Events in Paris this week have exposed Europe’s anxieties to the full. Let’s consider some of the possible reactions.
On the far Right, and among the not-for-prophet movement generally, this is I-told-you-so time. Even those who disagree with the politics must find recent analysis strikingly prescient. And at least it’s an opportunity to highlight some double standards.
Then again, cui bono? Who benefits? Will Le Pen prove mightier than the sword, deepening the backlash? About the only certainty is that there will now be further restrictions on civil liberty in order to intensify the ‘war on terror’. Threats to national security will be enumerated, movements for autonomy doubtless among them. Those who like the theory of a false-flag operation – a few fanatics supplied with guns and training by the security services and then shown the direction to go – will point to other conspiracy theories that turned out to be at least partially true. The humanitarian catastrophes that have resulted from intervention across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are too systematic and repetitive to be put down to incompetence. Those in charge know what they’re about. The challenge for anyone else is to say what that is, though for starters what do the letters O.I.L. spell?
That sense that there isn’t a trustworthy narrative is bound to be destabilising. Its consequence is fear and more fear, coupled with appeasement as a means to restore breathing space. Freedom of expression will not be defended (if anything, the pressure will be to remove freedom of non-expression in the hunt for the non-conforming). Liberals and anyone to the left of them will certainly not defend it, because it’s a fixed principle and liberal power depends on being able to manipulate a debate and steer its unfolding, contradictory development. Power, for them, depends on the ability to set, and to arbitrate on the setting of, social and cultural boundaries. An uncompromising defence of free expression is a nuance-free zone in which born control-freaks can make neither mischief nor money. There can be no political correctness where nothing’s incorrect.
Migrants, and perceptions of migrants, play a relatively small part in what’s essentially a struggle for hegemony between the elites of Left and Right. That being so, we cannot expect measured but steadfast leadership from either side.
The closing of the European mind is a mark of Europe’s lost place in the world. You don’t annoy the oil sheikhs. You rant against the terrorists, not their funders in the Gulf, whose wealth you court. Does the Royal Navy’s new base in Bahrain serve any credible military purpose, or is it a taxpayer-funded shop window for the UK arms trade? The BBC’s Robert Peston last month suggested that the dramatic slide in the oil price has been deliberately engineered to put high-cost oil extraction – fracking, deep sea, etc. – out of business. And after that, the price will again rise. It’s all a game, mes amis, c’est tout un jeu.