Years ago I walked into a Palestinian barbershop in the Old City of Jerusalem and came across pictures of Yasser Arafat and Elvis pinned to the same wall—a terrorist-freedom fighter and an American rockstar.
Travelling has a way of jolting assumptions and categories and lending perspective to global situations often processed for us by the mainstream media.
So I’d like to introduce a friend that has agreed to share his travelogue with us. We’ll call him Argos.
Argos has a new job in which he jets about the globe as an adviser to his organization’s regional leaders and gathers information for corporate. It’s a sweet gig if you can handle the flying.
Whenever he gets back stateside he’s going to give me a call to share his observations and some of the conversations he had with the locals about politics and culture. Consequently, this will be a reoccurring column at feralyawp. That said, while we’re well aware that Argos’ insights are anecdotal, they are nevertheless suggestive and possibly insightful.
Argos first trip took him to Belgium.
Argos’ contact in Belgium is a multi-lingual expat who has lived in Brussels for thirty years. We’ll call him Frank. Visiting the local breweries, they discussed business but also the going ons in Belgium. One thing that stood out to Argos was the number of Muslims in Brussels. In particular, these Muslims were of the very conservative variety: the women donned not just the hijab but often wore the head-to-toe burqa. Argos asked Frank about this rather unexpected reality. First, Frank noted, these were not Belgian converts but immigrants. Of course, Frank pointed out that immigration had been common to Belgium for decades. Currently 25% of Belgium’s population is immigrant, half of which hail from Europe and the other half of which hail from abroad. A necessity, as Frank pointed out.
After 1972 Belgium’s birthrate has never risen above the replacement level of 2.1. Why was that? There is the normal, first world reasons: the more you make, the more kids cost. Plus kids are annoying, so maybe you have one and if you’re really aggressive, you have two. But Frank pointed out a cultural malaise that settled in during the 1970s. After getting run over twice during the Great Wars by the Germans, the children of the WWII generation lost a large degree of faith in the human project. After two ugly wars, why would you want to bring children into such a world? Further, the emphasis on personal happiness and material joy as the final products of the modern, liberal secular state, why would you want to sacrifice personal happiness for screaming, shitting bags of id alternatively known as babies?In addition to this, Frank identified a general disenfranchisement with the Catholic church among the traditionally papist populace. It had become a national past-time to hate on the Romans, which isn’t to say the hatred was unwarranted. Catholic schools that many Belgians were raised in were less than great: beatings, indoctrination, and poor education has a way of angering people. The hate was well-deserved. Thus a combination of anger at the church, an ascendent secularism, and two world wars managed to turn national Belgians to cynical hedonism. The Belgians still have their beer, chocolates, clean streets, and friendliness to outsiders (provided you aren’t a silly Christian) but the will to live, to procreate has been seriously curtailed.
But is it?
The birthrate of Belgians dropped off precipitously during the 1970s and continued into the 1990s. But recently it’s climbed out of the cellar and averaged around 1.8 the last couple of years. The culprit: immigrants. Belgians began to import their labor. But more precisely they began to import muslims.
This highlights a pressing question for Europe. On the whole, in recent decades, the Europeans have been poor procreators. They’re still having sex (unlike the Japanese), but they’re not having children. Of course, this isn’t the end of the world if you replace dropping birthrates with immigration, but Europe is not American. While the United States has a long tradition of immigration and was always orientated around ideas (see: Declaration of Independence) rather than ethnic and cultural heritage, Europe is a different animal. To think that the Europeans can solve their problem by just bringing in more folks from the outside is to project upon the continent an American mindset. There is already signs of ugliness with the rise of right-wing nationalist movements emphasizing ethnic identity against the invading hordes of the Middle East. The show is far from over, but if I were a betting man, I’d say Europe’s best days are behind it. This isn’t merely a technical, economic, and geopolitical issue, it’s an issue of culture. A culture that no longer has a reason to live or a reason to die will fade away (did I mention Japan?).
And this is where Frank makes an interesting observation. The Belgians openly detest Christians as backwards, antiquated nincompoops. Maybe that’s fair. The Apostle Paul called Christians to be fools for Christ. And yet, according to Frank, the Belgians candor disappears the minute Muslim (mainly Turkish) immigrants come up. They say little, but there is a disturbed look in their eyes. Frank: “They’re terrified.”
Only time will tell, but my money is on the Turks finally conquering Europe. During the Reformation, the invading Turk haunted the theological and geopolitical debates of the time. We all know that the Europeans ended up not only pushing back the Turkish menace, but conquering the Middle East. And yet the affluence of Europe and the loss of faith, a faith that gave people a reason to live, has faded. But it has not for the Muslims. They come streaming into Europe looking for life, prosperity, and peace. And yet they bring their convictions with them. Undoubtedly the Enlightenment ideals of the Europeans will win converts, but will they be enough?
Even if the Europeans do win converts to modern secularism, does that not underscore their fundamental weakness? Their secularism does not give them a reason to persist or sacrifice beyond present happiness, so they must resort to pillaging the children of supposedly ignorant Mohammedans. The arrangement is fundamentally parasitic. Is this not secularism to the core, though, and will it work? A specter haunts Europe, and it is not Communism, it is the force of a faith that, for the sake of multiculturalism, Europeans cannot detest, but for the sake of their own pride in the Western project they cannot abide.
But here we find Elvis Arafat—the terrorist-freedom fighter and Americana. While Europe aspires to multiculturalism, tolerance, and peace it can only be on its own terms. The enterprise is ultimately trying to square cultural aspirations of tolerance with political realities that result in dissonance. Eventually the tolerance will be gobbled up by a wolf (European or otherwise) that has no time for such niceties. What Europe wants is beyond what its individual pantheistic element would afford. They would defang the religions of the world, keep the parts they like, and usher in a new millennium, but toothless lions still have claws and will rip out their hearts. Arafat’s children will not be subsumed by the sweet words of The King.