By William Pfaff
There is an important current in conservative U.S. opinion that believes Western Europe to be under something like a siege, or a potential siege, by its large Muslim immigrant population. I should actually say that it’s not just American conservatives, although they write alarmed books about the impending Muslim domination of Europe, and the collapse of European Christianity and identity. They fear the Decline of the West.
They fail to understand that African and Central Asian Muslims are not drowning in the Mediterranean in desperate attempts to reach European shores in order to overturn Western civilization. The Muslim sons of immigrants in Paris ghettos don’t riot and burn apartments to overturn democracy but to protest that they can’t find jobs.
Concern over the enormous problem of assimilating or integrating Muslim immigrants is a very serious one, most of all in Britain, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, where the idea has been that these people should be in self-segregated communities in a “rainbow” nation, preserving their native customs, looked after by the welfare state. This has not been a great success, and will change.
The U.S. government, a liberal one, has a different idea about Muslims, whom it sees as a military threat. It is continuing to wage George W. Bush’s war against the Taliban and their fellow-religious radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan, justified as keeping them from fighting Americans in Peoria or Santa Barbara—a worthy idea if it were not pure hysteria.
You could (and they do) argue that the Islamist movement has momentum behind it in much of the Middle East and a part of South Asia, and conclude that unless it is “stopped” in Afghanistan and Pakistan it will propagate itself elsewhere in the region, acquire nuclear weapons and destroy America.
The evidence suggests the contrary: that the more it is fought by foreign troops in military interventions by “Christian” Western governments, the more the radical movement will spread, assuming the roles of religious and nationalist resistance to foreign “crusader” invaders. The 9/11 attacks were revenge for American troops in Saudi Arabia.
However, the American (and NATO) determination to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan is much more complicated in motive than national defense. It has been nearly eight years since a group composed mostly of alienated and Western-trained Saudi Arabians blew up the trade towers in New York and attacked the Pentagon. In the U.S., nothing of terrorist note has happened since.
The attacks on the London Underground and on Madrid’s rail terminal did not originate in Taliban or Middle Eastern circles, but in European immigrant communities, involving young and Westernized Muslim residents of Europe, as has been the case with all the would-be terrorist activity picked up by European police intelligence. “Stopping” the Taliban in the Hindu Kush won’t change that.
All of this is a hangover from the age of imperialism, which provoked nationalism (a Western phenomenon) in Asia and radicalized religion by well-meant but naive attempts to convert the Asian “heathen” to Christianity. (This continues; there are repeated reports of American Army chaplains of evangelical Protestant persuasion slipping copies of the New Testament in Arabic into the hands of American soldiers, to be pressed upon their enemies, should the occasion arise—something for them to read at Gitmo or at one of the overseas U.S. prisons, to pass the time between waterboardings.)
The United States has become war-addicted. Since the Korean War, it has been permanently at war, with the Communists in Southeast Asia, with Balkan aggressors, with Central American leftists, with Colombian drug growers, with Saddam Hussein (twice), with radical Islamists everywhere. I leave out Panama and Grenada.
War has become part of the national identity, as well as the national economy, which turns out more weapons and more military high technology than all the rest of the world combined.
At present, our newest war has hardly begun. We are sponsoring the Pakistan army’s drive to push the Taliban out of territory they have occupied in the northwest of their own country.
The push is on in Washington to send into Pakistan a shadow government of Americans, to show them how to run their country and their struggle with Islamic radicals. Under Barack Obama, we are also going to expand our civil presence in Afghanistan and, according to the press, we have in mind a replacement leader for Afghanistan. The U.S. clearly intends to be there for a long time.
Back in Iraq, sectarian rivalry is getting out of hand since the U.S. stopped paying the Sunni tribes to keep the peace. We’ll apparently be staying there for quite a while, too.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, one of the Russians who knew the most about the U.S., Georgi Arbatov, then head of the Soviet Union’s Institute for USA and Canadian Studies, said to an American, “We are about to do something terrible to you. We are going to deprive you of your enemy.” He did not realize how simple it was going to be for us to find replacements.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services Inc.