From The Atlantic, an essay by Robert D. Kaplan that would make a good appendix to Houellebecq’s Submission:
How Islam Created Europe
In late antiquity, the religion split the Mediterranean world in two. Now it is remaking the Continent.
ROBERT D. KAPLAN MAY 2016 ISSUE GLOBAL
Europe was essentially defined by Islam. And Islam is redefining it now.
For centuries in early and middle antiquity, Europe meant the world surrounding the Mediterranean, or Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”), as the Romans famously called it.
In Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel Submission, the new Muslim president of France moves the capital of the E.U. from northerly Brussels to Rome to be closer to the center of a new/old unified realm in which the votes of the demographically vibrant Islamic world can outweigh those of infertile Europeans.
A daring aspect of Submission is Houellebecq’s unexpected intuition that the crucial betrayal of Christendom might not come simply from the brainless left (who in Houellebecq’s near future are recognized to be running on intellectual fumes), but from the conservative souls of the center-right.
Kaplan is a relatively hardheaded analyst, who has been everywhere, so this article of his is striking. (The possibility that Kaplan is trolling readers with self-parody can’t be dismissed.)
It included North Africa.
That might have come as a surprise to Herodotus, not to mention the Sons of Noah.
Look, the ancient world recognized geographic and cultural differences among Europe, Asia, and Africa. Herodotus’ seminal history of the Persian wars is built, of course, around a (no doubt biased and tendentious, yet highly relevant) distinction between Asian despotism and European liberty.
Rome ruled over parts of all three continents not because they were culturally identical, but because it could.
Indeed, early in the fifth century a.d., when Saint Augustine lived in what is today Algeria, North Africa was as much a center of Christianity as Italy or Greece.
There’s long been a theory that the 5th Century theological rivalry between Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius of the British Isles reflects enduring ideological differences between the Middle East versus Western Europe. It popped up in the Clive Owen movie King Arthur.
But the swift advance of Islam across North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries virtually extinguished Christianity there
In truth, extinguishing Christianity seems to be more of a 21st Century phenomenon.
, thus severing the Mediterranean region into two civilizational halves, with the “Middle Sea” a hard border between them rather than a unifying force.
Islam instituted a long era of conquest, piracy, and slaveraiding on the Mediterranean. Italian fishing villages are built on top of mountains to slow Islamic slavers from kidnapping them.
… In sum, “the West” emerged in northern Europe (albeit in a very slow and tortuous manner) mainly after Islam had divided the Mediterranean world.
Islam did much more than geographically define Europe, however. Denys Hay, a British historian, explained in a brilliant though obscure book published in 1957, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, that European unity began with the concept (exemplified by the Song of Roland) of a Christendom in “inevitable opposition” to Islam—a concept that culminated in the Crusades.
The Song of Roland (and its descendant Orlando Furioso), along with El Cid, fancifully describe battles against invading Muslims in Dark Age Europe.
The scholar Edward Said took this point further, writing in his book Orientalism in 1978 that Islam had defined Europe culturally, by showing Europe what it was against. Europe’s very identity, in other words, was built in significant measure on a sense of superiority to the Muslim Arab world on its periphery. Imperialism proved the ultimate expression of this evolution: Early modern Europe, starting with Napoleon, conquered the Middle East, then dispatched scholars and diplomats to study Islamic civilization, classifying it as something beautiful, fascinating, and—most crucial—inferior.
But since Said’s time, we have learned that Islamic civilization is not inferior, and may be superior — see the latest ISIS video for proof.
A classical geography is reasserting itself, as terrorism and migration reunite North Africa and the Levant with Europe.
In the postcolonial era, Europe’s sense of cultural preeminence was buttressed by the new police states of North Africa and the Levant. With these dictatorships holding their peoples prisoner inside secure borders—borders artificially drawn by European colonial agents—
Uhm … I can think of two examples of Arab dictators not allowing transit of their countries by foreigners — Egypt under Mubarak and the latest dictator didn’t allow black Africans to walk into Israel, but the Muslim Brotherhood did, causing Israel to build fences; and Berlusconi bribed Kaddafi to not let black Africans set sail from Libya. But, in general, Arab dictators had few objections to their own citizens migrating to Europe and earning hard currency.
Another way to look at this is that the anarchy encouraged by the West in the name of the Arab Spring broke down Syria and Libya, encouraging Syrians to head for Europe. But even that is overstated in that there has been little flow of Libyans rather than sub-Saharans coming through Libya; and the “Syrian” refugee crisis is overstated with large fractions of the “Syrians” making hegira to Europe actually being economic migrant impostors from other countries.
Europeans could lecture Arabs about human rights without worrying about the possibility of messy democratic experiments that could lead to significant migration.
Some Europeans did worry about significant migration.
Significant migration is inevitable as long as other parts of the world are crappier and faster growing than Europe and Europe unilaterally ideologically disarms itself of having any concept of the right of collective self-defense. Yet, the experience of Israel, which is geographically much more vulnerable to migration flows than is Europe, shows that all it takes for a modern state to defend itself against hegira is self-confidence.
Precisely because the Arabs lacked human rights, the Europeans felt at once superior to and secure from them.
Islam is now helping to undo what it once helped to create. A classical geography is organically reasserting itself, as the forces of terrorism and human migration reunite the Mediterranean Basin, including North Africa and the Levant, with Europe.
Except for Israel. Funny how that works …
Today, hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have no desire to be Christian are filtering into economically stagnant European states, threatening to undermine the fragile social peace. Though Europe’s elites have for decades used idealistic rhetoric to deny the forces of religion and ethnicity, those were the very forces that provided European states with their own internal cohesion.
Meanwhile, the new migration, driven by war and state collapse, is erasing the distinction between the imperial centers and their former colonies. Orientalism, through which one culture appropriated and dominated another, is slowly evaporating in a world of cosmopolitan interactions and comparative studies, as Said intuited it might.
Or, perhaps, to know the cabdrivers of Rotherham and Malmo is to become disillusioned with the pleasant Orientalist fantasies of Delacroix, Kipling, Mozart, Verdi, and Byron?
Europe has responded by artificially reconstructing national-cultural identities on the extreme right and left, to counter the threat from the civilization it once dominated.
Or, more accurately, European elites have scored a massive own goal on their own peoples.
Although the idea of an end to history—with all its ethnic and territorial disputes—turns out to have been a fantasy, this realization is no excuse for a retreat into nationalism. The cultural purity that Europe craves in the face of the Muslim-refugee influx is simply impossible in a world of increasing human interactions.
Except for Israel …
“The West,” if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism.
Or maybe not. Perhaps “liberty” and “inclusiveness” are contradictory? The Roman Empire, for example, was long on inclusiveness and short on liberty.
Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster.
One striking Dog That Does Not Bark is the word that never gets mentioned by those saying Europeans can’t go back to nationalism because that will lead to the resumption of wars among Europeans countries: continentalism. Why not encourage Europeans to unify in self-defense against hegira? Rather than the Chancellor of Germany stabbing the other nations of Europe in the back on a whim, why not encourage European states to work together to build perimeter defenses of the Continent?
But European continentalism is unthinkable because it’s tantamount to European racialism, which is the worst thing in the world. The worst fear imaginable is that Christendom rediscovers its identity.
The question is thus posed: What, in a civilizational sense, will replace Rome? For while empire, as Said documented, certainly had its evils, its very ability to govern vast multiethnic spaces around the Mediterranean provided a solution of sorts that no longer exists.
Europe must now find some other way to dynamically incorporate the world of Islam without diluting its devotion to the rule-of-law-based system that arose in Europe’s north, a system in which individual rights and agency are uppermost in a hierarchy of needs. If it cannot evolve in the direction of universal values, there will be only the dementia of ideologies and coarse nationalisms to fill the void. This would signal the end of “the West” in Europe.
Well, there is one set of universal values that would be satisfactory to the migrant masses from Asia and Africa currently making hegira into Europe: Islam. Obviously, the migrant Muslim masses don’t seem to be in any hurry to give up their version of universal values. Perhaps if Europeans are lectured hard enough that Resistance Is Racist, then universal values can rule all sides of the Mediterranean.
That’s the solution at the end of Submission: the Roman imperium is restored via the Islamification of Europe.
Like I said, there’s a good chance that Kaplan is trolling, and that resemblances to Submission are intentional.