January 6, 2013

The Rock

In the mid-1990s, I had occasion to visit Gibraltar, that small peninsula jutting out from Spain into the Mediterranean and which helps marks the strait that separates Europe from North Africa. It was ceded to Britain in 1713 following its capture nine years earlier during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Brits keep the face of 'the Rock' brightly illuminated at night in part to showcase its dramatic appearance but more likely, I think, as a way to thumb its nose at the Spanish who still argue for its return even after 300 years. Legend has it that Gibraltar will remain under British Rule as long as its famed monkeys remain. I've read that during WWII Churchill ordered additional monkeys imported from northern Africa when their numbers dwindled to just a half-dozen or so!

One of the things that struck me most during the trip (aside from an awesome portion of 'tasty cod, caught fresh this morning' served up by a local fish-n-chips shop owner) was a mosque under construction at that time on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque was completed in 1997, built as a "gift" by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia at a cost of approximately $8 million. Intended to serve the 2000 Muslims who comprise 4% of Gibralter's population, it is reportedly one of the largest mosques in a non-Muslim country. You can see its location here.

Over the past decade there has been a steady, and steadily increasing, amount of reporting about the spread of Islam across Europe and its displacing (or perhaps subduing) the traditional cultures and beliefs of Europe. Since 9-11 there has been a parallel uptick in reporting about the equally steady decay in the national identities of European nations and the erosion of much of what defined 'Europe' to the rest of the world. Though the causes for this are many and varied, most of the discussion with which I'm familiar attributes this shift to a few 'baskets' that include: an increase in materialism and secularism following the Second World War, the collapse of the Catholic Church as a central influence, the rise of the United States as the dominant power among Western countries (implying that the old countries of Europe receded from the global stage), and the emergence of 'globalism' as a defining characteristic of of an increasingly connected world with the resulting profound shift of capital and manufacturing away from Europe to other corners of the globe. As Europeans lost their place of preeminence they turned inward; freed of the cost of their own defense (the U.S. picking up the tab) their governments were able to devote huge sums to social programs upon which the people came to depend (and to demand); and as social stigmas--the moderating frameworks for social values--were eliminated, institutions such as "the Church" were increasingly viewed as close-minded anachronisms of a bygone era.

The result? Europeans became self-absorbed, were willingly seduced by socialist policies, and immersed themselves in moral relativism. Times were good and the livin' was easy--even more so with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the passing of the mortal danger posed by armored divisions arrayed along the inner-German border. 

Others took notice, of course, of the opportunities presented by generous, government-ensured benefits; the availability of jobs made possible because the 'locals' had little incentive to embrace low-pay, long-hours, socially undesirable labors; and little-to-no expectation that newcomers should leave behind the cultural norms of their home country to embrace those of their new host--such as largely occurred in turn-of-the-century America (where even though Italians, Germans, Scots, et al cooked, talked, and caroused at home as they did in the Old Country they fully embraced their New outside the home).

The Europeans are waking up to the insidious dangers of multiculturalism, socialism, and moral relativism but it may be too late. Muslim communities in major cities across Europe are firmly rooted, growing in size at rates many times that of the indigenous population, and energized by the confidence that comes from knowing who you are and what you want...especially when the the society around you is weak, aimless, and unanchored by any core belief.

Here in America our cultural, intellectual and political 'elite' seem to look to Europe as the enlightened example of what a society can be once it sheds the shackles of social, fiscal, and religious conservatism.  I wish they would instead look to Europe to see the consequences of Europe's 'enlightened' approach:
- education systems co-opted
- terrorists released
- political and social landscapes transformed (and here) complete with parallel legal systems
- aggressive, truly repressive, and intolerant beliefs filling the vacuum created by secular indifference  and religious corruption, and
- Western societies wholly unwilling to accept the economic consequences of policies they demanded from their governments (stories the Europe's economic problems too numerous to mention).

What should we be learning from the state of things in Europe?
- the long-term dangers inherent in the 'fiscal cliff' we are still trying to ignore
- the social and economic consequences of bankrupt cities and states (with the underlying causes still not yet addressed - see here and here for examples)
- trillions in unfunded liabilities
- loss of a cohesive identity that binds a people together rather than driving wedges between the various subcultures that comprise a national populace
- loss of a commonly held (even in the most general sense) spiritual, moral, or social compact against which a society measures acceptable behavior/norms.

A boat that breaks from its mooring or loses its anchor finds itself dangerously adrift unless it has an engine strong enough to overcome wind, waves and currents and a sure heading along which it churns to reach a known destination. At present America has neither - our policies and expectations are not anchored by any definable rationale, thus we are buffeted by myriad competing influences from abroad, and we don't have any clear idea where we want to head even if we had the 'strong engine' of a robust economy and foreign policy we enjoyed and benefitted from so much in our past.

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