Given my relentless, savage, repetitive and – if I may say so – eminently fair criticism of the European Union, I could easily forgive my readers for being sceptical when I claim to be a Europhile. This has certainly been the case with assorted friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. The idea that I – someone who is as proud possible to be of Britain’s history without being indecent – could harbour such love for the continent might be a little hard to believe.
It is, however, quite true.
I simply do not make the grievous error of confusing Europe with the European Union. It is, after all, not the EU that made Europe the greatest continent on the planet. The histories, cultures, and philosophies of our home far surpass those of anywhere else, and collectively have given birth to the best societies in the world today.
I hope, then, that you will allow me to explain why I am in mortal terror for the dear old place.
I shall begin with a picture sitting on my desktop. It shows a smiling woman of African origin alongside the captions ‘Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in a hijab’ and ‘How boring would it be if everyone looks the same? Celebrate diversity – respect the hijab’. At the bottom are four logos for the European Union, European Council, something called ‘We Can for human rights speech’, and another which is a simple heart in which ‘No Hate’ is written.
There is rather a lot to unpack here.
‘Beauty is in diversity’ – well, no arguments here. But ‘freedom in a hijab’ is a little harder to swallow. I don’t see how there’s much freedom in a garment that women are often forced to wear (I did say often, not always, before you type out a thunderous denunciation), by social pressure in the West from their families and communities and by law in some countries whose law is taken from the Koran.
Incidentally, I’ve heard the left-wing and apologist arguments for this. They usually run along the lines of ‘The hijab is empowering to women’. Exactly how it is empowering has never been adequately explained. Indeed, that argument seems to be so existentially redundant that we’ve moved on from ‘The hijab is empowering’ to ‘freedom is in a hijab’. But I suppose that’s the world we live in now – we have long since gone through the looking-glass. Trans-women are now considered ‘real women’, and freedom is in mandated headwear.
Welcome to the 21st-century Western world.
I also take issue with the next stanza. ‘How boring would it be if everyone looks the same?’. Well, incredibly. But I don’t see that the way to stop everyone from looking the same is to have them all wear the same type of headscarf. Case closed? Apparently not: ‘Celebrate diversity – respect the hijab’. Do you also think that the unsaid part of that statement is ‘or else’?
There’s nothing surprising about the logos of the EU and European Council being on this, as both have been doing their utmost to convince Europeans that Islam is, in fact, perfectly fine, and possibly even better than anything that the continent has seen before. What is slightly perplexing, though, are the other two labels: ‘We Can for human rights speech’ (which I object to purely on grammatical terms) and ‘No Hate’.
I’ve noticed – and I suspect that you have, too – a trend in any criticism of anything to do with minorities being branded as ‘hate’. It is the silver bullet of public debate, an instant knockout against there is no defence. Your argument is declared null and void because it is coming from a place of alleged prejudice.
Of course, those who make an accusation of that kind are probably aware (though I wouldn’t be prepared to bet on it) that by branding criticism of Islam as ‘hate’ they then don’t have to answer any questions over the rights of Muslims and the LGBT community in the Muslim world. The Orwellian ability of the European Left to hold conflicting ideas over support for mass immigration from Islamic countries, while championing LGBT rights and feminist causes is simply staggering. Yet anger is the usual port of call for the zealot who dare not examine their own beliefs.
‘Hate’, too, is also being used against those who have endorsed ‘far-right’ political movements across the continent. This is where we begin to swim into murky waters.
The fact that far-right factions are on the rise in Europe is not because the Italians, Germans and French have suddenly thought that Hitler and Mussolini were, in fact, jolly good chaps who had the right sort of notions for the world. Of course, inevitably there will be a few true neo-Nazis, but they have been skulking in political and social shadows since the Second World War, and hitherto have never made any substantial political impact.
The rise of these groups, then, is not because the truly vile of the far-right have suddenly been able to convert masses of the population to their cause. What is pushing people to the political extreme is the same as what drove people to the original Nazi Party – desperation.
If you are a European who has, in the short space of less than 20 years, seen a surge in numbers of a separate population in your country – within which a minority have committed terrorist attacks in the name of their shared religion – that does not respect your language, your culture, your history, your social norms, your sense of constitutional justice and rule-of-law, as well as your traditions; well, you are going to be somewhat sceptical of the ‘peaceful inclusiveness’ of Islam.
Couple this with the much-publicised sexual assault cases against German and Swedish women by migrants, and the fact that the European authorities are not just saying that everything is absolutely fine, but that you must – must – respect Islam and all of its accompanying aspects, then where do you go?
You might also note that the picture contains the phrase ‘for human rights speech’. My grammatical problems with this aside, I think it is of the utmost importance to stress that ‘human rights speech’ is not the same as ‘freedom of speech’.
This, I’m sure, is quite deliberate. Your free speech, if critical of Islam, is now hate speech. ‘Human rights speech’ – it seems to me, at any rate – is whatever the political Left and its Islamist allies approve of. Your opinion does not matter.
I do not want to see Europe descend into another bout of fascism. But it will only be stopped by honesty, an end to European hypocrisy, and some frank conversations about what is – and what is not – compatible with our deeply-rooted traditions of liberal Western democracy.