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Wednesday, June 30, 2004
The silver lining in this dark cloud

Shortly after Belgium bans its most popular political party and a courageous priest is jailed in Sweden for preaching against homosexuality, France brings an end to open discussion of religion - or rather of a particular religion. No prizes for guessing which.

An e-acquaintance who lives in France tells me that over there things are now at the point where you can get into trouble just for mentioning the fact that Muslims are ever any kind of a problem. Synagogue burnings - a pretty regular occurrence in France - are routinely blamed on "right wing neo-Nazi white males," he tells me. In fact the perpetrators are extremist Muslim Algerian Arabs. French people all know this, but have to pretend not to.

Then he writes:

On the TV news of Wednesday night, they presented a conference about 'hate speech' on the Internet. They took as example the police in action against a 'hate web site.' The only thing I could read on the web page they were showing was "...against the Islamization of Europe..." Indeed, according to the law, to be against the Islamization of Europe is racism... and forbidden.

It would be easy to make glib comparisons with various tyrannies of the past, but I don't think they'd be quite accurate. Nor do I think a slippery slope case would persuade anyone who can see nothing wrong with banning such views. I don't see any Gulags or concentration camps around the corner, and that's not really the threat.

The threat - and the clear reality - is far more the soft tyranny of compulsory consensus that can be seen emerging all across Europe. The process goes like this. As an ever-narrowing set of views is accepted across all mainstream parties, partly because those same parties have surrendered most of the power to make a difference to their constituents' lives to the European Commission, people can only turn to fringe figures and extremists if they want any measure of change. In turn, those centrist parties ban such fringe figures - many of them increasingly less fringe - and further narrow the consensus around which all politicians must hover. This provides still more incentive to abandon the Chiracs and Shroeders at election time, and so the cycle continues. With every tension bottled up or stamped upon, society is less secure and everyone is less free.

There is no sign of any reversal in this process. Indeed, once the European arrest warrant comes into force, anyone who expresses an opinion on Flemish independence or Islamic integration that some government somewhere in Europe has banned will be open to arrest. The laws of the most repressive country in Europe will set the standard by which all who live under the EU Constitution can debate and vote.

That is the medium-term political future of the continent to which our own Prime Minister wants us to hitch our fortunes. Its economic prospects are scarcely any more rosy, and as Europe occupies an ever shrinking share of global population, it would be quite a journey were we to mount this beast.

There may, however, be one advantage to this unenviable situation. Although its leaders plainly do not recognise it, Europe's greatest threat comes from outside. There are many in this world whose greatest ambition, the cause for which they would and do kill and die, is the eternal annihilation of the Western civilisation to which Europe gave birth. Their ultimate end is to transform the Europe of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, of culture and debate, of women's rights, of Gay Paris and liberal Amsterdam, of Goethe, Socrates and Mozart, into a barren, totalitarian wasteland where the only remnant of any of these things is the call from the minaret of the local Mosque and the knowledge of what will happen if it goes unanswered. These people have not just the governments of all of mainland Europe blind to their threat, but the continent's birthrates and migration patterns working firmly in their favour.

Maybe these circumstances will change. We must certainly hope so. But if they do not, then therein lies the advantage of the current state of affairs. For what better appetizer could Europe have to prepare for this main course, what better way could its people become accustomed to their coming way of life, than the soft tyranny of compulsory consensus that is quietly and gracefully sweeping away liberty across the continent?

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