Two weeks after the terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005, in London, a student, Jean Charles de Menezes, was in the London Underground when plainclothes police officers gave chase and shot him seven times in the head. Initial eyewitness reports said he was wearing a suspiciously large puffa jacket on a hot day and had vaulted the barriers and run when asked to stop. Mark Whitby, who was at the station, thought he saw a Pakistani terrorist being gunned down by plainclothes policemen. Less than a month later, Whitby said, “I now believe that I could have been looking at the surveillance officer” being thrown out of the way as Menezes was being killed.
The Pakistani turned out to be a Brazilian. Security cameras showed he was wearing a light denim jacket and in no rush as he picked up a free paper and swiped his card.”The way we see things is affected by what we know and what we believe,” wrote John Berger in Ways of Seeing. When some Western commentators see a terrorist attack, they are apparently far more comfortable with what they believe than what they know.
So it was on Friday when news emerged of the attacks in Norway that have left an estimated seventy-six dead and a nation traumatized. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun in Britain ran with the headline “Al Qaeda Massacre: Norway’s 9/11.” The Weekly Standard insisted, “We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra.” Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post claimed: “This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.” In just a few hours an entire conceptual framework had been erected—though hardly from scratch—to discuss the problem of Muslims in particular and nonwhite immigration in Europe in general, and the existential threat these problems pose to civilization as we know it.
Then came the news that the terrorist was a white Christian and a neo-Nazi, Anders Breivik, raging against Islam and multiculturalism. Actually, the bombings—and the presumptions about who was responsible—suggest that the true threat to European democracy is not Islam or Muslims but fascism and racists.
The belief that Muslims must have been involved chimes easily with a distorted, hysterical understanding of the demographic, religious and racial dynamics that have been present in Europe for well over a generation. The general framing goes like this: Europe is being overrun by Muslim immigrants, who are outbreeding non-Muslims at a terrifying rate. Unwilling to integrate culturally and unable to compete intellectually, Muslim communities have become hotbeds of terrorist sympathy and activity. Their presence threatens not only security but the liberal European consensus regarding women’s rights and gay rights; overall, this state of affairs represents a fracturing of society, which is losing its common values. This has been allowed to happen in the name of not offending specific ethnic groups, otherwise known as multiculturalism.
One could spend all day ripping these arguments to shreds, but for now let’s just deal with the facts.
There have been predictions that the Muslim population of Europe will almost double by 2015 (Oner Taspiner, the Brookings Institution); double by 2020 (Don Melvin, the Associated Press); and be 20 percent of the continent by 2050 (Esther Pan, Council on Foreign Relations). Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches, “The number I heard is every 32 years the population, the European population of Europe will be reduced by 50 percent. That’s how bad their birthrates are. This is in many respects a dying continent from the standpoint of European-Europeans.”
This is nonsense. The projections are way off. While Muslims in Europe do have higher birthrates than non-Muslims, their birthrates are falling. A Pew Forum study, published in January, forecasts an increase of the Muslim population in Europe from 6 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2030. While Breivik feared a Muslim takeover, Muslims make up 3 percent of Norway. Black Americans have a greater presence in Alaska. (But even if these predictions were true, so what? There’s nothing to say Europe has to remain Christian or majority-white.)
Nor do immigrants struggle to integrate. In Britain, Asian Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus all marry outside their groups at the same rates as whites. For most ethnic minorities, half or more of their friends are white. According to a Pew survey, the principal concerns of Muslims in France, Germany and Spain are unemployment and Islamic extremism.
In most of Europe, the official multiculturalism that the likes of Breivik rail against—a liberal, state-led policy of supporting cultural difference at the expense of national cohesion—is an absolute fiction. Last year German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed the “multikulti” experiment had failed. Earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the same thing. The truth is that neither country ever tried such an experiment. “We never had a policy of multiculturalism,” explains Mekonnen Mesghena, head of migration and intercultural management at the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “We had a policy of denial: denial of immigration and of diversity. Now it’s like we are waking up from a long trance.” The real object of their ire is the existence of “other”—meaning nonwhite—cultures and races in Europe: the fact of “other” cultures, not the promotion of them.
And, finally, Muslims are nowhere near the greatest terrorist threat. According to Europol, between 2006 and 2008 only 0.4 percent of terrorist plots (including attempts and fully executed attacks) in Europe were from Islamists. The lion’s share (85 percent) were related to separatism. Put bluntly, if you have to assume anything when a bomb goes off in Europe, think region, not religion.
But there are some in Europe who are struggling to cope with the changes taking place—who are failing to integrate into changing societies and who harbor deep-seated resentments against their fellow citizens. They are a growing segment of the white population who have once again made fascism a mainstream ideology. In Germany the bestselling book since World War II, by former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, blames inbreeding among Turks and Kurds for “congenital disabilities” and argues immigrants from the Middle East are a “genetic minus” for the country. A poll published in the national magazine Focus in September 2010 showed 31 percent of respondents agreeing that Germany is “becoming dumber” because of immigrants; 62 percent said Sarrazin’s comments were “justified.” In Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Italy, hard-right nationalist and anti-immigrant parties regularly receive more than 10 percent of the vote. In Finland the figure is 19 percent; in Norway, 22 percent; in Switzerland, 29 percent. In Italy and Austria these parties have been in government; in Switzerland, where the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party is the largest party, they still are.
Breivik was from a particularly vile strain of that trend. But he did not come from nowhere. And the anxieties that produced him are growing. Fascists prey on economic deprivation and uncertainty, democratic deficits caused by European Union membership and issues of sovereignty related to globalization. Far-right forces in Greece, for example, are enjoying a vigorous revival. When scapegoats are needed, they provide them. When solutions are demanded, they are scarce.