Modern Europe: Multiculturalism or Multiterrorism?
The recent tragic events in Vienna have again filled European news feeds with headlines of an “undeclared war.” Unfortunately, headlines like these are becoming more and more commonplace: this is the fourth attack in the past six months that has been classified by authorities as an act of terrorism based on religious hatred. The attacker, who had previously been sentenced to prison for 22 months for attempting to travel to Syria to join up with militants, was released having served only half of his term. Less than a year later, he took to the streets of Vienna and began killing passers-by. And this happened in Austria, a country often held out as an example to others for its effective programme of deradicalization of young Islamists.
By all appearances, it seems that we are dealing with a clash of civilizations, in which the victims are most often the inhabitants of enlightened Europe, and the perpetrators are from the Islamist segment of the Muslin world. In like manner, in Nice the victims were the parishioners of the Catholic Church, and in Vienna, members of a synagogue. One gets the impression that radical Islamism is putting traditional European notions of tolerance to the test.
It is necessary to make a short excursus into the history of the issue. What has Europe done to repay the peoples of its former colonies or subject territories for centuries of oppression and exploitation? Europe opened its borders and made its economic and social resources available to immigrants. If people from different cultures once came to Europe and strove to integrate themselves into European society, internalizing, even if only partially, European values, more recent arrivals no longer strive to become European. Moreover, the notion of the need to repent and atone for simply being European has been successfully planted into the heads of the Europeans themselves. That is how the first paradox developed: “To be a real European, you have to stop being European.” And a second paradox followed from the first: that tolerance and repentance for the era of colonialism and oppression have before our very eyes become a form of cultural and civilizational suicide.
For many generations, my family has witnessed the breakdown of European civilization, a civilization that was once Christian, but has chosen to sever its connection with the past. In my opinion, by moving away from the system of values of Christian morality and a Christian world order, by abandoning the monarchical form of government in most European countries, Europe is rapidly losing its spiritual strength, ceasing to be the Europe that developing countries and other peoples aspire to become like. Thus is the era of liberal democracy.
The main accomplishment of this new era has been the unification of European states into a common structure and the resulting phenomenon these states have generated called multiculturalism. The term is itself not to blame for anything, but since it essentially denotes a concession from only one side, from Europe, then the response of the growing immigrant communities to it is sadly predictable. It turns out that multiculturalism, which was long considered by European politicians to be the key to addressing the challenges of peaceful coexistence among different nationalities and religions, is valid and workable in name only.
The point is that the immigrant community is constantly changing. In addition to the growth of fundamentalism, which is often inflamed from the outside (there are always those interested in fanning these flames), immigrants find themselves in a cultural vacuum: they receive material support and social services from their new “homeland,” but Western society turns out to be powerless to fill the spiritual void that inevitably appears in the souls of the “new Europeans” living so far from their source of their strength and identity—their native countries.
Immigrants arrive in Europe looking for better living conditions and a more promising future for their children. Among them are thousands of Muslim families. Their religion, Islam, is not the driving force behind protests, let alone terrorist attacks. Or, at least, so it was once. But not now. We are today witnessing a radicalization of segments of Islam—a turn to Islamist fundamentalism, which transforms Europe not just into a smoldering fire, but into a volcano ready to erupt. And the risk of living through a new Vesuvius and becoming the new Pompeii is for today’s Europe very high.
In response to terrorist attacks, government officials have promised to strengthen security measures, toughen immigration controls, and develop a more comprehensive system of crime prevention. However, neither the European capitals nor Brussels have made the decision to call the problem for what it is, a problem that has already grown to a pan-European scale. That’s because the roots of it must be sought in the fundamental differences in the worldview between the indigenous inhabitants of Europe and some immigrants from Muslim countries, even if in the third or fourth generation. What for some are the generally accepted values of a free and secular society, are for others a manifestation of disrespect for their culture and faith. The secular ethics and unlimited tolerance of today’s modern Europe do not fit into the picture of the Islamist world. This is the reason for the appearance of those who express their sense of alienation through acts of terror.
It is likely that Europe will have to revisit its immigration laws and policies. There is of course the option of “zero immigration,” which might improve the situation at this critical juncture, though it would be difficult for modern Europe to adopt such a policy. It is therefore my opinion that it will become necessary soon to tackle seriously the problem of achieving full integration of immigrants into European society, abandoning the mantra of “multiculturalism.”
The engagement of governmental authorities with the moderate Muslim community could do much to deradicalize young people who feel themselves sidelined from their country’s political and social life. Policies aimed at fostering peace and reconciliation among different religious groups, efforts by governments to improve and expand education, and genuine patience—these are the only peaceful ways to bring Europe out of this current crisis. One can use the example of Russia, where various religions and cultures coexist harmoniously, and interfaith dialogue and effective government policies combine to guarantee people a rare instance of religious tolerance and good-neighbourliness.
Peace requires everyone working together, and just a single match is enough to ignite a fire. Europe faces a very difficult task ahead.