Western intellectuals have long spoken of the clash of civilizations with an air of obtuseness, as if that clash would never implicate and threaten their own version of civilization. They reduced the clash to two fundamentalisms, Islamic and Christian, without realizing that their own secularist creed could just as easily clash with Islam and be consumed by it.
Now even as this clash comes more graphically into view they show no interest in fighting it. Europeans are ready to become what the Muslims of old called the "people of the pact," unbelievers who could live under Islam with a few circumscribed rights, provided that they recognized the supremacy of Islam and submitted to taxes and regulations from the dominant Muslim state.
While a few European liberals are not yet ready to negotiate for this restricted freedom — if only out of a spirited hedonism that makes them keenly aware of Islam’s power to imperil their fun — others, weighted down by liberalism’s persistent self-doubt, are all too willing to capitulate. The price of curbing free speech, restricting western religious freedom (which, if it means anything at all, presupposes the right to reject the false ideas of other religions and oppose them loudly), and carving out even more space for radical Islam is one Europeans will eagerly pay to secure their own short-term safety.
In his book, "The Middle East," historian Bernard Lewis notes that the term capitulations was "used in Ottoman times for the privileges granted by the Ottoman and Muslim rulers to Christian states, allowing their citizens to reside and trade in the Muslim dominations without becoming liable to the fiscal and other disabilities imposed by these Muslim rulers on their own non-Muslim subjects."
This concept, under craven modern European leadership, may assume a twisted new form, that of Muslims granting "capitulations" not to enterprising Europeans who enter Muslim lands but to appeasing Europeans residing in their own native land. "People of the pact," which once described Europeans in Muslim lands, would then become a description of Europeans living in a reduced state at home in Europe.
European liberals already behave as a submissive people of the pact in their feeble multiculturalist mindset (long evident in their hate-crime codes and contempt for their native Christianity), which casts them as inferior unbelievers who must never question a non-Western religion like Islam. Multiculturalism is the modern equivalent of the expected stance of the "dhimmi," those Christians and Jews who were never allowed to forget that Islam calls the shots.
More light has been thrown on the shifting ground of Europe this week. The same Europeans who accommodate Holocaust-denying radical Muslims cheered Monday’s news that British historian, David Irving, will go to jail for making appalling statements about the Holocaust. Were Irving a Muslim, the case would never have been brought. That he is going to jail for three years for making comments identical to those that appear in the radical Islamic press illustrates that Europeans enjoy less free speech on their own soil than radical Muslims do. And note, by the way, that Irving’s change of mind wasn’t sufficient for the Austrian court. They still believe he is a thought criminal. "The court did not consider the defendant to have genuinely changed his mind," the presiding judge said.
Europe’s hate-speech codes do not extend to the repository of hate speech in radical Islam. Radical Islam is not a thought crime, according to Europeans; only criticizing it is.
Deconstructionist academic Stanley Fish, writing in The New York Times earlier this month, actually called the rioting Muslims the moral superiors of the European editors responsible for the cartoons, whose notion of free speech, argues Fish, is too frivolous to be worth defending. Liberalism, wrote Fish, "is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors."
Do self-doubting European liberals agree with Fish? Many act as if they do. Their attitude has been marked by moral inferiority and the self-devouring tendency of liberalism to suspend judgment of its most dangerous enemies while subjecting its own culture to withering scorn. Perversely, Fish identifies the moral inferiority of liberalism in the publication of the cartoons, whereas its real proof is seen in the abject apologies for them. Fish is correct to say that liberalism suffers from vacuity. But he apparently can’t see that that is exactly what is accelerating its acceptance of the demands of radical Islam. If anyting, the free speech of the Danish cartoonists represents one of the last gasps of a species of European liberalism that at least recognizes the power of Islam to cow westerners into silence.
But the more dominant strand of liberalism in Europe, because it is so philosophically threadbare and self-doubting, supplies no motive for its own defense. It’s very fatuous worldliness means that nobody will bother to fight and die for it; temporal compromises with radical Islam make more sense. European liberals have been more or less saying in the wake of the controversy: Since we don’t believe in anything, let’s defer to those Muslims who do and work out a pact with them that will keep us safe and protect as much of our lifestyle as possible.
But, ironically, as the day of dhimittude approaches there is less and less wealth and population in Europe for radical Muslims to control. Europe’s declining economy and population will make the conditions of the capitulation even worse for the continent’s liberals. After all, "people of the pact" were not slaves but privileged unbelievers who had enough trade and know-how to justify tolerance from their Islamic overlords.
But if Europe becomes a population of aging paupers with no children to support them (this is the upshot of the latest report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to journalist Fareed Zakaria), what then? Will radical Islam even need to sign a pact to make Europe an appendange of the Arab world?