Almost all the obituaries of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn called him “far-right.” Fortuyn was a professor turned columnist who won visibility and a power base when his made-to-order political party won more than a third of the seats in the municipal elections of Rotterdam, Holland’s second-largest city. Fortuyn was going national when he was murdered early this month.
He thus escaped the fate of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French far-right-winger, who became a demon-worse than les boches and les américains -when he managed to qualify for the run-off in the French presidential election last month. The 73-year-old Mr. Le Pen, a perennial candidate, won a sixth of the vote in the first round, comparable to some other showings of his. But in a fractured field, this was enough to earn him a head-to-head shot at Jacques Chirac, the haggard and crooked incumbent. Eighty percent of the French electorate then did the right thing, and the far-right ogre went down to defeat.
The two politicians were in fact different. Mr. Le Pen, an ex-paratrooper, fought in France’s last colonial wars in Algeria and Indochina and had whiffs of an even more unsavory past (he called the Holocaust a “detail of history”). In a tradition going back to Colbert, his economic ideas were dirigiste and nationalist. Fortuyn was in many respects a leftish libertarian: He wanted to cut taxes and spending, and he was on the edge of Dutch social innovation, favoring drug legalization and euthanasia. His open gayness completed the mix. He wanted to get paid, get laid, get high and die when he could no longer do the first three to his satisfaction.
What linked the two men was their opposition to sky-high immigration. Immigrants make up an estimated 10 percent of the population of Holland, and 45 percent of the population of Rotterdam is non-ethnic Dutch. Both Fortuyn and Mr. Le Pen also campaigned strongly on the related issue of crime. European crime rates, except for homicides, are often as high as, if not worse than ours, especially in urban ghettos-which, in Europe, are populated by immigrants.
European immigration is not an abstraction, nor is it (as it is in New York) a gorgeous mosaic-a phenomenon with so many faces that it’s faceless. European
immigration has a local habitation and a name. The newcomers come from Turkey, or from across the lake of the Mediterranean. They are Middle Eastern Muslims. Mr. Le Pen stridently identifies them with what he sees as France’s problem. Fortuyn was often more polite, but no less blunt. “I’m not anti-Muslim,” he claimed the month before he died. “I’m saying we’ve got big problems in our cities. It’s not very smart to make the problem bigger by letting in millions more immigrants from rural Muslim cultures that don’t assimilate.”
Turning Mr. Le Pen into a Nazi and Fortuyn into a Le Pen is a way for Europeans to fight and win yesterday’s wars while ignoring today’s problems. If Europe’s pressing issue is the ghost of Hitler, still walking the battlements after 57 years, then a Frenchman or Dutchman can do what his father did (or didn’t do) in World War II and fight that battle over again. But if Europe faces a new problem in the form of unassimilated Middle Eastern immigrants, then old slogans and modern pieties will not be the best way to deal with it.
Are European opponents of immigration typecasting an entire civilization? Why don’t people from “rural Muslim cultures,” as Fortuyn put it, assimilate there?
Some do, of course. Fortuyn had his own cadre of supporters of Middle Eastern ethnicity, often shopkeepers who did not want to be robbed and vandalized by criminal freeloaders in their own communities. If immigrants don’t assimilate, then surely P.C. governments who do not make Frenchness or Dutchness the ticket to participation in their societies must bear a great share of the blame.
What problems do the immigrants bring with them? No one from the Middle East (with the limited exception of Turks) can say that he has lived in a free society. The sleep of freedom produces monsters. Middle Eastern dictatorships and kleptocracies are supported by European (and American) oil and arms deals; to that extent, the First World colludes in the Third World’s bondage. Yet most of these regimes have arisen from local soil. It is hard to pull the puppet strings of foreign countries, as the Europeans learned when they were colonial powers, and as we have learned in our more recent imperial experience. (Where now is the Shah of Iran?) So the sheiks and kings, the secular brutes and the one-party army officers, are domestic products, and their survival is a symptom-like mildew in a wall-of underlying structural damage.
It’s easy to laugh at the discomfiture of Europe. Certainly the Europeans have been smug pains in the butt during our half-century-long struggle with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Now that they have their own minorities, which do not even share their history and their religion, let them stew. In his recent book The Death of the West , Patrick Buchanan wrote that Europe will inevitably fall to the Middle Eastern invasion, because declining birthrates require its welfare states to import workers. Victor Davis Hanson, the military historian, argues that as Europe becomes ever more fractious and bitter towards us, we will embrace our immigrants from Mexico and re-orient our civilization towards this hemisphere-a version of Oceania, the Anglo-American empire of George Orwell’s 1984 , minus Airstrip One (i.e., Britain).
I feel more sympathetic toward Europe, if only out of self-interest. Several of the 9/11 hijackers were recruited or based in Germany. We don’t want the continent to become a pirate’s nest of murderers. We are, let us hope, gradually becoming serious about open borders and internal cultural Bantustans. We paid a heavy price for frivolity last fall. Maybe Europe will learn from our example.