Like Chris and Daniel, I’ve been nonplussed at the nastiness of much rightwing US commentary on Europeans. If we’re not a clatter of cowardly Saddam fancying invertebrates, we’re a sinister cabal of jackbooted anti-Semites. While France’s behaviour over Iraq was unimpressive, and there are quite real problems of anti-Semitism, many of Europe’s critics have a rather transparent agenda. They seek to imply that any European criticism of the war or of Israel is automatically suspect, by virtue of its source. It’s the mirror image of Adbusters’ insinuations about rightwing Jews’ support for Israel, and not very much more intellectually respectable.
Mirabile dictu a right wing pundit devotes a column today in the Washington Post to praising Europe. You might expect that I’d be pleased. Not on your life.
Jim Hoagland, one of the slimier members of the commentariat, suggests that the French and British governments have started to tackle the internal threat of Islam head on. He calls for greater US understanding of the way in which the Europeans are responding to the terrorist threat – through internal security and policing measures rather than invading other countries. Indeed, he suggests that the US has a lot to learn from Europe, just as Europe can learn from the US.
What exactly can the US learn? Hoagland doesn’t quite come out and say it, but it seems that he’s keen on surveillance, police harassment and discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere.
The piece is entitled “Europe: The Enemy Within” – I don’t know whether Hoagland chose the title, but it captures the flavor of his argument. If the Americans are going after the enemy abroad, European governments are going after the enemy at home; their unassimilated Muslim minorities. In this context, all sorts of nasty domestic policies can be justified. The French law banning headscarfs is an understandable measure intended “to reassure the French that their government was not afraid of confronting Muslim fundamentalists at home.” Pervasive identity checks are supposed to make members of the bourgeoisie happier, by telling them that “if we are treating you like this in an upscale quarter of Paris, think about what we are doing in the Arab ghettos that you fear.” David Blunkett, Otto Schily, and above all Nicolas Sarkozy, are heroes in this war on the home front.
This is creepy stuff, creepier by far than pervasive anti-Europeanism. It also reflects a belated recognition of political realities. For all their differences over Iraq, the French and US governments have a lot in common. Both are right wing governments with the same whiff of corruption and dirty dealings hanging over them. Both have penchants for autocracy, statism and quasi-authoritarian justice and home affairs policy, although Sarkozy and Chirac have been able to get away with a lot more than Ashcroft and Bush. Now that their disagreements over Iraq have been rendered moot, their common interests and predilections will become more visible and apparent. Soon, we may be positively nostalgic for the days of right-wing France-bashing; it’s infinitely preferable to slackjawed admiration for the more repugnant aspects of French domestic policy.