When I was a child, in the ’50s, I used to sit on the floor under my school desk during civil-defense drills wondering what the world would be like after the Big One. My impression of atomic-bomb blasts, shaped by having seen some photos in Life, was that they left everything pretty much flattened, so I figured the postwar world would probably be something Gobi-like–big, sandy, dry. I used to try to imagine what kind of creature (other than me and my mom and dad and my friends, of course) could survive such devastation. So I asked David Ralston, who was under the desk next to mine. His father was a doctor, so he would probably know.
”Cockroaches,” he said.
Was he right? Happily, it’s still too early to tell. But there are some analogous circumstances. For example, let’s say you take a chunk of real estate the size of a small continent, devastate it with two of the biggest wars in the history of human conflict, then add a couple of massive genocides, a near-total collapse of most social structures, a megadose of intolerant secularism, a decline in educational standards, a flat-line birthrate and a truly impressive brain drain. Now try to imagine what kind of ideas would survive to emerge from the wreckage.
Right. You get nihilism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism, the three knee-jerk, irrational sentiments–they fail to rise to the level of actual “ideas”–that inform the modern intellectual life of Europe. In other words, you get cockroaches.
If you want to snap on the light in the greasy Euro-kitchen that constitutes altermondialisme today, come to France in November. As a college student, I used to smile condescendingly at a history professor who was always mangling his similes. “In Paris,” he said once, “the Renaissance drew peasants to the city like insects to a magnet.” I laughed then. But damn if he wasn’t right: Mid-November will see the convening in and around Paris of yet another session of the European Social Forum (ESF), a global, transnational, conglomerate of well-organized anarchistic antiglobalization groups that defines itself as “a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context that, in a decentralized fashion, interrelates organizations and movements engaged in concrete action at levels from the local to the international to built another world” [sic–although I bet the “non-party” part is right; these people are serious].
One of the leading personalities of the movement is Tariq Ramadan, the Geneva-based writer. Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, a sort of Islamic version of the IRA. The Brotherhood’s typical method of persuasion: terrorizing, threatening, or blackmailing moderate Arab governments into abandoning Western-style liberal policies and replacing them with fundamental Islamic policies. I was once caught in Khartoum when the government made one of its periodic reintroductions of sharia. Several rooms at the Acropole hotel became the busiest saloons in town.
However, Ramadan, who advocates the development of a European context for the continent’s 15 million Muslims, and thus qualifies as a “thinker,” had been associated with the more moderate Islamic groups in France–at least until he published–in advance of the ESF session–his “Critique of (New) Communitarian Intellectuals.” In it, Ramadan attacked Jewish intellectuals for being too, uh, you know–Jewish. Understandably, the document was widely considered to be anti-Semitic.
Ramadan is a darling of the anti-American neo-Left–which includes quite a few Americans, of course. Salon called him “the Muslim Martin Luther,” while to Time, he was a “Spiritual Innovator.” He confidently offered his critique to Le Monde–but they refused to publish it. Not once, but five times. Liberation said non, too. (It’s available online from Oumma.com.) Once the document became public, both papers covered it as news–Liberation here and Le Monde there–while others, such as Belgium’s La Libre and France’s l’Humanite, provided additional commentary and coverage of the controversy. Le Monde’s refusal is especially ironic, and no doubt surprising to Ramadan, since the paper has a long history of trying to dismiss notions of French anti-Semitism, often by trying to draw a distinction between anti-Semitic terrorism and anti-Zionist terrorism.
The fact is, anti-Semitism, like anti-Americanism, is a growing problem in France–and elsewhere, as Islam spreads across Europe: once, in Warsaw, an academic warned me against going to Wraclow: “Too many Jews there,” he sniffed. We’re talking Poland. According to the Stephen Roth Institute at Tel Aviv University, most of the perpetrators of the hundreds of recent anti-Semitic acts in France are Muslims. The nation that prided itself on its vigorous secularism is slowly becoming more and more religious, making special allowances for those who practice Islam. The combination of rising tensions in the Middle East, Muslimification at home, traditional French anti-Semitism and the newly fashionable anti-globalization movement, with its pro-Palestinian assumptions, makes it likely that such acts will only increase. Anti-Semites are like cockroaches in the cupboard. For every one you see, there are zillions more, just waiting for the lights to go out.
More on those clever Jews. Anti-Semitism in France comes in two flavors: One is the native variety. The other is imported and Islamic. The Islamic variety was in full flower on the other side of the globe, according to the IHT, where the prime minister of Malaysia told the heads of Muslim states, all members of the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), that Jews have become a “world power” by being smart. “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million,’ he said, “but today the Jews rule the world by proxy.” How do they do it? “They get others to fight and die for them.” Two days earlier in Germany, Maerkische Allgemeine reports vandals desecrated the memorial at the site of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, covering the monument with anti-Semitic graffiti and slogans.
Good timing. On the very day a U.S. diplomatic convoy trying to award scholarships to Palestinians in Gaza was attacked by Palestinian terrorists, the once-reputable Chris Patten, the EU’s Commissioner for External Affairs, urged Europe to “confront Israel.” The report appeared in the EU’s propaganda sheet, the EU Observer.
No Manners, please. We’re British! Why are Britons such jolly good chaps? They’re all drunk. According to this report in the Daily Telegraph, the green and pleasant land of hope, glory, and orderly bus queues has become a bedlam of “street drinking, begging, rowdiness, vandalism, intimidation, littering, noise, prostitution and other aspects of disorder.” In an accompanying piece on Yobbism, Theodore Dalrymple says the problem has something to do with the fact that people eat while walking down the street. Once you know what the problem is, you’re halfway to a solution, I guess. Or you could pray for one. Unfortunately, reports the Guardian, the Anglican Communion is in the middle of a steel-cage pillow fight-to-the-death over the consecration by the American Episcopalians of an actively gay bishop who is divorced, with an ex-wife and children–an ecclesiastical innovation. The event has been marked by some remarkably patronizing comments by the head of the U.S. church. The truly humbled Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, whose eyebrows have their own agent, was supposed to sort it all out. The idea is to make the church more relevant–which is an Episcopalian code-word meaning irrelevant.
“Mandate without Authority” was the way the Frankfurter Rundschau announced the Security Council vote this week to support U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The press in both France and Germany made it clear that neither government would do a thing to help the U.S. beyond casting their sullen votes for a resolution that cost the U.S. more than it can ever possibly gain.
Home free. According to Liberation, the French government backed out of an agreement to pay fines in the prosecution of a fraud case associated with Executive Life, the California company purchased, apparently illegally, by Credit Lyonnaise. The sticking point? U.S. prosecutors wanted to be able to target individual French businessmen implicated in the apparent swindle, including François Pinault, who is one of the richest men in France–and a close friend of Jacques Chirac.
Bloc Heads. Another unusual event in the life of the Chiracs: Gerhard Schroeder, busy at home trying to explain away what Frankfurter Allgemeine calls the largest deficit in postwar German history, had to skip part of the EU summit. So, according to Le Monde, he asked Jacques Chirac to speak for both France and Germany. Soon, they’ll be finishing each other’s sentences. Germany was the main sponsor of the EU’s budget pact that forbids members from exceeding agreed limits on deficits. Last week, the EU let France off the hook for habitually violating the pact’s terms, and the Germans seems assured they’ll get the same treatment. Meanwhile, in Brussels, EU heads of state got nowhere in their constitutional negotiations, according to the BBC.
Blair-faced lie. Washington–where “Foreign Policy” is just another magazine–finally woke up to the threat contained in France’s “multipolar logic” for a European opposition to the U.S. when Tony Blair broke a promise he had made to the U.S. and announced Britain would join the Luxembourgeois-French-German plan to build a Euro-army that would operate outside of, and conceivably in opposition to, NATO. According to the Daily Telegraph, a furious Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to NATO, asked for an “emergency meeting” to be held to discuss the double-cross. The draft terms of the EU treaty would conflict with the mutual-defense clause of the NATO treaty. If the story has been reported accurately (the Guardian’s account differs), the story seems likely to dominate the EuroPress next week. The idea of actually going to war against France, instead of for France, does have a certain charm, however. If it ever happens, don’t blink.