. There are aging native populations, and young Muslim populations, and that's it: "two solitudes," as they say in my beloved Quebec.
If there's three, four or more cultures, you can all hold hands and sing "We Are The World." But if there's just two - you and the other - that's generally more fractious. Bicultural societies are among the least stable in the world, especially once it's no longer quite clear who's the majority and who's the minority - a situation that much of Europe is fast approaching, as you can see by visiting any French, Austrian, Belgian or Dutch maternity ward.
TAKE FIJI - not a comparison France would be flattered by, though until 1987 the Fijians enjoyed a century of peaceful stable constitutional evolution the French were never able to muster. At any rate, Fiji is comprised of native Fijians and ethnic Indians brought in as indentured workers by the British - which, come to think of it, is pretty much how the French saw their Muslims. If memory serves, 46.2% are native Fijians and 48.6% are Indo-Fijians. 50-50, give or take, with no intermarrying.
In 1987, the first Indian-majority government came to power. A month later, Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, OBE, staged the first of his two coups, resulting in Her Majesty the Queen's removal as head of state and Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth.
Is it that difficult to sketch a similar situation for France? Even in relatively peaceful bicultural societies, politics becomes tribal: loyalists vs. nationalists in Northern Ireland, separatists vs. federalists in Quebec.
Picture a French election circa 2020, 2025: the Islamic Republican Coalition wins the most seats in the National Assembly. The Chiraquiste faction gives a fatalistic shrug and M. de Villepin starts including crowd-pleasing suras from the Koran at his poetry recitals. But would M. Le Pen or (by then) his daughter take it so well? Or would the temptation to be France's Colonel Rabuka prove too great?
And the Fijian scenario - a succession of bloodless coups - is the optimistic one. After all, the differences between Fijian natives and Indians are as nothing compared to those between the French and les beurs. I love the way those naysayers predicting doom and gloom in Baghdad scoff that Iraq's a totally artificial entity and that, without some Saddamite strongman, Kurds, Sunnis and Shias can't coexist in the same state.
Oh, really? If Iraq's an entirely artificial entity, what do you call a state split between gay drugged-up red-light whatever's-your-bag Dutchmen and anti-gay anti-whoring anti-everything-you-dig Muslims? If Kurdistan doesn't belong in Iraq, does Pornistan belong in the Islamic Republic of Holland?
In a democratic age, you can't buck demography - except through civil war. The Yugoslavs figured that out. In the 30 years before 1991, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43% to 31% of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26% to 44%. So the Serbs opted for war as their best shot at halting any further decline.
Europe's present biculturalism makes disaster a certainty. One way to avoid it would be to go genuinely multicultural - to broaden the continent's sources of immigration beyond the Muslim world. But a talented ambitious Chinese or Indian or Chilean has zero reason to emigrate to France, unless he's consumed by a perverse fantasy of living in a segregated society that artificially constrains his economic opportunities yet imposes confiscatory taxation upon him in order to support an ancien regime of indolent geriatrics. France faces tough choices, and, unlike Baghdad, in Paris you can't even talk about them honestly. As Jean-Claude Dassier, director-general of the French news station LCI, told a broadcasters' conference in Amsterdam, he's been playing down the riots on the following grounds: "Politics in France is heading to the Right and I don't want rightwing politicians back in second or even first place because we showed burning cars on television."
Oh, well. You can understand why the Quai d'Orsay is relaxed about Iran becoming the second Muslim nuclear power. As things stand, France is on course to be the third. You heard it here first. You probably won't hear it on M. Dassier's station at all.
The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.