As the terrible news of the terrorist attacks in Brussels continues to come in, we should understand a few important things in the days and weeks ahead.
First, we should expect European leaders and the media to double down on their pious exhortations not to conflate Syrian refugees with terrorists and to resist “Islamophobia,” as if suspicion about unassimilated Muslim enclaves in Europe is a greater threat than the terrorists hiding in them. We heard this almost before the smoke cleared from the Paris attacks in November, and we will continue to hear it.
Never mind that some of the Paris attackers slipped into Europe posing as refugees. Never mind that the relevant data suggests a majority of those entering Europe are not refugees at all but economic migrants. Never mind that Salah Abdeslam, the mastermind of the November attacks in Paris whose capture on Friday likely triggered Tuesday’s attacks, was running a still-active terrorist cell likely made up of ISIS fighters from Syria and European-born Muslims. European leaders, such as they are, understand these things. They have simply chosen to bear the consequences. “We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened,” Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a news conference Tuesday.
Second, Europe must answer a question it has been avoiding since the end of World War II: what is the purpose of immigration? If it is to supply a laboring class, then Europe must insist on integration and assimilation along the lines of the American model so the sons and daughters of its immigrant class can rise and become fully participating members of the social order. If not, then it must accept its future as a blood-and-soil continent of natives on one side and permanent outsiders on the other, with all the intermittent violence that comes with it.
It is more likely that in the near term, current European leaders will say Europe should adopt the American model of integration, but we should not expect them to push for significant reforms. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party suffered significant losses in state elections earlier this month almost entirely as a reaction to Merkel’s migrant policy, she said the policy would not change.
If voting trends continue, Merkel and her ilk will eventually be replaced by the likes of Frauke Petry of Germany’s nationalist Alternative for Germany and Marine Le Pen of France’s right-wing National Front. These leaders will take the blood-and-soil route. Because much of the support for these right-wing parties comes from younger voters, as is the case with the Sweden Democrats (now the most popular party in the country), they represent the future of European politics, not just its troubled past.
Third and most disturbing is that America, against its better instincts and traditions, could quite possibly do the same. Donald Trump’s reaction to the San Bernardino attacks was to propose a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Instead of sinking his candidacy, Trump’s polls numbers increased, with six in 10 Republican voters saying they agreed with the Muslim ban.
Trump’s entire campaign thus far has been an extended appeal to nationalism and nativism, from his pledge to build a wall along the southern border to his promise to deport some 11 million illegal immigrants. That appeal has resonated with a surprising number of voters, who either don’t notice or don’t care that it is also, implicitly, an appeal for a more active and intrusive state.
Trump isn’t the only one sounding this note. After the attacks in Belgium on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz released a statement saying, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Cruz probably means that in a benign way, and certainly, authorities in the United States should do what they can to ensure Muslim communities don’t become radicalized.
But the task of integration and assimilation does not begin with law enforcement, or even lawmakers. It is a function primarily of culture, not politics. America has done a singular thing in the history of the world: forged a multicultural society on the basis of specific ideas. As I wrote recently about the EU migrant crisis, “The fragile thing the American Founders built is based after all on a rigorous acceptance of a Christian view of human nature: All men are created equal. But we know from hard experience that this is not a ‘universal value.’ It is not indigenous to all the world’s cultures.”
We Americans have managed to avoid the trap of European blood-and-soil politics by insisting that newcomers accept our principles. That insistence has enabled immigrants from all over the world to come here and build a life as Americans. It is the great genius of our republic. Europe never really tried to do this, but simply accepted immigrants as laborers after World War II and hoped they would eventually go home. They never did, and now the continent is confronting a civilizational crisis of its own making.
The good news for us is that we don’t have to go through what Europe is going through as long as we protect and defend the promise of America, which is this: anyone can be an American. You just have to choose it.