Europe, religion and geopolitics – The Economist (blog)

6 months ago Comments Off on Europe, religion and geopolitics – The Economist (blog)

As one of America’s veteran observers of international affairs, Robert D. Kaplan loves to delve into vast cultural, religious and geopolitical themes. The subjects touched on by his books and essays have included the social capital provided by Islam in Turkish slums, the looming strategic competition in the Pacific, and the culture of the American military, viewed through the lens of late-Roman and early-Christian history.

In recent writings he has returned to his old European stomping grounds. It is 30 years since his travels round the moribund communist polities of south-eastern Europe prompted him to write Balkan Ghosts, a book that strongly influenced president Bill Clinton. It showed how older fault lines, including Catholic-Orthodox rivalry, were re-emerging as the communist permafrost melted.

In his latest book, In Europe’s Shadow, he goes back to Romania, and finds pleasant surprises, including a happy mixture of devoutly practised eastern Christianity and pro-Western strategic orientation. A country that was literally a dark place in the 1980s, because of economic misery, power shortages and an exceptionally harsh form of communism, has lightened up in many ways, he discovers. Corruption may flourish but so too does healthy political opposition to that vice. If his optimism is well-founded, then we have to conclude that eastern Christianity and Western political alignment may, after all, be compatible, despite the claims to the contrary by the late Professor Sam Huntington, who popularised the idea of a “clash of civilisations” as a driver of global conflict. 

Meanwhile, in a short essay published in the current issue of the Atlantic, Mr Kaplan goes on to consider an even more sensitive theme, under the teasing title of “How Islam Created Europe”. As a description of what happened in the early Middle Ages, when Christian rulers forged new alliances as they teamed up against the forces of Islam, that title may not be very original, but Mr Kaplan believes that the catchphrase also has some relevance to modern history. For most of the time since 1945, he argues, democratic Europe was cosily circumscribed and sheltered: not just from communism by the Iron Curtain, but also from the world of Islam by the authoritarian secular regimes which held sway in North Africa and the Middle East. He writes:  

With those dictatorships holding their peoples prisoner inside secure borders…Europeans could lecture Arabs about human rights without worrying about the possibility of messy democratic experiments…Precisely because the Arabs lacked human rights, Europeans felt at once superior to and secure from them.

He adds that these days, by contrast, “Islam is now helping to undo what it once helped to create. A classical geography is organically reasserting itself as the forces of terrorism and human migration reunite the Mediterranean Basin, including North Africa and the Levant, with Europe.”

So is Mr Kaplan merely repeating the idea, widespread among American conservatives, that Europe, because of its soft-mindedness in the face of Islam, is rapidly turning into Eurabia, a Muslim or half-Muslim space? No, his point is more interesting and nuanced than that. In his view, the historically Christian countries of Europe would be making a mistake if they responded to the Muslim influx by erecting new barriers or raising high the banner of cultural nativism. Trying to turn the clock back would be worse than useless. Instead, they must concentrate on finding a place for new Muslim citizens, and indeed for practitioners of all religions including the various forms of Christianity, within a framework that is ordered not by any particular religion or culture but by the universal principles of secular law. He writes:

Europe must now find some other way to dynamically incorporate the world of Islam without diluting its devotion to the rule-of-law-based system that arose in Europe’s north, a system in which individual rights and agency are uppermost in a hierarchy of needs.

Is that realistic? That’s a question that needs some empirical investigation. An empathetic investigator would need to be embedded for a good few months in the immigrant subcultures of say, Birmingham, Marseilles and Berlin before coming to a view on whether on balance, the reach of secular law and governance over these places was growing or receding, and whether anything could be done to encourage a positive trend. It’s not a simple question.

In previous writings, what marked Mr Kaplan out from other international-affairs pundits was the way he liked to explore as well as theorise. His musings on state failure were rooted in wanderings round the roughest parts of West Africa, and his ideas about the Balkans were forged in smoky, sweaty writers’ clubs in Sofia and Belgrade. Perhaps now is the moment for him, or some cub reporter under his tutelage, to get on the road again. 

Europe, religion and geopolitics – The Economist (blog)

    Related Posts

    Americans and Canadians Might Need a Visa to Visit Europe – Paste Magazine

    6 months ago
    The European Union is considering making Canadians and Americans apply for visas, even if they want to visit for a short time. The EU is insisting that the... Read More

    Brexit: Tensions emerge over UK-EU trade negotiations

    4 months ago
    UK and EU politicians send conflicting signals about how the UK’s Brexit negotiations should proceed. BBC News – Europe Read More

    Trans Adriatic Pipeline to cut Europe’s reliance on Russia for natural gas – Washington Times

    5 months ago
    LESBOS, GREECE — If it goes as its backers hope, a newly inaugurated pipeline crossing a half-dozen countries will shore up natural gas supplies in Europe and reduce the... Read More

    Italy politics: Silvio Berlusconi to have heart surgery

    4 months ago
    Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to have heart surgery after an attack that could have killed him, his doctor says. BBC News – Europe Read More
    Real Time Web Analytics