Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have hesitated at first about attending the mass solidarity rally in Paris this week following the murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher grocery. But no doubt once he arrived, he had every reason to be a front-line participant standing hand in hand with Francoise Hollande and intoning the mantra that Israel and the West are fighting the same fight against Islamic extremism.
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Bibi’s been articulating that line for some time, but perhaps this time, Europe will be more inclined to listen.
It will take time to fully assess the impact on public opinion and government policy, but Netanyahu can only be hoping that last week’s twin terror attacks become Europe’s 9/11 moment, when the continent finally concludes it needs to get tough on terror, just as America did 14 years ago. If so, that could win Israel new friends in Europe, and lift it up from the diplomatic ruins, much as 9/11 did for Israel: the hostile Bush White House suddenly turned friendly and the Second Intifada became a new front in the War on Terror.
But for Europe that 9/11 moment isn’t likely to come anytime soon, and as time goes on the chances of it happening will grow even dimmer. Yes, Europeans are becoming increasingly anxious about its growing Muslim minority and the extremists among it.
Scorched-earth war on terror
Unlike the perpetrators of 9/11, Europe’s Islamic terrorists were born, raised and educated right in Europe, a worrying sign that Muslims aren’t following the usually trajectory of assimilation and acceptance. But the continent needs those Muslims badly and will need even more in the future. That’s because that for every Jihadist that Europe’s Muslims produce they are also generating hundreds of thousands of able and willing workers for the labor market. Europe won’t be getting tough on immigration or risk offending its Muslim minority by conducting a scorched-earth war on terror.
Now, you might think that Europe needs extra workers, Muslim or any other sort, like a hole in the head. The European Union’s unemployment rate has been in the double digits for years now and among young people it’s close to 24%. Among Muslims, the jobless rate was three times higher than for non-Muslims, according to a study by the Open Society Institute taken in 2009. But the unemployment problem is for now.
The continent’s long-term problem is its shrinking population – Europe’s fertility rate has dropped nearly 50% in the last half century, so that today the average European woman gives birth to 1.6 children over her life, far below the threshold of about two needed to keep the population stable. A Pew Research Center study looking at global population trends in the Muslim world forecast a small decline in Europe’s non-Muslim population between now and 2030.
Why does Europe need to keep growing? The main reason is to support its vaunted social-welfare states. Europe needs people to work and start businesses and pay the taxes that go to funding old-age pensions, schools and hospitals, roads and airports and income transfers. A shrinking workforce means a smaller workforce and a growing proportion of retirees and other dependents. But by 2060, according to EU estimates, Europe will have just two working-age people for every retiree, instead of four like today.
Unless Europeans are going to undergo a social sea change and start having larger families soon, they will have a big problem maintaining the great society that they have become accustomed to.
Inevitably, migration from dysfunctional countries
Most of Europe already makes full use of its female labor force, Europeans have resisted raising the retirement age and many opt for unemployment than take the low-skill, low-prestige, low-paying jobs at the bottom rungs of the labor market. So where is all the labor the continent needs going to come from?
One of Europe’s few growth areas is its Muslim minority, which will grow from about 6% of the population in 2010 to 8% in 2030, according to Pew.
But that won’t be nearly enough – the rest will have to come from immigration, and what more likely source than the dysfunctional countries of the Middle East and North Africa?
In the best cases, like Morocco and Pakistan, their economies can’t provide jobs, and in the worst cases, like Libya and Syria, they are war zones. Asia’s economies are too vibrant to send millions of immigrants, and Eastern Europe, which has been a source of labor for Western Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain, is suffering population shrinkage itself. Europe will have to welcome Muslim immigrants.
American has succeeded to absorb tens of millions of immigrants from every corner of the globe because it was a melting pot. Those coming off the boat stood little chance of assimilating, but America’s arch-capitalist economy rewarded enterprise while its relaxed and dynamic culture welcomed the next generation when it learned they learned to fit in.
Europe doesn’t have those advantages. The multiculturalism that informs European social policy sounds nice on paper, but it is founded on an error, namely that culture itself is superficial – the fact that people believe a certain religion, speak a certain language or belong to a particular socio-economic group is no more important than what brand of mouthwash they use or their favorite color. They can all easily live side by side, respecting each other’s differences and understanding their cultural nuances. Just like the man who uses Listerine can be neighbors with someone who prefers Lavoris (after all they both aspire to fresh breath), a secular, educated German should be able to do the same with someone who grew up in rural Pakistan (because, after all, they want the same things in life – freedom, prosperity, etc.).
Imposing French or German culture on immigrants isn’t the way, certainly for democracies, though a display of greater cultural confidence by Europeans themselves would help. What Europe needs to do is hold its collective nose and be more like America, encouraging small business and private initiative by valuing money and success over religion and national origin. It’s philistine and vulgar but very welcoming for new immigrants and their children. Europe’s social-welfare state, like its multiculturalism, sounds good on paper, an immigrant’s paradise, but it deters social mobility and integration.
All this even in the best of cases means another generation or more of European Muslims living in poverty and coping with discrimination. But to say this is what drives Islamic extremism in Europe is facile. All immigrants everywhere and at all times, including Israel, have suffered the same fate. If a tiny minority of Europe’s Muslims has adopted an extreme form of their faith and nihilistic violence, the source can be traced to the Middle East and Central Asia rather than the slums of Paris.
Like Europe gripped by fascism in the 1930s and Asia by Maoism and its variants in the 1960s and 1970s, the Muslim world has become entranced by a hysterical ideology. Europe can count on this one, like the others, burning itself out. In the meantime, it should get down to business.