Civilization and cultures

Without splitting hairs over what we mean by “western civilization,” let’s stipulate that, at minimum, it encompasses things like freedom of speech and religion, equal rights for both sexes, and democratic rule of law. One could argue that these are elements of western civilization most people in Muslim-majority countries don’t share with the denizens of Europe. But let’s set that aside and ask an equally pressing question: do European political leaders believe in them? Do their policies reflect a desire to defend and preserve these principles?

Increasingly, the answer is no. Take women’s rights, for example. In Europe as in America, the equality of the sexes has for decades been held as an immutable fact. But Europe is even more militant about its feminism than America. For Europeans, the very idea of a housewife is backwards and oppressive; mothers are expected to work and send their children to state-subsidized child care, not opt out of the workforce to raise a family. This is the official policy of the EU, which has entire commissions dedicated to ensuring more women enter the workforce.

For Muslim immigrants to Europe, who come from societies in which women are generally subordinate to men, this comes as a shock. Yet for a long time Europe insisted that newcomers adopt western attitudes regarding women’s rights and sexual freedom. As Christopher Caldwell has noted, this was the only non-negotiable demand Europe made of its immigrants. The European ruling class might have been willing to look the other way on free speech and denounce as fascist anyone who worries about Islam and terrorism, but on feminism there was no room for negotiation: “It is the litmus test according to which assimilation—and even membership in the national community—is judged. It is the one area where Europeans retain both a deep suspicion of Muslim ways and a confidence in their own institutions that is free of self-doubt.”

At least, that’s how it used to be. Caldwell wrote those lines in 2009, long before the migrant crisis coincided with a spike in sexual assaults perpetrated mostly by Muslim men. The mass sexual assault in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve last year made headlines—not just because of the brazen nature of the attacks but also because German authorities tried to suppress information about them. It was only after rumors and eyewitness accounts began cropping up on social media that authorities acknowledged what had happened.

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