Thursday, May 10, 2007

WALTER LAQUEUR on Europe's existential crisis:
Great changes in the cities of Europe will occur within the next decades. Will they be one-sided, affecting only the natives and not the newcomers? Perhaps the Muslim women will opt for colors other than black, and perhaps the hijab will be reduced to something more symbolic. Perhaps mosque attendance will drop just as church attendance has in Western Europe.

A hundred years ago, a visit to Commercial Road in London's East End, or to the Grenadierstrasse and the Scheunenviertel in East Berlin, or to Belleville and the Marais in Paris (or the Lower East Side in New York), would have shown a scenery that was strange and not particularly pleasing to the eye. You would have seen the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in their new European or American surroundings: the little synagogues, the cheap eating places, the sweatshops, the foreign-language newspapers, the men and women in strange clothes.

But there are differences. There is, to begin with, the scale of immigration. Only tens of thousands came to Western Europe 100 years ago, not millions. They made great efforts to integrate socially and culturally. Above all, they wanted to give their children a good secular education at almost any price. The rate of intermarriage was high within one generation, and even higher within two. No one helped them: There were no social workers or advisers, no one gave them housing at low or no rent, and programs such as Sure Start (a British equivalent of Head Start) and "positive discrimination" had not yet been invented. There were no free health-service or unemployment benefits. There were no government committees analyzing Judeophobia and how to combat it.

Many of the immigrants today live in societies separate from those of their host countries. That is true in big cities and small. The new immigrants have no German or British or French friends. Their preachers tell them that their values and traditions are greatly superior to those of the infidels, and that any contact, even with neighbors, is undesirable. Their young people complain about being excluded, but their social and cultural separateness is quite often voluntary. Western European governments and societies are often criticized for not having done more to integrate the new citizens. But even if they had done much more, is it certain that integration would have succeeded?

Europe as we once knew it is bound to change, probably out of recognition, for a number of reasons, partly demographic and cultural, but also political and social. Even if Europe should unite and solve the various domestic crises facing it, its predominant place in the world and predominant role in world affairs is a thing of the past. What kind of new Europe is likely to emerge as a successor to the old Continent? That, of course, is an open question, whose answer depends on events not only in Europe but also in other parts of the world.

Given the shrinking of its population, it is possible that Europe, or considerable parts of it, will turn into a cultural theme park, a kind of Disneyland on a level of a certain sophistication for well-to-do visitors from China and India, something like Brugge, Venice, Versailles, Stratford-on-Avon, or Rothenburg ob der Tauber on a larger scale. Some such parks already exist; when the coal mines in the Ruhr were closed down, the Warner Brothers Movie World was opened in Dortmund. This will be a Europe of tourist guides, gondoliers, and translators: "Ladies and gentlemen, you are visiting the scenes of a highly developed civilization that once led the world. It gave us Shakespeare, Beethoven, the welfare state, and many other fine things... ." There will be excursions for every taste; even now there are trips in Berlin to the slums and the areas considered dangerous ("Kreuzberg, the most colorful district: two hours").
There's a lot more; read it all.