The reactions to the terror attacks in Paris and the shutdown of Brussels while security forces hunted down militants can be broadly broken down into two extremes. One side warns that this is the start of a Muslim takeover of Europe and the beginning of the end of Western civilization as we know it. The other refuses to acknowledge there is serious enough threat to warrant fundamental change, and worries more about the danger to Europe’s civil liberties and open society and about a xenophobic crackdown on the continent’s Muslim minority.
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Both sides are off the mark. The entire Muslim population of the European Union countries is less than 5%, at this time, which is isn’t enough to topple Western civilization. In any case, only a minuscule fraction of that 5% are jihadists bent on creating havoc: the Paris attacks were staged by a handful of people and the Brussels alert yielded 16 arrests. Islamic State apparently shares al-Qaida’s jihadist wet dream of millions of Muslims rising up around the world inspired by audacious attacks on the West, but if 9/11 didn’t do it, it’s hard to see what will.
On the other hand, the combination of 21st-century weapons and media technology means a handful of terrorists can wreak death and destruction on a massive scale and trigger mass hysteria in an instant.
Even if you accept the dubious proposition that radical Islam is all the fault of Europe’s failing to welcome Muslims and make them feel at home, it will take many years to make amends. In the meantime, they are going to be many angry young Islamists to deal with, and that’s going to be the job of the security forces. That inevitably means compromising on rights to privacy and freedom of movement.
Europe should be looking to Israel for some cues. Already there’s word that security agencies are examining Israeli homeland security technology, but among the continent’s policymaking establishment and chattering class, Israel is hardly an exemplar of the best liberal values. If it has a place in the West, it’s more like the Sparta, whose military prowess has to be admired but, unlike Athens, has little else to teach us.
Maybe this time, however, Europe will get a little real about the choices a democratic society has to make in the face of chronic security threats. Without Sparta, Athens couldn’t have seen off the Persian threat. (And in any case, Israel has many overlooked Athenian qualities.)
Lesson 1: Life goes on
The first lesson is not to let terror get the best of businesses and consumers. To France’s credit, cafes and shops reopened quickly after the attacks and European stock market treated the violence as an investment opportunity, trading down tourism stocks and trading up defense contractors.
That is probably because Europeans are assuming the history of jihadist terror, which isn’t an everyday occurrence, will repeat itself. Terrorists working in the name of Islam staged big attacks in Spain and Britain in 2004 and 2005, smaller ones in France and Belgium in 2012 and 2014 and then, of course, two big attacks this year in France. That is hardly enough to bring the continent to its knees. The real test will come if Europe begins to faces attacks on a regular basis as Israel does.
Israeli businesses and consumers have adopted a pattern of hunkering down in face of rocket and knifing attacks and returning to business as usual at the first opportunity. Israelis don’t despair – emigration rates are low and Israelis are seemingly content (they scored 7.4 on a happiness survey, versus an average of 6.9 for other developed countries). They have adopted a live-for-today-for- tomorrow-we-die attitude, which has almost certainly played a big role in the startup phenomenon – think big, act quickly and sell your company ASAP. Europe’s mostly sclerotic business sector could use a little of that.
Lesson 2: Keep a sense of proportion
The second lesson from Israel is that not every concession of civil liberties to security is a fatal blow to democracy.
Israel uses some tools that are loathsome to most Western democracies, including racial profiling, widespread government snooping and security checks at public places, to name a few. Unpleasant - but freedom is not just about rights: it is also about ensuring a degree of order. Just as critically, the Israeli government has never succumbed to censoring the media except for genuine national security issues, which is the foundation of democratic rights and freedoms.
Israel’s Arabs, nearly of them Muslims, are de facto second-class citizens, even if there are guaranteed equal rights under the law. But they also enjoy minority rights like a school curriculum in Arabic and the application of Muslim law for personal status issues, and aren’t forced to serve in the army or perform civilian national service. There are no wrenching debates about the veil or constructing minarets, even though the Muslin minority is about a fifth of the Israeli population, and Israel is in conflict with most of the Arab world.
The situation is hardly ideal, but except when an occasional loudmouth enters the scene, Israelis show a quiet acceptance of Arabs.
The downside, of course, is that Arabs are a society apart in most respects.Their first language is Arabic, they live in separate towns and neighborhoods, and take little part of mainstream in Israeli culture, which entails a cost when it comes to higher education and a career. Europe’s Muslims should learn that cultural and social autonomy isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Europe might also take a cue from Israel about birthrates. The leaders of Europe’s right are quick at the draw when it comes to limiting immigration, but they don’t have any real answer to the second half of the equation, namely where is Europe going to get all the young workers it needs to cover the pension and healthcare costs of its aging native population.
For Europe’s population to grow, each woman would have to give birth to more than two children. To their credit, many of Europe’s rightist leaders, such as France’s Marine Le Pen and Germany’s Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen, have done their part (three, four and five offspring, respectively), but others aren’t setting an example: Holland’s Geert Wilders has none, Sweden’s Jimmie Åkesson one, and Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Austria’s Heinz-Christian Strache each have two. The average for all of them is 2.5, but the average for the EU is 1.59, but it has to be a lot better: Israel’s fertility rate is 3.04.
Unless Europe is going to start producing more children, it’s going to need its Muslims, or some other non-Europeans to fill the gaps. It better learn how to live with them.