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Freedom or Terror
Europe Faces Jihad
By Russell A. Berman
Hoover Institution PressCopyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
European Values and Islamist Violence
Decadence Meets Force
The encounter between contemporary Europe and Islamist terrorists has multiple dimensions. It has involved recent military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq and, over decades, throughout the Middle East. Yet terrorism is not a war with clear frontlines or uniformed combatants, so another dimension of this encounter involves the extensive counterterrorism strategies carried out within Europe, the painstaking intelligence gathering, and the police actions against jihadist networks. Those steps, however, quickly begin to raise issues of civil liberties that, in different ways and in different countries, touch on the basic values of modern European liberal democracies and become flashpoints of public controversy. We will examine these matters in later chapters, looking at individual European countries and their specific responses. Yet ultimately the question of European responses to Islamist terrorism is a question of culture: the confrontation of contemporary European culture with the cultural values of jihadist radicals. This chapter examines the key fault lines in that confrontation.
The two sides do share some underlying features, in particular the impact of globalization, although this plays itself out in markedly different ways. For Europe, globalization puts intense pressure on its values tradition: the cooperation with the illiberal societies of the non-European world through the structures of international trade tends to undermine European values, and the impact of immigration into Europe only amplifies Europeans' doubts about the integrity of their traditions. For various reasons — for Germans, it is the memory of the Nazi era, for others it is a sense of guilt from historical colonialism, in general an epidemic of political correctness — Europeans are often unwilling to stand behind their values, especially the values of liberal democracy, and to defend them.
Instead, there is an easy slide into cultural relativism: women's rights, for example, are largely recognized to have validity within Europe, but Europeans are very apprehensive about making claims that such rights should apply elsewhere. Globalization, one could say, makes Europeans decadent, as far as values go. In contrast, globalization intersects with jihadism in an antithetical fashion, magnifying its aspiration to establish a transnational regime based on its imagination of archaic Islam. At stake, of course, is not the Islam that most Muslims practice, and it is certainly not the traditionalist Islam that has gradually made accommodations to modernity: rather, jihadism, as a modern movement, invents a primitive vision, which it wants to impose on modernity. The jihadist activists recruit internationally for their universal movement, and they have been reaching out particularly to disaffected members of the Muslim immigrant communities in Europe. This is precisely where the encounter of European decadence and jihadist vitality is so ominous: Europe, unsure of itself, has little to offer in terms of values, while jihad promises paradise.
This chapter investigates the two sides of the encounter. It begins with an examination of the erosion of European values in the context of globalization, and then it turns to the transnational aspirations of jihadism and its own totalitarian resonances. While jihadism confronts Europe and challenges it, in fact it also borrows from Europe, including elements of the worst aspects of the European twentieth century. To understand how Europe responds to the violence of terrorism, it is important first to trace how its own values traditions have been weakened.
The Values Crisis of Globalization
In recent years, questions of values and cultural conflict have frequently occupied the center of public discussion on both sides of the Atlantic, and these debates have taken on varied political shadings. The German discussion of a Leitkultur — the idea of a national culture to which immigrants should assimilate — and, similarly elsewhere in Europe and in the United States, the politicized expectation that immigrant populations acquire some familiarity with the language, culture, and values of the host country have often reflected underlying conservative assumptions. In contrast, in France, the adamant defense of a national identity defined in terms of republican values has historically been more a matter of the left and its tradition of adamant secularism, even if conservative politicians have recently taken up the issue. More generally, advocacy on women's issues and human rights have typically tended to arise on the left (even if, in an interesting political development, they too have begun to slide toward the right). This political indeterminacy makes the topic of political values all the more interesting. Evidently, the question of values does not lend itself to easy political categorization. A broader account is called for to explain how Western political cultures — with their own internal range of positions and hardly monolithic — face sets of pressures in the context of globalization: immigration is only one dimension of a framework that includes enhanced international trade, new global media (the Internet), and global environment questions, not to mention security and energy policies, even if debates typically erupt most dramatically around immigration-related topics and, of course, in response to terrorism. Do Europeans have a body of values they are prepared to defend against terrorist challenges?
If the shared values of the European tradition have grown weak, this is a result of the restructuring of the international order. The wider global context diminishes the standing of local narratives and undermines their stability. Given that degree of generality, there is no reason to assume that there is one single policy solution that would apply uniformly in different countries and to different topics. In later chapters, we will look at the configuration of immigration, terrorism, and cultural change in different national contexts. What we might achieve here at the outset, however, is a framework for comparative discussions of related if nonetheless distinct topics in varied circumstances. There are core questions about shared values that recur in different countries, even if they are answered differently.
Should societies expect new immigrants to internalize the host culture, and, if so, what is the degree of appropriation that could be set as a norm: thorough? partial? minimal? A Leitkultur expectation, for example, that all immigrants reach university-level knowledge of host culture history is surely unachievable, but that does not imply that assimilation expectations should be lowered to zero. Culture is, after all, not only distant history but also the way one lives in historically formed institutions. Should there be any educational outreach to explain to immigrants the legal rights they can enjoy? Such rights may not have applied in their countries of origin and therefore represent something distinctive about the host environment. Assuming the host culture takes its own rights seriously (perhaps an inappropriate assumption), it ought to be willing to explain them. Sharing good news cannot be bad: but then what about the host-country history that led to those rights? The traditions and struggles, heroes and heroines, that spread rights we may take for granted? That too should be part of the cultural outreach to new members of the community. For if immigrants do not have access to knowledge of their rights — which are surely not fully separate from cultural values and their historical evolution — then discrimination against immigrants and, in response to that, an attendant radicalization of immigrants can only follow. In other words, to refrain from pursuing any project of cultural integration necessarily leaves immigrants vulnerable to exploitation and practically stripped of their rights. That is the point where superficial multiculturalism, fearful of denigrating other cultures and therefore unwilling to assert the host culture's advantages, in effect traps immigrants in marginalized ghettoes, easy prey for the purveyors of radicalism.
Yet if one concedes that immigrants might benefit from knowing that the host society values nondiscriminatory labor practices, and that, therefore, if they face discrimination they would have some recourse in the courts and, even more importantly, that they should have a working knowledge of how to obtain it, should not the same immigrants also know that the host society similarly values women's rights? What about free speech or gay marriage or religious tolerance? It surely cannot be the case that the rule of law could accept providing an immigrant woman with protection against mistreatment in host-culture institutions while withholding that protection in the context of the immigrant community. Nor does it make sense to provide gays (whether immigrant or not) with the promise of protection against violent attacks by members of the host culture but ignore violence in the immigrant community. Those consequences would, however, result directly from inappropriate bashfulness about the host culture and its Western values. If European nations fail to stand up for their core values at home, it is difficult to imagine how they could participate robustly in the war on Islamist terrorism abroad — and if they jettison their values and dodge the challenge of terrorism, they are not likely to defend their freedom anywhere.
The Western Values Crisis
Ultimately, therefore, the crucial question for us is not immigration and what immigrants should know about their host countries — as important as that may be — but rather why Western societies turn out to be strangely embarrassed about their own value contents. All these desiderata — antidiscrimination, free speech, the equality of women — are enlightenment legacies, established through social conflict and cultural change, and they are consequently embedded in complex and deep histories of controversy, some distant and some — think of gay marriage — very contemporary. None of these achievements of emancipation was easily won, and, when all is said and done, none has ever been fully accepted; there has always been a noticeably repressive undertow eager to limit freedom. Gay marriage is just the most current example, but the backlash against feminism is hardly a secret, and anti-Semitism never disappeared from the secular and tolerant modernity of Western Europe. Similarly, before we celebrate Western advocacy for something as seemingly irreproachable as free speech, let us remember how quickly Western institutions were prepared to cave in on the defense of the publication of Salman Rushdie's controversial 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, when it was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
While support for the structures of emancipation has never been wholehearted, that does not mean that freedom was just a sham (that theory would be tantamount to the old Communist claim about "bourgeois freedoms" being merely abstract). It does, however, recognize that the reign of freedom is tenuous. If it is not embraced and defended vigorously, it can wither. Especially today, in the context of globalization, freedom faces opponents, and it needs stalwart advocates. Freedom's friends should mount that defense without apologies and despite the enhanced interaction with societies that do not similarly value freedom. Will Western societies, with their specific enlightenment legacies, but now facing a global context that includes significantly repressive cultures and political systems, choose to adjust to the new world order by ratcheting down their own values? It might seem opportune to give up on freedom in order to get along with powerful trading partners in this unfree world. Does an anti-emancipatory global context mean that Western cultures should roll back their own rights? Should Europe become more like Russia and China in order to do business with them more efficiently? Should the West emulate Saudi Arabia in order to ensure an uninterrupted flow of oil?
The suggestions sound absurd, but we should not be oblivious to the waning persuasiveness of Ronald Reagan's invocation of the Puritan imagery of the "City on the Hill" as an example for the world. In the wake of the Iraq war (which, despite its success, was notoriously unpopular) and after decades of cultural relativism, the bold agenda to see the world reborn in our Western image is less radiant than in the glory days of the end of the Cold War. It may even be that a reverse effect has set in: a preemptive apprehension against any judgment that might imply that other societies should become free. Yet if we give up on the expectation that other societies may strive toward freedom, we will surely lose our own. As the West grows more willing to accommodate dictators, we increasingly run the risk of being remade in the image of the non-Western world by adopting its illiberal structures.
To understand the relationship of cultural norms to the challenge of terrorism, we must pay attention to the very value of values. The term implies, correctly, that humans live in cultures where values are in play: our values are not frozen or simplistic, nor are they, however, fully atomized and privatized. Values operate somewhere between the extremes of absolutely singular and infinitely malleable. These cultural goods, the standing of which is at least partially subjective — hence our stereotypical anxiety about "value judgments" because of a misplaced reluctance to insist on something as allegedly subjective as values — face a more objective, notionally quantifiable version of value, understood as worth or even cost. "What is the value of values?" means "What is the cost of having a culture?" or "Are the goods, allegiances, and principles that one holds dearly — one's values — important enough, valuable enough, to imply a willingness to defend them?" While the verb "defend" may provoke angst due to a possibly belligerent connotation, the word does not necessarily imply military defense, although at times that too might be valuable or even necessary. For now, however, let us only consider an argumentative defense or a political defense. We must ultimately ask whether there is any substantive content, any imaginable value, which we should defend or — and this is the stark alternative — are "values" simply not worth the effort? Not worth the effort because we imagine that we could achieve some greater profit if we could overcome the limitations imposed by seemingly arbitrary value allegiances
One can address values in terms of individual character, and important topics of moral evaluation and ethical life would be on the table. We may admire someone who has the character to stand on principle, or — this is always the nagging worry in such cases — perhaps that hardheaded moralizer is just being stubborn and inflexible. Or we can certainly be suspicious of another type, someone who always only seeks out strategic advantage, unless we were alternatively to admire that acquaintance's flexibility, the agility of an opportunist never constrained by commitments. In common parlance, one often appreciates knowing where someone else "stands," because we value clarity, and there is a commonsensical rejection of individuals who are "two-faced" — those who hide their values or motivations or who say one thing here and something else over there. Yet a century of psychoanalysis has taught us nothing if not that there are always ulterior motives, especially multiple and often mutually incompatible desires, unknown even to the actor, which, however, suggests that every principle or value is also a repression, a refusal of competing thoughts and desires. However, not even psychoanalysis would regard that insight into the complexity of the psyche as an argument against values, or against the value of values. We have values in order to act as ethical individuals, but social processes may erode our commitment to those values.
Individual ethics is one matter, but there is also a geopolitical version of this problem of flexibility and adjustment. Western energy policy — driven by so-called postmaterial values — has limited the development of fossil fuels and significantly blocked the development of nuclear energy options. This strategy, however, has only enhanced Western dependence on regimes in areas of the world rich in oil and gas, and poor in enlightenment values. The greening of Western Europe has meant a growing dependence on energy sources elsewhere: Russia and the Arab world. The pressure to accommodate their illiberalism through a reduction in democratic expectations will only grow. Do you bite the hand that feeds you fuel? Proposals by figures as influential as New York Senator Charles Schumer to acknowledge the legitimacy of Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe is a taste of things to come, cut from the same cloth as Russian energy politics in what used to be the New Europe.
Excerpted from Freedom or Terror by Russell A. Berman. Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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