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PERSPECTIVE ON ISLAM : The Pressure Is on Europe Again : Muslim emigration is breeding a fortress mentality. The U.N. Zionism vote shows a new regard for Israel.

<i> Paul Johnson is the author of "Modern Times," "A History of the Jews" and "The Birth of the Modern: World Society, 1815-1830" (HarperCollins)</i>

The decision of the U.N. General Assembly, by the overwhelming vote of 111 to 25, to revoke the notorious 1975 motion equating Zionism with racism, is a significant footnote to the end of the Cold War, and draws a line under the ideological era in world politics, now over.

In 1975 the United States, in the aftermath of Watergate, was at the lowest point in its leadership of the West, and Brezhnev’s Soviet Union was making giant gains all over the world, especially in east Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. By presenting Israel as an “American colony,” Soviet diplomatic strategists were able to strike at the weakest point in the West’s global position and construct a coalition of Marxist, Arab and Third World states that made such a vote, however absurd, possible.

Now the Soviet Union is no more, the Soviet Bloc has dissolved, many Third World states are running for cover--chiefly into the arms of the West--and the United Nations is once more a forum, as it was in the years 1945-55, where America can exert decisive leadership.

For the first time in decades, the Arab states found themselves virtually isolated, and the revocation went through. It serves a useful practical purpose in that it bolsters Israel’s confidence, reduces its fear of being isolated in the world, and so makes it more likely to negotiate realistically in the new round of peace talks.

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Yet it also draws attention to the fact that Israel, while in no sense a racist state, is a geopolitical anomaly. It is an enclave of Western-style concepts, such as democracy, personal freedoms and the rule of law, in a vast arc of Muslim-controlled territory, where these concepts are denied and where, for the most part, fundamentalist theocracy is taking over.

The forces of Islam have twice before threatened to overwhelm European civilization, which is based upon a marriage of the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, and the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. The first time was in the 8th Century, when the initial advance of Islam was halted in what is now France. The second occasion was in the late 16th and 17th centuries, when the expanding Turkish-Islamic Ottoman Empire was contained only at the gates of Vienna. These were conflicts primarily of politico-religious dynamism and military technology, and by the 1680s the West was already establishing a decisive advantage in science and industry. Thereafter Islam was rolled back, until by 1918 it was reduced to a tiny foothold around Istanbul, whereas the European powers exercised military, political and economic power throughout the Muslim world, from the Atlantic coast of Africa down to the tip of Malaysia.

This Western paramountcy came about during the period when European population growth was the highest in history and its surpluses were being exported, as colonists and settlers, all over the world. The last European country to have a surplus was Italy, which was still acquiring colonies in or near Muslim Africa and exporting emigrants as late as the 1930s. Since then, all European populations have stabilized, birthrates have fallen to around or even below replacement levels and the more advanced European economies have been forced to import low-cost labor, chiefly from the Third World.

This demographic downturn in Europe is the underlying explanation for the willingness of countries like Britain and France to decolonize. As a result, in the years 1945-70, the entire Muslim world--with the notable exception of Soviet Asia--regained political independence and control over its resources. The process has now been completed with the emergence of the independent Muslim states of the new Russian commonwealth. At the same time, birthrates throughout the Muslim world remain high or very high, populations continue to expand and there is a huge pressure to export people, especially into prosperous Europe.

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The result is a 4,000-mile belt of tension, running from the western entrance to the Mediterranean, across the Balkans and right into central Asia. Throughout it, Muslims are pushing to the north or west, either as economic emigrants or, in some cases, by force. In what was once Soviet Asia, the Muslim-dominated states are expelling Russian Christians. South of the Caucasus, Muslim Azerbaijan is seeking to destroy Armenian Christian enclaves. In southern Yugoslavia, Muslim population growth is squeezing the Orthodox Christian Serbs out of their old heartland of Kosovo. This in turn is leading the Serbs to seek to gain territory to their north by invading and occupying parts of Catholic Croatia.

In addition, almost all European countries now have substantial populations of Muslim immigrants, who form non-assimilating, concentrated communities with high birthrates, often adopting aggressive attitudes toward their hosts. The result is internal tension.

In Britain, for example, hostility has been aroused by the formation of a “Muslim Parliament” and the murderous fatwah issued against the writer Salman Rushdie. In France, where Muslim Arabs are traditionally unpopular, there has been a virtual breakdown of order in the Muslim-dominated suburbs of some big cities. Italy has had to repel a veritable invasion of illegal Muslim immigrants from Libya and Albania. Spain, which actually expelled her Muslims in the 1490s, is again fearful of an Islamic “conquest.”

Up to the late 1980s, Israel had seemed part of this pattern. Though itself an enclave in the Muslim world, it shared the low-birthrate, stagnant-population pattern of Europe, with its internal Arab population rising swiftly as a proportion of the whole. In the last two years, however, the breakdown of Soviet communism has brought nearly half a million Russian Jews into Israel--the vanguard of a huge influx of Jewish or half-Jewish families that may eventually include more than 4 million people.

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This is revolutionizing Israel’s demographic prospects, transforming its internal population ratios and intensifying pressure to settle the “occupied territories.” Hence Israel--helped by the U.N. vote--now feels more secure about its future and more willing to compromise; and the Arabs, too, fearful of further settlement by fresh Jewish immigrants, are willing to engage in direct peace talks and accustom themselves to the idea of a permanent settlement with Israel. It will take a long time, but on both sides there are now strong forces pushing toward a deal, rather than a war.

In Europe, however, Muslim pressure from the south, and the unleashing of long-hidden nationalism in Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism, have introduced a new and dangerous era of ethnic antagonism. Almost everywhere, there are rising public demands for stricter controls or a complete ban on immigration, or even for the expulsion of immigrants (especially illegal ones). New parties favoring these measures have made striking recent gains in elections in France and Italy, in Germany, Belgium and Austria.

These are not, strictly speaking, fascist Nazi-type parties, since they do not advocate corporatism, let alone dictatorship, and their policies are often ultra-libertarian. But they suggest that the 1990s may well produce violent swings to the far right in Europe, as the Continent, which feels itself and its culture threatened, settles down into a fortress mentality. Against that background, Israel has the appearance of a useful, outlying redoubt.


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