Trump’s battle to save civilisation

As Europe and US become more hostile to Muslim world, immigration controls on refugees from Muslim countries are likely to grow.

2017/02/26 Issue: 95 Page: 16

The Arab Weekly
Francis Ghilès

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, argues that Washington, Paris and Moscow must “form a strategic alliance against Islamic fundamentalism”. The scale of the threat should incite US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and France’s next president “to move fast and together,” she says.

The French centre-right’s candidate in the presidential election, François Fillon, has published a book called Conquer Islamic Totalitarianism while France’s former minister for Europe Pierre Lellouche argues in his book, War without End, that Islamism is the 21st century’s equivalent of Nazism.

Lellouche, who is Jewish, may have forgotten, as has Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netan­yahu, that the very idea of a Judeo-Christian civilisation would have been anathema to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, let alone to the many former followers of Vichy, who remain the bedrock of Le Pen’s support­ers.

If European and US political leaders think of the West as Judeo-Christian, it makes sense for them to ally with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is close to the Orthodox Church, culturally conservative and does not shy from using torture, fragmentation bombs and the like when fighting Islamists in Chechnya and Syria.

They could do worse than to remember that the founder of the National Front — Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie — volunteered to fight the so-called rebels in Algeria, then a French colony, and tor­tured Muslims with his own hands.

Trump’s now-ditched national security adviser Michael Flynn argues in The Field of Fight that the United States is “in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people, most of them inspired by a totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam”. The president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon shares such views as do other like-minded ideologues in Washington, such as Frank Gaffney and Michael Ledeen.

They would not subscribe to the late president Ronald Reagan’s vow to defend the “free world”; they believe they are defending the “civilised world”.

These politicians have fallen into the trap that Osama bin Laden sprang on the United States and the West when he launched attacks on New York and the Pentagon on 9/11. Bin Laden may be dead and dumped in the deep blue sea but he has won a posthu­mous victory.

As Europe and the United States become more hostile to the Muslim world, travel restrictions and immigration controls on refugees from Muslim countries are likely to grow. Craving for security and cultural homogeneity are the hallmarks of the second decade of the 21st century. They are expressed by parties across Europe from the party led by Geert Wilders in Holland to the Alterna­tive for Germany party, which could well become the first far-right party to enter that country’s parliament since 1945. The consequences of such a crusade are all too predictable.

The Middle East is the scene of bloody mayhem pitting any number of economic interests and tribes, both regional and interna­tional, against one another. The Sunni-Shia divide that has been fuelled by Saudi Arabia adds to the confusion as does the intense hostility shared by that country, Israel and the United States to Iran. This is a fraught alliance, considering the degree of anti- Semitism Saudi Wahhabi preach­ing has fuelled across the world since 1979. If the price of oil stays at current levels, Saudi Arabia could be seriously affected and, in the view of some seasoned observers of the kingdom, begin to unravel.

As Iran has spread its influence through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, any attempt to push it back would provoke a furious backlash. Iran is not without friends in India and Russia and, having withstood the pressure of Western-imposed sanctions, it could no doubt hold its own in any new conflict. Pakistan has all the makings of a failed state.

The consequences in Europe, where France, Britain and Ger­many have sizeable Muslim populations, are also dire. Many are educated and well-integrated; others poor and ghettoised. Were Le Pen to come to power, civil war cannot be ruled out in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid a heavy price for her decision to let in a million refu­gees to Germany in 2015. Some British ministers are convinced that hostility to immigration from the Islamic world, rather than Europe, explains Brexit. Were politicians who trade in the same ideas as Trump, Fillon and Le Pen to gain greater influence, the stage could be set for a more general hostility towards North Africa and the Middle East.

In such circumstances it is unlikely European citizens of Mus­lim extraction, let alone major Middle Eastern countries, will not react. Trump has admirers in Europe, indeed as far afield as Israel and India. However, Europe, where the population continues to age, cannot look forward to a stable future if important political leaders start conflating not just Islamism but also Islam with Nazism.

Confrontation across the Mediterranean would spell disaster for continental Europe but also in the medium term for Israel.

Francis Ghilès is an associate fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.

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