Europeans have begun to muse that an ageing and tired Europe is not a partisan or electoral issue; it is a civilizational one. This will also decide the future of the EU.
For quite a while now, some citizens have been complaining that the environment in India is afflicted by insecurity. More recently, voices are being raised about “institutions being overturned”. It is, however, not realised that the flow of history itself is undergoing a churning. Certainly since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. In order to understand this elementary truth, it is useful to know that a religious conflict began in Europe only a year after Mohammad bin Qasim invaded Sind in 711 AD. The conflict continued in less or more intensity, and has once more become the most prominent problem in the great continent today.
In a recent talk to the BBC, Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s former Foreign Minister (2015-18) emphasised that his country wants a democracy, but “a democracy without adjectives”. The government wants to be left free to pursue its people’s interests. For instance, Poland has assigned 17 lakh visas to enable immigration from Ukraine and Belarus. However, Waszczykowski is emphatic that adherence to EU immigration norms and other rules does not mandate Poland to let in Syrians and North Africans, allowing them to settle in his country. He has explicitly spoken out against the “mix up” of Christians and Muslims.
This aversion to what Waszczykowski calls a “mix up”, is not based merely on recent events, but on Europe’s experience of Christo-Muslim conflicts beginning 712 AD. Incidentally, Mohammad bin Qasim, the first Islamic invader to conquer territory in India, reached Sind the previous year, in 711 AD.
Christo-Muslim clashes in Europe commenced with the Moorish invasion of the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa, capturing most of it, crossing the Pyrenees and entering France. The Moors reached Poitiers in central France, where they were defeated by Charles Martel by 732 AD and turned back, never to return. The Moors, however, ruled Spain and Portugal for centuries, until their expulsion by resurgent Christians; Granada was the last outpost, which they left in 1492. The erstwhile invaders had to bear their share of revenge. The victorious Christian retaliators placed three alternatives before them; reconversion to Christianity, leaving Iberia immediately or death. Most chose the first of the conditions and came to be known as Moriscos.
The second long Christo-Muslim war were the eight Crusades. The first was fought in 1095 AD, while the last was in 1291. Christians strove to recover their holy land, especially Jerusalem, lost to Arabs in 638 AD. The Arabs allowed Christians to visit the holy city freely for over four centuries, but the Turks, who captured Palestine by 1071, ended this privilege. European reaction to this Turkish arbitrariness was the first Crusade. By July 1099, Crusaders from Western Europe had captured Jerusalem, which remained with them until Saladin, the great Turkish sultan, snatched it back in 1187. Christian zeal for the holy land sustained but by the end of the last Crusade, nothing much had been achieved. Christians had effectively lost the long war. Jerusalem’s Muslim rulers, however, allowed a few Christians to stay on as caretakers of their holy places, but did not permit them to preach.
Poland isn’t alone in bluntly voicing its opposition to Muslim migration. In its parliamentary elections in April this year, Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz’s campaign concentrated on a single issue—no immigrants. Not that Hungary was being overrun by immigrants; it has one of the lowest foreign born populations in the developed world. Its own fertility rates are below even the European average. But the Hungarian election campaign was not a response to any demographic development. It is a cultural crusade that has made Hungary the least refugee friendly country in Europe.
Hungary is not inherently anti-immigrant. In 2016 (official data available till then), 23,803 foreigners moved there; numbers have been stable since before Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power in 2010. Interestingly, fewer than half of the migrants were EU citizens. So it isn’t immigration per se that Hungary has a problem with. Orban’s Hungary is fiercely against a certain kind of immigrant.
Blunter assertion comes from government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs: “We’ve been living next to Islam and with Islam for 500 years”. He further said that Muslim immigrants create “parallel societies” in the European countries that receive them—Hungarians want none of that. A 2016 Pew Research study revealed 72% of Hungarians have negative views of Muslims in their country, far higher than the EU average of 43%.
From the Moorish conquest of Spain (712 AD) to the second Turkish siege of Vienna (1683), Europe was under constant threat from Islam. All but the easternmost provinces of the Islamic realm had been taken from Christian rulers, and the vast majority of the first Muslims west of Iran and Arabia were converts from Christianity. North Africa, Egypt, Syria, even Persian-ruled Iraq had been Christian, in which their religion was older and more deeply rooted than in most of Europe. Their loss was sorely felt and heightened the fear that a similar fate awaited Europe. The fall of Constantinople, known as the Rome of the East and the seat of the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Christianity to the invading Turks in 1453 is to this day regarded as the greatest tragedy to have befallen Christendom. The Turkish Caliphate ended in 1924 following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat and collapse after World War I, but today’s Turkey under its neo-Ottomanesque ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who disguises his pan-Islamist ambitions, only further exacerbates fears among Europeans, the assertions of the EU elites to the contrary notwithstanding.
Many European writers, litterateurs and intellectuals warn that in the years to come, there is the “possibility that Europe will become a museum or a cultural amusement”. The late historian Walter Laqueur offered a far-sighted prognosis about Europe’s crisis. He was one of the first to understand that the current crisis isn’t about economics. Because of low birth rates, Europe is dramatically shrinking. If current trends continue, Laqueur said, a hundred years from now, Europe’s population “will be only a fraction of what it is today, and in two hundred, some countries may have disappeared”.
This spectre is becoming more visible and is being frequently discussed by writers. French writer Michel Houellebecq, through his best-selling novels, such as Submission, has often lamented that “the Western world as a whole is committing suicide”. French President Emmanuel Macron, known to wear his liberalism on his sleeve, while referring to France-bound migration from North Africa in 2017 had called Africa’s problems “civilisational”. The unspoken part is that this African influx with burgeoning fertility rates is Muslim.
More worrying is Europe’s loss of confidence in its hard-won Enlightenment values, such as personal freedoms, reason and science ousting superstition, and the separation of church and state. These are very important if Europe truly wishes to survive. Distinguished American historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote: “Judged by the great historical determinants of civilizational power—fuel, energy, education, demography, political stability, and military power—Europe is waning. It spends a mere 1.4% of its collective GDP on defence. And with a fertility rate of less than 1.6%, Europe is slowly shrinking and ageing—hence the short-sighted immigration policy of Angela Merkel who apparently sees immigration also as a solution to the demography crisis and a shortcut to low-cost labour.”
Some European Union politicians have advocated having more children as the answer to Europe’s demographic problems in the looming conflict with Muslims. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the anti-immigration League Party, has said that his country’s and Europe’s youth ought to have more children rather than bring in modern-day slaves (i.e., Africans and other migrants) to “replace the children Europeans are not having”.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has called on Europeans to stop the “demographic decline” by investing more in traditional families. Catholic bishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Mamfe, Cameroon, recently said about low birth rates in Europe: “you look through history, where the Church slept, Islam took advantage”.
Europeans have begun to muse that an ageing and tired Europe is not a partisan or electoral issue; it is a civilizational one. This issue will also decide the future of the European Union, during which the open-borders policy might be the casualty.