‘What does it matter where this path leads, nowhere or elsewhere, if the furrow continues flowering, if the flash of lightning still inflames the night?’ writes Dominique de Villepin, Prime Minister of the French Republic, in his 823-page treatise on poetry. ‘If the poet still consumes himself, he refuses the enclosures of thought, certainties, to camp in the heart of the mystery, in the living spirit of the flame.’
Few people are as camp in the heart of the mystery as the flowery-furrowed M. de Villepin, but after the last two weeks he may be less enthusiastic about all those flashes inflaming the night. Poets, said Anatole France, are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. But in making one of them an actual acknowledged legislator the French have stretched the thesis beyond breaking point. Few countries are in such desperate need of ‘the enclosures of thought’.
Instead, the Prime Minister has announced ‘a raft of measures’, although, as rafts go, this one doesn’t seem likely to make it to shore. The measures include ‘the creation of an anti-discrimination agency’, ‘20,000 job contracts with local government agencies’ reserved for those in the less fashionable arrondissements, an extra E100 million for ‘associations’ in said neighbourhoods, etc.
In other words, M. de Villepin’s prescribed course of treatment is to inject the patient with a stronger dose of the disease. When you’ve got estranged demographic groups with 50–60 per cent unemployment and an over-regulated economy that restricts social mobility, lavish welfare is nothing more than government-subsidised festering. That doesn’t seem a smart move.
My colleague Rod Liddle writes elsewhere in these pages about the media’s strange reluctance to use the M-word vis-?-vis the rioting ‘youths’. I’m sure he’s received, as I have, plenty of emails arguing that there’s no Islamist component, they’re not the madrasa crowd, they may be Muslim but they’re secular and Westernised and into drugs. It’s the lack of jobs; these riots derive from conditions peculiar to France, etc. As one correspondent wrote, ‘You right-wing shit-for-brains think everything’s about jihad.’
Well, it’s true there are Muslims and there are Muslims: some blow up Tube trains and some rampage through French streets and some claim Mossad’s put something in the chewing gum to make Arab men susceptible to the seduction techniques of Jewesses. Some kill Dutch film-makers and some complain about Piglet coffee mugs on co-workers’ desks, and millions of Muslims don’t do any of the above but apparently don’t feel strongly enough about them to say a word in protest. And it’s also true that it’s better to have your Peugeot torched than to be blown apart on the Piccadilly Line. But what all these techniques — and those of lobby groups who offer themselves as interlocutors between bewildered European elites and ‘moderate’ Muslims — have in common is that they advance the Islamification of Europe.
Just for the record, I don’t think everything’s about jihad. Rather, I think everything’s about demography. It wasn’t a subject I took much interest in pre-9/11. A decade ago, for example, I tended to accept the experts’ line that Japan’s rising sun had gone into eclipse because its economy was riddled with protectionism, cronyism and inefficient special-interest groups. But so what? You could have said the same 30 years ago, when the joint was booming. The only real difference is that Japan’s population was a lot younger back then. What happened in the 1990s was what Yamada Masahiro of Tokyo’s Gakugei University calls the first ‘low birth-rate recession’. It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the stupidity, economists — the stupidity of thinking you can buck demography.
Let’s take that evasive media characterisation of the rioters — ‘youths’ — at face value. What is the salient point about youths? They’re youthful. Very few octogenarians want to go torching Renaults every night. It’s not easy lobbing a Molotov cocktail into a police station and then hobbling back on your Zimmer frame across the street before the searing heat of the explosion melts your hip replacement. Civil disobedience is a young man’s game.
Now go back to that bland statistic you hear a lot these days: ‘about 10 per cent of France’s population is Muslim’. Give or take a million here, a million there, that’s broadly correct, as far as it goes. But the population spread isn’t even. And when it comes to those living in France aged 20 and under, about 30 per cent are said to be Muslim and in the major urban centres about 45 per cent. If it came down to street-by-street fighting, as Michel Gurfinkiel, the editor of Valeurs Actuelles, points out, ‘the combatant ratio in any ethnic war may thus be one to one’ — already, right now, in 2005. It is not necessary, incidentally, for Islam to become a statistical majority in order to function as one. At the height of its power in the 8th century, the ‘Islamic world’ stretched from Spain to India, yet its population was only minority Muslim. Nonetheless, by 2010, more elderly white Catholic ethnic frogs will have croaked and more fit healthy Muslim youths will be hitting the streets. One day they’ll even be on the beach at St Trop, and if you and your infidel whore happen to be lying there wearing nothing but two coats of Ambre Solaire when they show up, you better hope that the BBC and CNN are right about there being no religio-ethno-cultural component to their ‘grievances’.
Let me give a smaller example. In the Guardian the other day, Maureen Lipman wrote a marvellous rebuke to Clare Short over her claim that American support for Israel is the biggest single factor in global violence — an assertion so deranged it suggests a kind of societal Stockholm Syndrome. Miss Lipman is a longtime Labour luvvie but I doubt that she feels too comfortable with much of the British Left these days. I remembered those British Telecom ads she used to do back in the Eighties, playing a nice Jewish lady who’s proud her grandson has got an ‘ology’ in his A-levels, and I found myself thinking how unlikely it would be for any major business enterprise in Britain today to promote itself on TV with a Jewish-flavoured ad campaign. They’d never spell it out that explicitly, of course. I doubt anyone would even propose it at the most wide-ranging brainstorming session. But in the event of anyone running it up the flagpole nobody would salute. Affectionate Yiddisher stereotypes would not be received so warmly in the Britain of 2005. It’s a small loss, unspoken — a response to changing demographics, but also a reflection of how quickly those demographics have been internalised by the broader culture.
Back in March, Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, wrote to our letters page. ‘Mark Steyn seems obsessed with trying tirelessly to prove that he was right about the “big things”,’ he grumbled, ‘forgetting that he is not the story.’
Au contraire, I am the story. That’s to say, I’d have been happy to recycle for another decade or so the same Clinton blowjob jokes that provided me with a very easy living during the 1990s were it not for the fact that I’ve got three kids under the age of ten, and it seems to me that by the time they’re in young adulthood a lot of the places I know and love — including, believe it or not, France — will be a lot less congenial, if not lost for ever. I’m in this thing for me and mine. I am the story. And so’s Mr Doyle. And so are you. And, if you reckon you’re not, you’d better be a childless centenarian in the late stages of avian flu. Unless you act, you’re going to lose your world.
So the question is: do you think M. de Villepin’s one last shot of failed French statism will do the trick?
Finished laughing yet? OK, on we go. It’s possible that, as Europeans often say, the American century is over, and the hegemonic lardbutt is about to keel over and expire. Anything might happen. Was it Timothy Garton Ash or Will Hutton who suggested that giant space monkeys might suddenly descend and eat Cleveland? Could be. I wouldn’t rule it out. But the point is that, while one can draft all sorts of hypothetical apocalyptic scenarios for the Great Satan, the European catastrophe isn’t hypothetical, but already under way.
Right now, the US produces roughly 25 per cent of global GDP. Most analysts figure that by mid-century it will still be producing 25 per cent, and so will India and China, but Europe will be down to 10 per cent. As National Review’s John O’Sullivan has noticed, the three global heavyweights are all strongly attached to traditional notions of national sovereignty, so European countries which have bet on EU-style ‘transnationalism’ as a way out of their individual weaknesses are likely to find that, far from being the inevitable way of the world, it’s already on the wane.
And that’s the optimistic scenario. More likely, those Continental demographic trends will accelerate, as they did during the decline of the Roman Empire, when the imperial capital’s population fell at one point as low as 500. Some French natives will figure that they don’t have the stomach for the fight and opt for retirement elsewhere. The ones who don’t will increasingly be drawn down the old road to the neo-nationalist strongmen promising to solve the problem. That’s why I call it the ‘Eurabian civil war’. The de Villepin-Chiraquiste tendency will be to accommodate and capitulate, but an unreconstructed minority will not be so obliging and will eventually act. Meanwhile, it will be the Muslims who develop a pan-European identity, if only because many have no particular attachment to France or Belgium or Denmark and they’ll quickly grasp that cross-border parties and lobby groups will further enhance their status. The European Union is already the walking dead, but the Eurabian Union might well be a goer.
It’s remarkable to me how many European commentators cling to the old delusions — mocking Bush for being in thrall to his own Texan version of Osama-like fundamentalism. I look on religion like gun ownership. That’s to say, New Hampshire has a high rate of firearms possession, which is why it has a low crime rate. You don’t have to own a gun and there are sissy Dartmouth College arms-are-for-hugging types who don’t. But they benefit from the fact that their crazy stump-toothed knuckle-dragging neighbours do. If you want to burgle a home in the Granite State, you’d have to be awfully certain it was the one-in-a-hundred we-are-the-world pantywaist’s pad and not some plaid-clad gun nut who’ll blow your head off before you lay a hand on his $70 TV. That’s the way it is with religion. A hyper-rationalist might dismiss the whole God thing as a lot of apple sauce, but his hyper-rationalism is a lot more vulnerable in a society without a strong Judaeo-Christian culture. American firearms owners have a popular slogan: ‘If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.’ Likewise, if you marginalise religion, only the marginalised will have religion. That’s why France’s impoverished Muslim ghettos display more cultural confidence than the wealthiest enclaves of the capital.
So what can be done? For the political class, the demography’s becoming an insurmountable obstacle. When your electorate’s split between a young implacable ethnic group and elderly French natives unwilling to vote themselves off their unaffordable social programmes, there aren’t a lot of options your average poll-watching pol will be willing to take. And the trouble with the social democratic state is that, when government does too much, nobody else does much of anything. At the very least, European citizens should recognise that the governing class has failed, that the conventional wisdom has run its course, and that it is highly unlikely that those culturally confident Muslims will wish to assimilate with anything as shrivelled and barren as contemporary European identity. Donald Rumsfeld, a man confined to the enclosures of thought, likes to say that weakness is a provocation. And for the last two weeks that’s all the French state has projected.
As evidence of anti-Europeanism in America, Timothy Garton Ash has quoted on several occasions — and, indeed, preserved in book form — a throwaway line of mine from April 2002: ‘To the list of polities destined to slip down the Eurinal of history, we must add the European Union and France’s Fifth Republic. The only question is how messy their disintegration will be.’ That may be ‘anti-European’ (though I don’t regard it as such) but so what? What matters is whether the assessment is right, and after the last couple of weeks that prediction looks better than the complaceniks’ view that there’s nothing wrong with the EU that can’t be fixed by more benefits, more regulation, more taxes, more immigration, more unemployment, more crime and more smouldering Citro?ns. If you carry on voting for the Euroconsensus, you’re voting for a suicide pact. M. de Villepin put it very well: ‘What does it matter where this path leads, nowhere or elsewhere?’ The Euroconsensus leads nowhere. Time to try elsewhere.Mark Steyn
- New Hampshire