Just as the Middle East was the global epicenter in biblical times, Europe was the global epicenter for about 2,300 years, beginning with the Greek empire and until the early 20th century when power shifted to the United States (a process Europeans have yet to come to terms with).
A narrative of exceptionalism emerged in America – a society of risk-takers who dared to think big, take action and immigrate. A counter-narrative developed in Europe: When the going got tough, the weak ones left for America and the resolute ones stayed in Europe. Those two narratives are inevitably on a collision course: stay/let time pass/be passive/accept/linger vs. move/ immigrate/be active/fight/ascent (“Lech Lecha”).
This was the same collision course between the prevailing narrative in Babel and that of Abraham’s “Lech Lecha” (Go!), which as discussed in a previous article – “The exodus from Babel continues” – was possibly in reference to the departure from Babel (for example, Abraham was from Ur Kasdim. Babel is later referred to as Kasdim).
Babel offered a template of utopian universalism: “And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.” Today, the advocates of universalism argue that if we would have “no country and no religion,” then – as the John Lennon song goes – we can “imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Babel’s universalism was intertwined with anti-theism, attempting to build a tower “with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name.” Hence God acts against Babel, saving humanity from itself.
The story repeats itself some 5,000 years later: in one of history’s astonishing reversals, after 18 centuries of monotheism, Europeans abandoned their faith in God, and adopted a new religion in its place: secularism (interestingly, this coincided with Europe’s stunning fall from grace).
The European “secular religion” is missionary, aggressive and exclusive, e.g. “mono-atheistic,” adapting the concept of the exclusive jealous Lord (El Kanay) to European secularism. Universalism is a cornerstone of this new European religion.
The only problem is that it does not work.
Failure of universalism – then and now
From the little we know about life in Babel, it seems far from the utopic universalist model. Classes emerged. Babel’s apparent founders, the sons of Noah had a hierarchy: Shem was elevated and Canaan – “a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” Similarly, Nimrod was deemed the “mighty one.”
In addition, being an island of humans surrounded by animals made the idea of Babel unsustainable (we later learn about the danger of such a constellation, when God explains that he will displace the nations of Canaan little by little to avoid the increase of animals on the land).
Babel was akin to a “dream state,” like Freiland – a utopia written by Jewish-Hungarian-Austrian economist/ journalist Theodor Hertzka about a make-believe country, which Theodor Herzl used to contrast with his own vision for the Jewish state. Herzl wrote: “Freiland is a complicated piece of mechanism with numerous cogged wheels fitting into each other; but there is nothing to prove that they can be set in motion. Even supposing ‘Freiland societies’ were to come into existence, I should look on the whole thing as a joke.”
Just like in Babel, hierarchy is built into today’s European universalism. The horrifying images of armed French police approaching a Muslim woman on the beach and ordering her to take her top off in the name of the European secular religion, is the exact opposite of utopian universalism. Some European Muslims, fearing such state-sponsored abuse do not go to the beach, leading to a de facto state of apartheid that has emerged in Europe. The beach, the lakefront and the rivers are for “indigenous” Europeans or those who accepts its “universalist” dictation. This extends to other aspects of life in Europe. The song lyric has changed to “Imagine all white Europeans living life in peace.”
Yet, the failure of universalism does not stop Europe from promoting it, so we might be in the early days of a new world order.
New global divide: Europeanism vs. Americanism
Every century has its global philosophical divide. In the 19th century, it was monarchy vs. republic. In the 20th century it was communism vs. capitalism. It seems that this era’s divide is Europeanism vs. Americanism (see my Newsweek article “Europeanism vs. Americanism”).
One aspect of this divide is Babel universalism and post-ideology vs. Abraham’s Lech Lecha and particularism. But another is indeed, the renewing of the ancient debate about monotheism – a feud that came to an end with the spread of monotheism to Europe through Christianity and to the Middle East through Islam. With the European reversal, the feud renews.
The faith-based coalition led by America includes, among others, Israel and the Muslim Middle East. The anti-theist coalition includes mostly Europe and those is its sphere of influence. Yet it is armed with a well-funded campaign to spread this relatively new European religion to the world.
This is demonstrated in Europe’s colonialist-like treatment of Palestinians. Europe does not only partake in the attempts to deny Palestinians employment, mentorship and growth, while perpetuating their victimhood status (for example, Europe aggressively lobbied for the closure of a Jewish-owned SodaStream factory that employed and mentored Palestinians). It also funds efforts to secularize Palestinians. It is no surprise, that while the Arab Muslim world is on the side of America and Israel, the Europeans had been cozying up to Shiite Iran, which the preponderance of the Muslim world views as a threat.
Perhaps a preview of this global divide in the making was given in the fall of 2020. At the same time that Israel was signing the Abraham Accords with its Arab friends, Europe was protesting against new construction in a Jerusalem neighborhood that would house both Arabs and Jews.
Like in Freiland, the application of European universalism is comical. The objection to the neighborhood, Givat Hamatos, was because it is situated beyond the 1949 armistice lines, but by Europe’s own creed, the totality of Jerusalem and Bethlehem should be taken away from Israelis and Palestinians in order to form a corpus separatum (code name for “European colony”). However, according to the French, the Church of St. Anne should be carved out of this make-believe colony due to colonialism. It belongs to France, since France supported the Ottoman Empire in its colonial war in Crimea.
And so, as Israelis were rushing to Dubai to form business alliances and pursue “Lech Lecha,” European ambassadors were rushing to this new neighborhood to protest.
A split-screen emerged: on one side, the faith-based Abrahamic nations, under America’s leadership, forging partnerships through celebrating their national particularity. On the other side, secular universalist Europe objecting to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians due to self-contradicting Europeans dogmas, which like Babel and Hertzka’s Freiland are based on a make-belief – on a joke.
The writer is the author of the upcoming book Judaism 3.0 – Judaism’s transformation to Zionism (November 2021). For details and information on launch events visit: Judaism-Zionism.com. For his parasha commentary: parashaandherzl.com, and geopolitical articles: europeandjerusalem.com