Into the fray: The self-cannibalization of Europe (revisited)

The West’s socio-cultural heritage is undergoing a process of self-cannibalization, devoured by the very values that once made it so successful and influential.

A man reacts at a street memorial following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man reacts at a street memorial following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion. – R. Inge, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1915
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. – Karl Popper, “On the Paradox of Tolerance,” in The Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945
Many Western Europeans, from the man on the street to the cop on the corner, from the politician in Parliament to the immigration official at the border, have long considered it their obligation... to tolerate intolerance. – From
“Tolerating Intolerance: The Challenge of Fundamentalist Islam in Western Europe,” Partisan Review, 2002
Several years ago, I used these excerpts as the introduction to a column titled, “A study in self-cannibalization” (November 11, 2011), in which I cautioned that the West in general, and Europe in particular, were devouring themselves, by attempting to apply the values on which their socio-cultural heritage was founded in situations, and against perils, where such applications are totally inappropriate.
Events since then have resoundingly affirmed that dire caveat.
Utterly ill-prepared – operationally & mentally
In mid-December 2015, numerous major media channels reported that a raid on a Brussels apartment where suspected jihadi terrorist Salah Abdeslam – accused of involvement in the November 2015 Paris attacks – was thought to be hiding, was delayed for hours. Incredibly, this was because the Belgium penal code prohibits such raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless a crime is actually in progress.
Little could better illustrate how utterly ill-prepared – both operationally and mentally – the countries of the European Union are to contend with the rapidly emerging existential threat to their way of life, their cultural heritage and the value system on which they are based.
On Sunday, The New York Times outlined the dimensions of the EU’s rude and belated awakening: “The scale of the Islamic State’s operations in Europe are still not known, but they appear to be larger and more layered than investigators at first realized... the Islamic State appears to be posing a largely hidden and lethal threat across much of Europe...”
Sadly, as the influx of Muslim immigrants engulfs Western Europe and presses against the gates of North America, bringing with it much of what they were attempting to flee, the appalling truth is becoming increasingly clear.
A process of self-cannibalization
In November 2011, I wrote: “Across the Western world today, political liberalism [“liberal” as opposed to “illiberal,” not “conservative” – MS] is undergoing a process of self-cannibalization – devoured by the very values which made it into arguably the most successful and influential socio-political doctrine in modern history. At the very least, it has been complicit in actively facilitating its own demise through an unrestrained and undiscerning compulsion to apply these values universally – even when such application is not only inappropriate, but detrimental to those values.”
This week, the validity of this diagnosis received dramatic support from a most unlikely source – none other than the man widely credited for popularizing the term “Islamophobia” as a pejorative expression of unwarranted anti-Muslim bias, the former head of Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips. Indeed, for much of the week, cyberspace has been abuzz with Phillips’s stark admission of error: “Twenty years ago when... I published the report titled, “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All”... that first introduced the term Islamophobia to Britain... we thought that the real risk of the arrival of new communities was discrimination against Muslims...” Although the 1996 report did show ample evidence of such discrimination, Phillips concedes: “... we got almost everything else wrong.”
In the rest of his frank and manifestly contrite – some might say, distraught – mea culpa, Phillips reiterates, virtually point by point, almost everything raised in my November 2011 column, lamenting: “Liberal opinion in Britain has, for more than two decades, maintained that most Muslims are just like everyone else... But thanks to the most detailed and comprehensive survey of British Muslim opinion yet conducted, we now know that just isn’t how it is.”
Acknowledging diversity is... diverse
In light of the new “detailed and comprehensive” survey’s findings on the growing “chasm” between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain on fundamental societal issues, Phillips acknowledges: “For a long time, I too thought that Europe’s Muslims would become like previous waves of migrants, gradually abandoning their ancestral ways, wearing their religious and cultural baggage lightly, and gradually blending into Britain’s diverse identity landscape,” confessing: “I should have known better.”
He bluntly puts erstwhile like-minded colleagues on notice: “Some of my journalist friends imagine that, with time, the Muslims will grow out of it. They won’t.”
In November 2011, I cautioned against disregarding the practical ramifications of “Otherness”: “Devotees of political liberalism fervently advocate – quite correctly – the need to acknowledge the diversity of humanity and to accept the existence of those different from us, i.e., the ‘Other.’ “However, they then go on to advocate – with equal fervor – something that in effect empties the previous acknowledgment of all significance, i.e., that we relate to all the diverse ‘Others’ as equals.
“For what is the point of acknowledging diversity if we are called upon to ignore the possible ramifications of that diversity and to relate to those discernibly different from us as if they were essentially the same as us? Prima facie, this is absurdly self-contradictory.
“For surely the awareness of difference raises the possibility that different attitudes (and actions) toward the ‘Other’ may well be called for.
“Although acknowledging diversity necessarily negates equality, this does not a priori mean that ‘Ours’ is morally superior to ‘Theirs’ – although the plausible assumption is that ‘We’ have a subjective preference for ‘Ours’ over ‘Theirs.’ “This, of course, might entail certain practical ramifications for the preservation of ‘Ours’ lest it be consumed by ‘Theirs’ – depending on ‘Their’ ‘appetites and aspirations.’”
‘Us’ as an item on ‘Their’ menu
I continued: “As the foregoing W.R. Inge citation counsels, it would be injudicious to relate to carnivores and herbivores with an undiscriminating sense of egalitarianism.
Indeed, if one is not mindful of the differences between oneself and the ‘Other’ (say with regard to dietary preferences or predatory predilections), disaster may well be unavoidable.
“Of course, such diagnosis of difference does not necessarily imply a value judgment as to the relative moral merits of devouring flesh or grazing grass. However, operationally, it is a distinction that is essential for the preservation of grass-grazers...
“For no matter how sympathetic to, or appreciative of, the untamed majesty of predators one might be, the fate of the flock is likely to be grim if it is left to graze in wolf-frequented territory with nothing more coercive to protect it than an appeal for understanding.”
Thus, in what Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam dubs “a nod to those who have long protested this to be the case in the face of political, media, and even police cover-ups,” Phillips – virtually on cue – charges: “The contempt for white girls among some Muslim men has been highlighted by... recent [widespread underage sexual abuse] scandals in Rotherham, Oxford, Rochdale and other towns. But this merely reflects a deeply ingrained sexism that runs through Britain’s Muslim communities.”
The ‘Other’ as...‘Other’
In November 2011, I diagnosed: “The major source of peril [to Western values of socio-cultural tolerance and individual liberty] today is the reluctance – indeed the resolute refusal – to acknowledge the emerging threat. Leading liberal opinion-makers in mainstream intellectual establishment appear totally incapable of conceiving (or at least, totally unwilling to acknowledge that they are capable of conceiving) of the ‘Other’ as anything but a darker skin-toned version of themselves – with perhaps more exotic tastes in dress and a greater penchant for spicy food, but with essentially the same value system as theirs, or at least one not significantly incompatible with it.”
Indeed, there seems to be an overriding inability to admit the possibility that the “Other” is in fact fundamentally different – i.e. genuinely “Other” – and may hold entirely different beliefs as to what is good and bad, what is legitimate and what is not.
Phillips points an accusatory finger in essentially the same direction: “... the biggest obstacles we now face in addressing the growth of this nation-within-a-nation are not created by British Muslims themselves. Many of our (distinctly un-diverse) elite political and media classes simply refuse to acknowledge the truth. Any undesirable behaviors are attributed to poverty and alienation. Backing for violent extremism must be the fault of the Americans. Oppression of women is a cultural trait that will fade with time, nothing to do with the true face of Islam.”
With commendable candor, he admits, “It’s not as though we couldn’t have seen this coming. But we’ve repeatedly failed to spot the warning signs,” adding disapprovingly: “Even when confronted with the growing pile of evidence to the contrary, and the angst of the liberal minority of British Muslims, clever, important people still cling to the patronizing certainty that British Muslims will, over time, come to see that ‘our’ ways are better.”
An Orwellian corruption of the discourse
It is of little practical consequence whether this lacuna is the product of an overbearing intellectual arrogance, which precludes the possibility of any alternative value system, or of an underlying moral cowardice, which precludes the will to defend the validity of one’s own value system.
The result is the ongoing retreat from the defense of liberty and tolerance in the face of ever-emboldened, intolerant Muslim militancy – not only across the Islamic world, but within the heart of many Western nations as well.
Even more seriously, it has undermined the capacity for honest debate, for accurate assessment of strategic geopolitical shifts... and for formulating timely and effective responses to deal with them.
The politically correct endeavor to shy away from harsh truths has introduced an almost Orwellian atmosphere of 1984 mind control into the debate on the ramifications of Islam for the West’s socio-cultural heritage.
Pronouncements almost on a par with the “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength” employed by “The Party” to control the dystopian state of Oceania in George Orwell’s classic novel of pervasive dictatorship have emerged with disturbing frequency.
It is a phenomenon that is not confined only to the UK or EU. Its corrosive effect has crossed the Atlantic – particularly under the Obama administration.
Pronouncing religious fundamentalism secular
Thus, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in effect, pronounced that religious fundamentalism is... secular (!), when he famously characterized the radical Muslim Brotherhood as an organization that is “largely secular.”
Similar convoluted, nonsensical gobbledygook came from current CIA director (then Obama-administration’s homeland security adviser) James Brennan, when he made the astounding claim that accurately defining the threat would exacerbate it: “Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists, because jihad is a holy struggle. [C]haracterizing our adversaries this way would actually be counterproductive.”
But perhaps the pinnacle of Orwellian endeavor came from then-British home secretary Jacqui Smith, in a 2009 Der Spiegel interview, who took it upon herself to bring home to radicalized UK Muslims that they were not who they thought they were! In a breathtaking stroke of self-contradictory double talk, she presumed to dub the acts of terrorism perpetrated by Islamists, in the name of Islam, as “anti-Islamic activity.”
All of this comprises the rhetorical context for the ongoing sycophantic oxymoronic drivel from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that there is “nothing Islamic” about the atrocities committed in the name of Islam by incontrovertibly Islamic organizations.
Clearly, in an intellectual climate such as this – where truth is condemned and dismissed as politically incorrect hate-speech – no effective response can be marshaled against the gathering storm facing Western civilization and the values of liberty and of tolerance that underpin it.
Allow me to conclude with the same observations with which I concluded my November, 2011 column, from a gay intellectual on the propagation of Islam in Europe, where private Islamic academies – subsidized by European governments – “reinforce the Koranbased... morality learned at home that prescribes severe penalties for female adulterers and rape victims (though not necessarily for rapists), and that demands... that homosexuals be put to death.”
With foreboding, perhaps more pertinent today than ever, he remarked: “If fundamentalist Muslims in Europe do not carry out these punishments, it is not because they’ve advanced beyond such thinking, but because they don’t have the power.”
Not yet.
Dr. Martin Sherman ( ) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (