Europe’s Bloodless Universalism

By now the story of Omar Ismail Mostefai, the first of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks to be named, is depressingly familiar. One could almost have written his biography before knowing anything about him. A petty criminal of Algerian parentage from what all the world now calls the banlieue, he was sustained largely by the social security system, an erstwhile fan of rap music, and a votary of what might be called the continuation of criminality by other means, which is to say Islamism and the grandiose purpose in life that it gives to its adherents. For feeble minds, the extremity of the consequences for self and others serves as some kind of guarantee that their cause is just.

Nor was the connection to Molenbeek, a neighborhood in Brussels where at least three of the terrorists lived, much of a surprise to anyone. Brussels—the “capital of Europe,” be it remembered—is slightly more than a quarter Muslim, and nearly 100 percent of Molenbeek’s residents are Muslims of North African background. When a few years ago I was shown around the place, my acquaintances told me it was virtually extraterritorial as far as the Belgian state was concerned—apart from the collection of social security, of course.

All the women wore headscarves, and the young men dressed like American rap music fans. The police rarely entered and were far more concerned not to offend Muslim sensibilities—for example, by not being seen to eat during Ramadan—than to find or capture the miscreants who made the area so dangerously crime-ridden. Businesses there (so my guides told me) paid no taxes but were not investigated for evasion by the tax authorities: it was the tax authorities who did the evading.

Everyone knew Islamist preaching and plotting were rife in Molenbeek, but nothing was done to stop it, in order to keep the tense and fragile peace going as long as possible. Sympathy for terrorism was the norm—or, it would be more correct to say, that no one dared publicly voice opposition to it.

If my informants were right, this was the perfect place for psychopaths with an illusion of purpose to flourish and make plans undisturbed by the authorities, while being supported by the welfare state. Events since have demonstrated that they did not exaggerate (as, to my regret, I rather suspected at the time that they did, for alarm is so often disproportionate to the reality that gives rise to it). Recall that the terrorists who were disarmed on the train from Amsterdam to Paris in August came from Molenbeek, as did the man who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014. More volunteers to fight for ISIS have come from Molenbeek than anywhere else in Europe.

The Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, has now virtually admitted that the area was extraterritorial to Belgium, and out of all control. The time had come “to focus more on repression,” he said. But whether the determination or sufficient political unity necessary to carry it out will last is doubtful. Repression requires discrimination; we live in a regime in which murderers may come and go, but social security goes on forever.

Do we have the stomach to tar many people with the same brush? That we now know that terrorists among the Syrian refugees have entered Europe, which was precisely the objection of those opposed to accepting them (who were vilified by immigration-liberals for their moral obtuseness or nastiness, and have been proven right, which is even more unforgivable), now raises the disturbing question: How many innocent people should Europe accept for one suicide bomber?

A striking thing about the immigration debate before the massacres of November 13 was the almost complete absence of references, at least by the “respectable” politicians, to the national interest of the various countries. The debate was couched in Kantian moral terms. Sweden, for example, which has no imperative to take refugees other than moral grandiosity and its desire to feel itself virtuous, has had a hard enough time integrating the immigrants it has already taken; their entry has made that country one with nearly the highest crime rate in Western Europe. Current family re-unification laws in Europe mean that the numbers any country agrees to take will soon be expanded.

There is a real moral dilemma, of course. Recently in Bodrum, on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I was approached by a family of four Syrian refugees begging for alms. The father of the family showed me his Syrian passport (precisely of the kind so easily forged by the terrorists), but all I could see was his wife and two small children who were obviously bereft of support and who would obviously suffer without charity. That day, 22 refugees were reported drowned as they tried to reach Turkey by boat, an occurrence so regular that it was not reported in the Western press. No one undertakes such a journey lightly: only safety or an egocentric thirst for “martyrdom” could impel him.

Europe has nothing equivalent to national interest, and if it did, it would have no way of acting on it. A kind of bloodless universalism has rushed in to fill the vacuum, whose consequences are now visible to all. The first thing President Hollande tried to do after the attacks was close the borders; he now talks (understandably, of course) of national security. He talks also of defeating ISIS militarily, but France, along with all of the other European countries, has run down its armed forces in the name of the social security that paid for at least some of the terrorists.

Just because Europe’s weakness is clear doesn’t mean that our heads are clear. Three days after the attacks, the most influential newspaper in Britain (and in certain ways the best), the liberal-Left Guardian, ran 40 small photos of some the victims, with the headline, “Killed in the Pitiless Name of Terrorism.”

They were not killed in the pitiless name of terrorism, of course. They were killed in the pitiless name of Islam—not the only possible interpretation of Islam, no doubt, but still in its name. In the cowardice of this headline was the encapsulated all the weakness of Europe, a real encouragement to the terrorists.

Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

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  1. djf says

    All the faults of the European ruling class discussed in this article have been equally present in the US bipartisan ruling class (although, in light of recent events, some establishment Republicans have suddenly become more willing to acknowledge that immigration from the Middle East carries a terrorism risk). With that small exception, the discussion of immigration among the elites in this country, until very recently (i.e., until the advent of the Trump campaign), like the discussion in Europe, has been carried on with an “almost complete absence of references, at least by the “respectable” politicians, to the national interest” of the citizens of the United States. Indeed, about two years ago, when I suggested in a comment at this website that the primary consideration in setting US immigration policy should be the interests of the majority of the citizenry, I was castigated in rather extreme terms by none other than Professor Rappaport (apologies if that identification is mistaken).

  2. nobody.really says

    Let me express sympathy for everyone’s losses – and in particular, for people’s loss of innocence.

    That said, snap out of it already. Maybe living in the shooting gallery we call the United States has given me a calloused heart, or maybe living behind an ocean has made me complacent, but aside from those directly affected, has this act of terrorism really changed anything? Cuz to me, the world on 11/12 looked a lot like the world on 11/14.

    …he was sustained largely by the social security system….

    …it was virtually extraterritorial as far as the Belgian state was concerned—apart from the collection of social security, of course.

    …we live in a regime in which murderers may come and go, but social security goes on forever.

    France, along with all of the other European countries, has run down its armed forces in the name of the social security that paid for at least some of the terrorists.

    Right! Who benefits from social security? THE TERROISTS. But that’s not all.

    France has a military that keeps the country from being overrun by the Soviets, and now the Russians. And who has benefitted from this freedom? THE TERRORISTS.

    France has laws that reduce pollution and keep the air cleaner than it otherwise would be. And who breathes that air? THE TERRORISTS.

    France maintains the Academie Française that maintains the purity of the French language. And who is learning that language? THE TERRORISTS.

    Rains provide life-sustaining water. And who does the rain fall on? THE TERRORISTS.

    All true. All frustrating. But what’s your point?

    Yeah, it would be nice if everyone responded to our humanitarianism with gratitude and acquiescence. But that’s never been true – and never been the purpose of humanitarianism. We extend compassion to people not because they are virtuous, but because we are. If you’re not comfortable with the view that virtue is its own reward, you probably shouldn’t be in the virtue business.

    That we now know that terrorists among the Syrian refugees have entered Europe … now raises the disturbing question: How many innocent people should Europe accept for one suicide bomber?

    And when was that not the question?

    Anyone acquainted with Type I and Type II error knows the trade-offs well. Want to reduce the chance that immigrants will enter your country and kill/steal/leave gum on the sidewalk? Reduce immigration! Want to increase humanitarian benefit, and probably your economy? Increase immigration! This was true before 11/13, and it remains true afterwards. The only thing that’s changed is perhaps some rose-colored glasses.

    But as Pinker notes in Better Angels of Our Nature, the odds of you being killed as a result of another human’s malice has never been lower. Terrorism remains a vanishingly small risk to you relative to pretty much any other risk you might name.

    And consider the progress of the terrorists: On 9/11/01, using boxcutters and credit cards, Islamic extremists in the US killed roughly 3000 people, destroyed multiple jetliners, cratered skyscrapers, and took a bite out of the Pentagon. In contrast, last week in France, Islamic extremists – with the benefit of 14 years of improved technology, roughly eight highly-trained soldiers, sophisticated automatic weapons and explosives – managed to kill about 130 people.

    Yes, every death is tragic. But let’s keep some perspective, people. Bad people occasionally do bad things. This is frustrating. But it is not new.

    So here’s my mantra, which I offer free of charge: I accept that a terrorist can take my life; that’s an unavoidable price of life in a free society. But he cannot take my way for life. Only we as a society can take that way, if we lose our nerve and sense of perspective.

    Keep calm. Keep perspective. Keep the faith.

    • Paul H. says

      This is ridiculous. Specially when citing Pinker on risk. Nassim Taleb, one of the top experts on risk theory and practice in the world today, has been debunking his bullshit over and over again.

      “I accept that a terrorist can take my life; that’s an unavoidable price of life in a free society.”

      Here you’re just pathetic. What free society? That’s the price you pay for having a government funding the immigration and stay of millions of potentially violent people who, as a rule, do not fit in in western society. Worse: they hate it.

      Their religion (which is not a “religion” in the judeo-christian context we’re used to talk about it is an entire worldview in which, among other things, our (western) world is filthy, chaotic and in the darkness, until they conquer it to make it what they call a world of peace (again, not “peace” in the western context). You’re a second class person in their eyes, who should keep paying them an infidel tax.

      While you brag that the risk of you being blown to pieces is “small”, countries that did not engage in funding massive immigration of these types still offer pratically zero risk of such.

      Not to mention that terrorism isn’t even the main issue. Terrorism is just the safe position that anyone can take against without sounding like a “radical”.
      There are way worse issues: disproportional, massive increase in violence, crime, rape, more No Go Zones, massive welfare support for eternal parasites, cultural conflicts, population replacement, etc.
      Sweden hasn’t had a major terrorist attack yet but it is still going extinct in this path.

  3. Kiljoy says

    “So here’s my mantra, which I offer free of charge: I accept that a terrorist can take my life; that’s an unavoidable price of life in a free society. But he cannot take my way for life. Only we as a society can take that way, if we lose our nerve and sense of perspective.”

    Then what? We lose our virtue? Our way of life? Our free society?

    What then?

    “Keep calm. Keep perspective. Keep the faith.”

    What faith?

    If you really believe what you say maybe you’d consider discussing the issue here http://www.westerndefence.org

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