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Vive le Califat

Does European Islam mean Islamic Europe?

Nov 20, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 10 • By JEREMY RABKIN
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Steyn still expresses hope for the effort in Iraq, and not just as a way of emphasizing the hopelessness of coming conflicts in Europe. In many Muslim countries, people may think about their own future more soberly or reasonably, because they're not viewing things through the perspective of mounting conflict with hedonists across town. Meanwhile, Russia, China, and Japan face their own demographic crises. The utter incapacity of international institutions will discourage smaller countries from thinking about anything more than their own immediate interests. So on Steyn's telling, we are heading to an era of ongoing crisis, an era when the world cannot bring itself even to constrain the spread of weapons of mass destruction, much less focus concentrated condemnation on such "depravities" as suicide bombing.

The United States really will be "alone" in fundamental ways. It is the one nation in the developed world that is not facing demographic decline, the one nation for which the challenge of Islamist extremism remains largely external. What is out there, of course, can come crashing into the heart of American cities as it did on 9/11. And meanwhile, we continue pouring billions of petrodollars into the coffers of Middle Eastern regimes that still seem content to recycle that immense stream of wealth into extremist religion in Europe and around the world.

Steyn offers little in the way of policy prescriptions. He argues that American self-confidence owes much to our tradition of keeping government in bounds and encouraging the self-reliance of individuals. So he ends up warning that proposals for emulating European welfare states--as in extending government guarantees for health care--will have momentous strategic consequences. Maybe. But I'm not sure invoking the imperatives of national defense in every debate about domestic spending or regulation is really a good way to get people to take defense concerns more seriously.

Steyn's main point remains. The collapse of existing political structures in Europe will require not just a reassessment of strategic calculations--NATO and all that. It will require a very considerable psychological adjustment. A calm and reasonable future is not, after all, guaranteed by the advance of technology, by the expansion of trade, or by the softening of old ideologies in the advanced countries.

The threat is not that a new caliphate will rule the world, but that the world will revert to medieval chaos and wretchedness. The United States certainly can't expect to restore the world as it was in the 1990s, but it also can't pretend that everything will be fine if we let history take its own path. We may find unexpected allies, including some in those Muslim countries that don't want to be dominated by jihadist visions. But whatever we do, we can't assume that old allies in Europe will be there for us.

Steyn's conclusion is not a joke: "To see off the new Dark Ages will be tough and demanding. The alternative will be worse."

Jeremy Rabkin teaches international law at Cornell and is author, most recently, of Law without Nations? Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States (Princeton).