Thinking for Brussels

First at the airport. Then at the metro. Bombs that had been placed inside suitcases, suitcases stuffed with nails.

Time is needed in order to fully appreciate the degree of intent which lies behind such an action. Our immediate reaction was to post well-meant but nonetheless inadequate statements of solidarity. Unfortunately these do not help us to understand the process which people go through before they are ready to place bombs amongst innocent civilians. Hope alone will not stop the bombs going off and we should not be naive enough to think that it will. Those who think we should ‘stand strong’ and ‘ignore the terrorist’, and especially those who have called the terrorist ‘nothing but a terrorist’, are people who are not thinking about this problem seriously enough.

I grew up in Belgium. I attended the International British School of Brussels from primary until my graduation. An ‘International British’ school might be said to be a school undergoing something of an identity crisis, but the reality is that our ex-pat community had a very firm sense of identity. The ‘BSB Bubble’, as it came to be called, was based on self-sustaining friendships circles rooted in language and location and common ex-patriot identity. It might be painting with a broad brush to say that our school did not integrate within the wider community; but the stereotype would nevertheless be an accurate one. The locals viewed us as outsiders, and while I might be a particularly bad example, there were many like me who came out of school with woeful French and no Flemish. But I suppose it’s only natural for schoolchildren to stick with what they know.

If a minority group does not feel some affinity with the society that surrounds them, then there is every chance that they won’t integrate. Yet at my school, and despite the differences which separated us from the locals, there was still more that brought us together than divided us. We were common Europeans after all – and our continent is bound together by things like economics, politics, sport and alcohol. I sometimes wonder what it would have taken for my school to have severed these ties. I can vaguely remember that, of a Sunday, my school cafeteria had the slightly creepy habit of turning itself into a meeting place for some sort of religious get-together. Hypothetically, if this event had been made compulsory across the school, and if we had also been preached an ideological doctrine – one that stressed differences over commonalities – then one would expect our relationship with the wider community to have been more adversarial. Even if only a handful of students within our minority community were convinced during these cafeteria sermons, it still would have been the worse for us as a minority school.

I make this analogy in order to assess multiculturalism today. There is a sense in which multiculturalism is an obvious and celebrated fact. It is ubiquitous, as we all support a different sports team and drink a different beverage, and each individual’s preference enriches us all. However, multiculturalism as a political philosophy doesn’t work because multiculturalism only works within the law. With the way multiculturalism is referred to today, it would be better to call it cultural relativism, and to commit to cultural relativism is to commit cultural suicide. Cultural relativism is the end of morality – it’s when it becomes okay to kill cartoonists because that’s your cultural privilege.

Assimilation is crucial to societal cohesion. The Muslim diaspora has made us shortsighted, as, in our determination to help thousands of innocent and suffering people, we have had to turn a blind eye to the failings of multiculturalism. Myopia has cost us in the past. In Rotherham, the police were afraid of being labeled as racist when the rapes were not an issue of race but of, amongst other things, culture. Recently, Germany’s New Year celebrations were scarred by dozens of rapes and our reaction was to stress that the rapes did not reflect the majority of migrants. This is completely true, but still it nevertheless distracts from the main issue – that Merkel has let in too many people, too quickly, in what is an unprecedented change in the continent’s demographic. She has not asked the few hundred in my school to assimilate overnight – she has asked millions of people. If my analogy holds, it only has to be the very smallest minority within those millions to create a problematic ripple effect.

A cultural earthquake is coming, and we’ve only yet felt the first tremors. Many young men from northern Africa have not been raised to treat women in the same way that Europeans have. Cultural relativists might say that this is their right, but I reply that that it is a matter of law for as long as they are in the continent. They must assimilate to some degree – but will they? We are all immigrants to some degree or another, but there is a very real and radical Islamist ideology that cannot be assimilated into our systems of values. Moreover, this problem is one that we cannot even contain in our own backyards. Only 6% of the Belgian population is Muslim, and it was from that homegrown minority that the nails of terrorism sprang. According to ICSR’s figures, it is from Belgium that the highest amount (per capita) of people leave to fight in Syria. Why do they go? An idea preached by charismatic individuals such as Fouad Belkacem. This idea can travel across the internet in a second, and if we cannot combat such an idea in our current hotchpot communities then what hope does Europe have for the future. Islamism is a cultural barrier that, if it cannot be broken down, I would prefer staying up.

We cannot welcome everyone into our perfect multicultural society, because it isn’t a perfect multicultural society. What we should be doing is focusing on the Middle East, where we do have an idea of what needs to be done. First, we must defeat ISIS. In order to do that we must face our own hypocrisy and cut ties with Saudi Arabia. We also should give more in charity, give more in aid, and ultimately look to return the region to stability (and then invest in that stability). Draining the Middle East will not help the Middle East, and it will definitely not help Europe. We are all human but, whether you like it or not, we have forged identities for ourselves. Take a minute and actually imagine what John Lennon imagines in his song ‘Imagine’, and then ask yourself that blasphemous question – what will Europe be like in fifty years time? It’s dangerous to see hope everywhere and hopelessness nowhere.

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