In an article for the London Times last year, a young man from India described life as a student in a secondary school in the London borough of Ealing. His British teachers were idealists who spouted Marxism, held views they learned in courses on post-colonial theory and sympathized with the problems faced by immigrants in Britain. Unfortunately, their students responded with indifference and rampant misbehaviour. The Indian student summed it up: "We ate them alive at the first sign of guilt-ridden middle-class weakness." A sentence every teacher should study with care.
For Walter Laqueur, a much-admired historian, that incident illustrates the collision between well-intentioned Europeans and immigrants who are chronically suspicious of Western ideas. The failure of this encounter, he says, has damaged Europe's morale and sent the continent into a downward spiral. In his most recent book, The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent (St. Martin's Press), he argues that Muslim immigration is the main reason for European decline. Ghettoized immigrants have shaken the sense of stability that Europe took for granted only 15 years ago.
Laqueur's early life taught him about political instability. He was born in 1921 in a corner of Germany that's now Poland. A Jew, he avoided the Holocaust by leaving for Palestine at 17. He decided to make history his subject one night in 1942, while on guard duty at his kibbutz. The murder of so many contemporaries made him realize he wanted to understand why such a crime could be committed.
Over the years, he's written books on Zionism, nationalism, fascism, the Weimar era, communism, terrorism and intelligence services. He lives in Washington and works with a think-tank at Georgetown University. He has a way of deftly placing current affairs in historical perspective.
In his new book, Laqueur recalls ruefully one of his most popular titles, The Rebirth of Europe (1970), a euphoric account of post-1945 recovery and the withering of fascism. It's so cheerful that in the 1990s one of his foreign publishers, bringing out a revised edition, titled it Europe on the Road to Being a World Power.
Today, hardly anyone would describe Europe's future that way. That dream was killed by riots and bombs. Laqueur tends to accept the popular social equation that Declining birth rate + Massive immigration = Disaster. Like everyone else, he's noticed that millions of Muslim immigrants have little interest in European political and cultural institutions. Their indifference or hostility could undermine European democracy. It could even lead to the rise of a pan-European dictatorship like Hitler's, selling itself as the saviour of the West.
But Laqueur believes that immigrants and Old Europeans can still learn to co-exist. He implies that Europe must understand it fumbled immigration when it decided against offering citizenship to newcomers. Immigration-receiving countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, where immigrants traditionally end up as citizens, have problems with multiculturalism, but nothing even approaching Europe's.
Europe contracted Turks and Arabs as "guest workers." When the guests refused to go home, governments were too timid to force them out. Three or four decades ago, those employment policies seemed immoral to me. But no one guessed at the price Europe would pay.
Laqueur imagines a better arrangement in which Old Europeans would treat immigrants as partners rather than employees. It might begin with governments understanding that Muslim immigrants differ among themselves as much as Christians do ("Turks are not Arabs, and their attitude toward Arabs is anything but friendly"). Different factions require different approaches.
Perhaps Europe needs less elitist governments; perhaps responsiveness is the key. And possibly, though Laqueur doesn't emphasize it, Europeans need a deeper understanding of their own civilization. They can hardly defend it if they don't know why it deserves defending. Europeans will require the courage to maintain their institutions (such as secular courts) and insist that immigrants take them seriously.
How would this work? At times Laqueur, still hopeful, sounds like those teachers in Ealing. But his advice goes beyond good-heartedness and embraces realpolitik. In a moment of striking frankness, he reaches back to the Renaissance. European leaders, he says, must learn to express admiration for a way of life with values alien to their own. In other words, lie. He quotes T.B. Macaulay, the great 19th-century British historian, who wrote in an essay on Machiavelli that "He who does not know how to dissimulate has no business being in politics." Living with a radical politicized religion may require a 21st-century version of Machiavelli.