May 30, 2006

European Culture Wars

Two good companion pieces on the demographic and cultural decline of Europe are George Weigel's Commentary article Europe's Two Culture Wars, and a piece from the Observer that marks the Salman Rushdie affair as the tipping point in Britain that began Islam's identification with what it calls "an agenda of murder". In this exceprt from Weigel, he defines the "culture wars."

Earlier this year, five days short of the second anniversary of the Madrid bombings, the Zapatero government, which had already legalized marriage between and adoption by same-sex partners and sought to restrict religious education in Spanish schools, announced that the words “father” and “mother” would no longer appear on Spanish birth certificates. Rather, according to the government’s official bulletin, “the expression ‘father’ will be replaced by ‘Progenitor A,’ and ‘mother’ will be replaced by ‘Progenitor B.’” As the chief of the National Civil Registry explained to the Madrid daily ABC, the change would simply bring Spain’s birth certificates into line with Spain’s legislation on marriage and adoption. More acutely, the Irish commentator David Quinn saw in the new regulations “the withdrawal of the state’s recognition of the role of mothers and fathers and the extinction of biology and nature.”

At first blush, the Madrid bombings and the Newspeak of “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B” might seem connected only by the vagaries of electoral politics: the bombings, aggravating public opinion against a conservative government, led to the installation of a leftist prime minister, who then proceeded to do many of the things that aggressively secularizing governments in Spain have tried to do in the past. In fact, however, the nexus is more complex than that. For the events of the past two years in Spain are a microcosm of the two interrelated culture wars that beset Western Europe today.

The first of these wars—let us, following the example of Spain’s birth certificates, call it “Culture War A”—is a sharper form of the red state/blue state divide in America: a war between the postmodern forces of moral relativism and the defenders of traditional moral conviction. The second—“Culture War B”—is the struggle to define the nature of civil society, the meaning of tolerance and pluralism, and the limits of multiculturalism in an aging Europe whose below-replacement-level fertility rates have opened the door to rapidly growing and assertive Muslim populations.

The first of these culture wars has manifested itself in a willingly bureaucratized society, via the EU. This "creeping authoritarianism" is perhaps most noticeable in the coercion necessary to enforce politically correct speech via state regulation, freedom of speech being the necessary casualty. And while writers like Bruce Bawer accurately cite postmodernism and multiculturalism as being at the root of the problem, Weigel says it goes deeper than that:

... to blame “multi-culti” p.c. for Europe’s paralysis is to remain on the surface of things. Culture War A—the attempt to impose multiculturalism and “lifestyle” libertinism in Europe by limiting free speech, defining religious and moral conviction as bigotry, and using state power to enforce “inclusivity” and “sensitivity”—is a war over the very meaning of tolerance itself. What Bruce Bawer rightly deplores as out-of-control political correctness in Europe is rooted in a deeper malady: a rejection of the belief that human beings, however inadequately or incompletely, can grasp the truth of things—a belief that has, for almost two millennia, underwritten the European civilization that grew out of the interaction of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome.

Postmodern European high culture repudiates that belief. And because it can only conceive of “your truth” and “my truth” while determinedly rejecting any idea of “the truth,” it can only conceive of tolerance as indifference to differences—an indifference to be enforced by coercive state power, if necessary. The idea of tolerance as engaging differences within the bond of civility (as Richard John Neuhaus once put it) is itself regarded as, well, intolerant. Those who would defend the true tolerance of orderly public argument about contending truth claims (which include religious and moral convictions) risk being driven, and in many cases are driven, from the European public square by being branded as “bigots.”

The Observer piece notices this same inversion of logic in citing the Rushdie affair as emblematic of the bigger picture in the UK:

Here in microcosm were the key features of what would only much later be recognised as a major and systematic threat to the state and its values. There was the murderous incitement; the flagrant defiance of both the rule of law and free speech; the religious fanaticism; the emergence of British Muslims as a distinct and hostile political entity; and the supine response by the British establishment. What was also on conspicuous display was the mind-twisting, back-to-front reasoning that is routinely used by many Muslims to turn their own violent aggression into victimhood. Muslim leaders claimed that the refusal by the British government to ban The Satanic Verses showed that Muslims in Britain were under attack, with the political and literary establishment trying to destroy their most cherished values. 'They are rapidly coming to the conclusion that they will have to fight to defend Islam in Britain,' said Dr Kalim Siddiqui of his community.

Of course, it was Britain that was under attack from an Islamism that required the British state to dump its most cherished values in order to placate the Muslim minority. Yet this was promptly inverted to claim that it was Islam that was under attack. Thus, Islamist violence was justified and its victim blamed instead for aggression, the pattern that has come to characterise the Muslim attitude to conflict worldwide.

Can't do justice to either piece with these excerpts. Read it all.

Posted by dan at May 30, 2006 9:35 PM