After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo last year I wrote about the puerile immaturity of the response in some quarters. Later in the year, after the even more deadly attacks in Paris, I wrote about the empty sentimentality of the response in some quarters. These two responses are in fact facets of the same mindset; a bipolar condition that simultaneously laughs and cries at our collective suicide whilst refusing to admit that anything is fundamentally wrong. It is an adolescent sensibility that combines impotent cynicism with ostentatious mawkishness.
Following the attacks in Brussels, I wonder what will be pushed as the defining moment of empty resistance? Perhaps it will be a mixture of these two responses, of cynicism and sentimentality. Perhaps we might see a topless slutwalk with an All You Need is Love soundtrack. That’ll show the bastards!
This bipolarity is a fundamental perspective of the European outlook. On the one hand we support the never-ending US campaign to bomb the Middle East into liberal democracy. On the other we like to promote never-ending collective self-guilt to all Europeans as atonement for our past sin of having a collective consciousness. Too tolerant of present arrogance whilst too guilty about past vitality. Roughly speaking, the first attitude is a Judaic distortion, the second a Christian distortion. An authentically European perspective is suppressed to the point of invisibility.
Another aspect of this bipolarity is a callous disregard for the victims of US/European aggression when they are located in the Middle East combined with an obsequious attentiveness to their well-being when they move to a European country. A person might be forgiven for suspecting that this is all part of some nefarious plan to destroy Europe. Regardless, what this reveals is that the European perspective is predicated on an antonym of strength. It is not weakness exactly, but cynical power. Strength is a function of virtue but our cynical power is a function of self-doubt and petulance. Real strength would have the self-confidence to care about the well-being of the “other” without feeling any need to deny the reality of their alterity. It would maintain and strengthen national borders and would unashamedly accept the distance signified by the status of “other.” But it would not feel a need to be insulting to the other purely on the basis of their difference. It would regard such disrespect as a form of psychological weakness.
The present (distorted) European perspective gets it all upside down. We embrace the refugee as being exactly the same as us because he is human, and because the category “human” supposedly conveys a sense of transcendent brotherhood. But, deep down, we despise the human because our greatest knowledge of it comes from introspection, and when we look at ourselves we do not like what we see. So, the refugee must become like us, he must shed his backward religious identity and become a shallow, materialistic thing so that he can fully belong in European society. We prefer to make him one of us so that we can share in our self-disgust, rather than keep a dignified distance so that we can share in our self-respect. This is a complete reversal of the true attitude of respect. Because, in fact, it is a virtue to respect the other, and an infallible measure of self-confidence. We have lost both the courage to define him as “other” and the courtesy to respect him as such.
Now, it might be objected that my condemnation of this contemporary European mind-set belongs to the same school of thought that seeks to blame the West for Muslim terrorism. The sort of viewpoint that argues that Paris, Brussels, London are all Karmic payback for Western intervention in the Middle East. That we are reaping what we have sown. The fundamental distinction that I want to draw between my own view and that of those who argue for such atrocities being an inevitable Nemesis is that my intention is to cure Europe back to health whereas theirs is to euthanize it to death. After the mass sex attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, a German Interior Minister, Ralf Jaeger said, “What happens on the right-wing platforms and in chatrooms is at least as awful as the acts of those assaulting the women.” In an unpleasant echo of this sentiment, Simon Jenkins in The Guardian declared that, “The scariest thing about Brussels is our reaction to it.” These points of view are predicated on the belief that the one thing that must never be allowed to happen is that European countries regain a sense of national identity. My point of view is that such a regaining of national identity is the first thing that must happen. I criticise Europe for being too weak, they criticize Europe for not being weak enough.
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis condemned Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” declared the Pontiff. Pope Francis is right about one thing: the present choice we face is about walls and bridges. There is a dominant view shared by most of the political classes of Europe that borders should be broken down more and more so that ultimately there will be no national distinctions whatsoever. They see this as a sort of utopia because they imagine that the erasure of distinctions will result in a pacifist levelling of all humanity and that the lion shall lie down with the lamb. The more we see of Muslim immigration the more preposterous this scenario seems but that will have little effect on those who are ideologically required to believe in a teleology of peace.
There is no need at all to demonize Islam but there is an urgent need to keep it separate. It is a foreign religion that is not suitable for us. The purpose of a border is to define and regulate difference. The “no borders” campaigners wish to destroy difference because they do not believe in identity. They cannot believe in identity because they have lost theirs. They wish to drag everyone in the world down to a similar deracinated, secularized state. We resist this degradation of all traditions. We respect the diversity that comes from genuine difference and we wish to promote it. We put our own identity first and respect the right of the other to do the same.