Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Europe on the Skids (June 28)

It’s the end of June and all across Europe schools are letting out for the summer.  Families long ago planned their four-week summer vacations down to the last detail (winter vacations are devoted to skiing, with schools organizing cheap deals, either over Christmas or during spring break).
But Europe, where I’m betting high-speed trains still run on time, municipal parks continue to be rigorously tended, and solidarity is still the byword, is experiencing a crisis unseen and unimagined since the Second World War. Hoping to blend solidarity with the defense of secularism, France banned the burka a couple of years ago, and although it’s considering building two thousand more mosques, or turning some churches over to Islam, that ten percent of its population that emigrated from North Africa and the Middle East have remained outsiders, and some are influenced by a deadly ideology.
Heightening fears, tens of thousands flee war-torn Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya via perilous voyages across the Mediterranean, the separate countries of the EU are unable to agree on how many each should take in, leaving Italy, the place where most refugees land, holding the bag. The most glaring case is that of Hungary, whose right-wing government plans to build a four-foot high wall along its border with non-EU Serbia, reminding critics that walls had been built before (although the Cold War wall was on the Austrian border….)
Meanwhile, Greeks have been emptying ATMs all week and the government ordered banks and the Athens stock exchange to remain closed tomorrow. Declaring negotiations with the international financial system over, leftist Prime Minister announced a referendum on whether to accept its ‘humiliating black-mail’.  By turning over the decision to the Greek people, Tsipras is not only refusing to betray his election pledge to end austerity, he is implementing the decentralized, people-oriented politics he hopes will spread across Europe. 
At the other end of the political spectrum, a couple of years ago a virulent anti-Muslim Norwegian killed almost a hundred socialist young people vacationing on an island, accusing them of supporting multiculturalism. This week, in what could be a copycat act, an Islamic terrorist killed almost forty people on a beach in Tunisia. On the same day a disgruntled Muslim father of three in France beheaded his boss and tried to light up a gas factory, and an ISIS follower bombed a Shia mosque in Kuwait. Anti-Muslim sentiment has risen in Europe and in the US, with the Dutch parliamentarian Gert Wilders publicly defying Muslims to react to his postings of cartoons mocking the Prophet, claiming the right to free speech.  
That incident barely made it onto US news channels, which continue to focus on the fallout from the shooting of nine Black worshippers in a South Carolina church by a young white racist, and the better-late-than-never decision by mainly Republican southern politicians to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings. Alternately, the media wax ecstatic over Supreme Court decisions saving Obamacare from the ax and allowing same sex couples to marry across the land. 
After 9/11, the news was of nothing else for months, but responsibility for the attacks was laid exclusively at the feet of ‘others’. Fourteen years later, Americans still see the rest of the world as ‘others’, while the rest of the world begins to question America’s Otherness, especially its so-called ‘exceptionalism’.  Europeans increasingly wonder whether the marriage they thought was made in heaven (sic), is leading them ever closer to hell: having escaped the Cold War unscathed, will their lands yet be the battlefield upon which the US fights Russia? Or will Wikileaks evidence that the US spies on ‘allies’ far beyond what is customary at last give its leaders the spine they need to loosen the ties that bind? 
Not unrelatedly, French taxi drivers are in an uproar over competition from the Uber app: they pay hefty licensing fees, not to mention taxes, to drive a cab, while Uber gives every car driver a chance to make a fare. This is just one example of the kinds of threats the TTIP represents to the much cherished European way of life, where almost everything is regulated so that no one takes unfair advantage, goes hungry or without medical care.
At this point, it’s hard to know which is the bigger threat to Europe: US designs on Russia, unbridled capitalism or the unrelenting spread of Islam to which American actions in Africa and the Middle East contribute, but which arithmetic also shows is unavoidable.

P.S. Last-minute from France 24: France's most prestigious graduate school, Polytechnique, admits thirty Chinese students out of a class of one hundred.Figures for other top French schools are similar.

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