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The sick man is Europe

By Jackson Murphy
web posted May 20, 2002

A few weeks ago France was a hot topic of conversation. Add to that the news bomblet that Sweden once held as the model socialist economy had been losing ground to America steadily since 1980. Next were the tragic events in Holland. It seems that everyone wanted to take a crack at commentating on the snooty Europeans. Saturday Night Live ran a mock commercial that matched pictures of France with a voiceover stating:

"The French
Cowardly yet opinionated
Arrogant yet foul smelling
Anti-Israeli, Anti-American
And, of course, as always, Jew hating...
With all that's going on in the world
Isn't it about time
We got back to hating the French?"

For many the answer to this is of course, "oui." But there is more at stake in Europe than making fun of them. Until recently Europe was thought to be the most civilized and most refined group of nations in the world. Now the question on everyone's mind was this an illusion? Is Europe behind, really far behind, or so far behind they (and their supporters) think they are in first?

Commentators are trying to figure out if the Europe today is a repeat of its own worrisome 1930's past, a time of upheaval similar to the 1960's in America, or simply entering into a time of social decay experienced in America, Canada, and even Britain in the late 1970's and 1980's.

In National Review Online David Pryce-Jones writes that "The thirties are coming round again in Europe. Fascists are flourishing politically in France and Italy, and now comes the murder of Pim Fortuyn, a populist politician who might have done well enough in the forthcoming Dutch elections to hold the balance of power in that country's parliament. But it is the widespread Jew-baiting that best reveals that Europeans are evidently incapable of learning from their history."

No one should be shocked, but the idea that Europe never truly learned its lesson from the appeasement of Nazi Germany and its treatment of Jews culminating in the holocaust is frightening.

Some of an estimated 15,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators shout during a protest against Israeli action in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in London's Trafalgar Square on May 18
Some of an estimated 15,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators shout during a protest against Israeli action in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in London's Trafalgar Square on May 18

Perhaps a more likely analogy is that the 1960's turmoil and unrest experienced in America finally coming to mainland Europe. Harold Meyerson, in The American Prospect, suggests that, "To any student of the causes and effects of the great sixties-to-eighties backlash in U.S. politics, Europe today looks alarmingly familiar. Like the black ghettos of the 1960's, the Arab and African immigrant communities in Europe's cities today are socially and economically isolated and home to soaring crime rates."

What Meyerson is saying is that given these facts, it is nothing short of a no-brainer to think that communities previously predisposed to being Communist have turned to candidates such as Le Pen.

This logically brings us to the third scenario. Europe is finally waking up to the reality pointed out by Rod Dreher in National Review Online that, "with birth rates plummeting, Europe will have no choice but to reign in its welfare state, but it will also have to continue to accept immigrants." It can no longer have its cake (unbridled welfare) and eat it too (excluding immigrants who pay for it).

The rise, and quick fall, of Le Pen in France was one thing. But the rise in Europe's most liberal nation of someone like Pim Fortuyn was quite another. Fortuyn was basically a libertarian and broke a long held European first principle against criticizing immigrants. In typical European snobbery it was just not spoken of.

Indeed his criticism was novel in that it was not a racist screed but one consistent with a view that there is, "a disaffected, semi-radical element whose religious beliefs reject settled Dutch views on the proper role of law, democracy, women, homosexuals, and non-Muslims," writes Dreher. To understand this perceived threat imagine if you will Islamofascists challenging the founding fathers in America and the elites pretty much rolling over.

In fact it is Dreher who connects the dots between a society that has high taxes, not enough welfare reform, and dangerous cities "ruled by immigrant Islamic gangs at a time when Muslim radicals worldwide were making war on the West" and worse none of this open for discussion with the end result which is the "Giulianization" of European politics. In eighteen short months much of Europe has shifted rightward down the political spectrum although probably not far enough. People are expecting Rudy Giuliani-type toughness on crime rather than more government handouts. They are starting to demand changes similar to the shrinkage of government in 1990's America while returning to law, order, and security.

Europe has been sick for many decades. It has taken the shock of September 11th which seems to have rocked Europe more than America combined with the prospects of the European Union. As Andrew Sullivan tells it the EU, "has robbed people of a sense of control over their lives, it has been foisted on populations without their consent, it combines the worst of socialist regulations with the difficult challenges of global capitalism. In short it is an undemocratic behemoth begging to be unraveled."

Hence there is no longer a sick man in Europe but a collectivized gaggle of sick, lame, and decrepit nations remembering the good times long past yet reliving the crisis of decades in months.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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