A Conflict with No Solutions

John Mauldin |

The terrorist attacks in Paris have fixated the world’s attention on the contrast between competing worldviews and what constitutes acceptable behavior in modern society. What are the principles by which society should be organized and run? Who gets to set those rules, and to what standards should others who do not believe in them be held?

While at their core these are philosophical questions, the way we answer those questions can have profound economic consequences. They are especially important to understand in the context of Europe. For today’s Outside the Box reading, I think we should look at two essays by old friends to OTB, Charles Gave and George Friedman.

Charles writes as a patrician French patriot and examines the question “[Do] France and its neighbors have a part of their population that rejects the rules on which the nation is based and wishes to build a nation under a different set of rules?”

He offers a very nuanced and thoughtful analysis of the difficulty of answering that question by means of simplistic reactions. And he comes to the uncomfortable conclusion that

As far as France and most other Western nations are concerned, it is obvious that these questions will now more than ever (in spite of mainstream politicians’ best efforts to keep them out) enter the political stream and discourse. And instead of calming tensions in an era of great economic discomfort, this will likely amplify them.

George sees the problem in terms of geopolitical analysis and through the lens of history (emphasis mine):

The Mediterranean borderland was a place of conflict well before Christianity and Islam existed. It will remain a place of conflict even if both lose their vigorous love of their own beliefs. It is an illusion to believe that conflicts rooted in geography can be abolished. It is also a mistake to be so philosophical as to disengage from the human fear of being killed at your desk for your ideas. We are entering a place that has no solutions. Such a place does have decisions, and all of the choices will be bad. What has to be done will be done, and those who refused to make choices will see themselves as more moral than those who did. There is a war, and like all wars, this one is very different from the last in the way it is prosecuted. But it is war nonetheless, and denying that is denying the obvious.”

George has written a book called Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, which will not be available until later in January, although he graciously sent me a review copy. I’ll get started with that one but will also go ahead and buy it in a couple weeks, so I can read it on my iPad Kindle app. I find reading books on my iPad far more efficient and easy than toting around three or four books in a briefcase. I can highlight and make notes and have them available online anywhere in the world without having to go back and search through a book that I read years ago. I know that many people relish the feel of a physical book, and I admit to that pleasure; but the pain of not being able to find a specific quote or note, or worse, not being able to find the book at all because you lent it to somebody and it’s not back on your bookshelf, is far more of a driver to make me go almost totally online.

That said, when I found out that my flights to Cincinnati and back would not have on-board Wi-Fi, I did jump into George’s book. I think it’s his best work to date. It recalls to mind so many conversations we have had over the years about the tensions in Europe, and it’s giving me a deeper understanding of a region of the world that I am really quite fond of. I suspect we will revisit George’s work in future letters. It is especially relevant to the research I’m doing for my own current book-writing project on the future of the global economy.

Cincinnati is as the Weather Channel forecasted, cold and grey with snow flurries, as I look out my hotel window. That gloom aside, I spent several hours this morning visiting with friends who run a private biotechnology startup across the river. That was a decidedly ungloomy get together, as the optimism that a cure for cancer is potentially in the offing in the not-too-distant future was evident to us all, even as they explained the (to me very frustrating) process of securing regulatory approval. Hopefully that process will come to a reasonable conclusion sooner rather than later, given that over 1,500 people a day die from cancer in the US alone (many more actually contract cancer and undergo treatment and live). The savings in human lives brought about by a cure would be incalculable, but the savings in dollars to our healthcare system and the elimination of other economic losses caused by cancer would be in the hundreds of billions. And that is just in the US.

And on that hopeful note, let’s turn to Charles and George, where the news is not as optimistic. Have a great week!

Your pondering Europe analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box

Setting Aside Emotion and Seeking Reason

By Charles Gave, Gavekal
January 12, 2015

Une nation est une âme, un principe spirituel. Deux choses qui, à vrai dire, n’en font qu’une, constituent cette âme, ce principe spirituel. L’une est dans le passé, l’autre dans le présent. L’une est la possession en commun d’un riche legs de souvenirs ; l’autre est le consentement actuel, le désir de vivre ensemble, la volonté de continuer à faire valoir l’héritage qu’on a reçu indivis. Ernest Renan, Conférence à la Sorbonne, March 1883

In order to define a nation Ernest Renan spoke of a will to live together, from which emerged the institution of the state. This state would then have a monopoly on violence (except for genuine cases of self-defense).

Throughout history, there have been cases where this willingness to live together vanished because part of a population wanted to break away and form another nation (the US civil war, Yugoslavia). There have also been cases where a regime captured a legitimate state using violence against a population that was, in fact, willing to live together (Russia under the communists?). Finally, it can occur that a significant part of the population expresses a desire to live under different rules, and that this desire spills over into tensions and armed conflict (i.e., Spanish civil war).

What happened last week in Paris begs the question whether Western Europe faces a problem in the last category; i.e., does France and its neighbors have a part of their population that rejects the rules on which the nation is based, and wishes to build a nation under a different set of rules? At the outset, it is important to draw a distinction between the two assassins of the Charlie Hebdo staff, and the lone killer of the kosher supermarket. Indeed, the Charlie Hebdo killers operated under the principles of a different civilization; principles that are very much the opposite of those that hold the French nation together (respect for free speech, etc...) but principles nonetheless. Meanwhile, the murders in the kosher supermarket are of a different nature. There, defenseless people were murdered simply for being Jewish, an outcome completely devoid of any principles other than the crassest form of anti-Semitism, which no religion condones.

The courageous Charlie Hebdo journalists took a risk and paid with their lives. As the wife of cartoonist Georges Wolinski put it, he died in the ‘field of battle, with heroes and men of honor’. Wolinski, Charb, Cabu and all the other Charlie Hebdo staff died defending the ideals they believed in and nothing can be greater than that. In the second case the fact that the Islamist fundamentalist murdered civilians simply for being Jewish makes it a more ghastly act; something akin to the events in Toulouse a couple of years ago. For every Frenchman, the first set of murders should inspire rage. The second set of murders should inspire shame and outrage. The heroes at Charlie Hebdo had taken a calculated risk which they embraced and assumed. The second set of victims had done nothing more but share the faith of their forefathers.

Which brings us back to the simple fact that the Charlie journalists were assassinated in application of a [blasphemy] law, which France rejects, but a law that, in the eyes of religious fundamentalists, trumps all others. At least, this much is clear from the declarations of the assassins who, on the scene of the crime declared ‘we have avenged the prophet’. Very clearly, the Charlie Hebdo killers did not share in what Renan called le legs constitutif de l’âme française. Instead, their reference points where, they seem to believe, in a legs constitutif of the Muslim ummah. And if this this is the case, then we should ask ourselves a number of questions:

1) The first is that the men who committed these crimes were raised in schools of the French republic. So how did they come to reject, and even hate, the republic’s values so much?

2) The second is that most French people have no problem with Islam per se. This was clear after almost four million people yesterday walked in the name of tolerance, and also from the ‘pride’ taken in one of the policemen, who died defending the Charlie Hedbo office, being a Muslim, as was the young Malian supermarket clerk who helped shoppers hide from the murderous terrorist. Still, the question must be asked whether Western nations are nursing a small minority of individuals who want to impose a system of Sharia law that opposes everything the majority holds dear? And, if so, and if that minority is large enough, do we risk more blood on our streets (whether in Paris, Sydney, Ottawa, Toulouse...). The question that then emerges is what can Western nations do about it without compromising the values they hold dear?

3) The above is not a racist question (as some commentators hint). Indeed, profound devotion to the tenets of a religion does not emanate from nature (as races do) but from thought. In that regard, being an ‘islamistphobe’ is more akin to being a ‘communistphobe’ or a ‘fascistphobe’ than a racist. At stake is the question of whether fundamentalist Islam presents a core set of values and beliefs which may, or may not, prove compatible with a) democracy and b) the ability to live in the multicultural/multi-value society most Western societies have come to cherish. For example, today, a record number of French Jews are emigrating to Israel because of the rising anti- Semitism which was on display at the Kosher supermarket—so if this emigration trend is pushed to its conclusion (i.e., no more Jews in France), France will end up being less of a multi-cultural society.

4) The question of Islam’s compatibility with Western democratic values is not a question that we, in the West, can answer. This is a question that only the Muslim world itself can answer. For example, can a line of the Koran be changed or interpreted in different ways? After all, like most holy books, the Koran states many contradictory things and one can find quotes to justify almost anything. But the Koran is different from other religious books in that it was written by Mohammed, but dictated by God (through an archangel). Meanwhile, the Torah, as well as the Ancient and New Testaments, were written by men, inspired (or not) by God. These men are accepted to have been imperfect, unlike Mohammed, whom as the Charlie Hebdo staff paid dearly to show, one cannot criticize. So the Bible can be criticized and even re-interpreted. Can the Koran? Can this be done without criticizing the prophet? Or is the Sharia not adaptable and thus, for the true followers, an almost guarantee of conflicting systems?

Let us hope that this latest drama forces the Muslim World to confront these challenging questions. As far as France and most other Western nations are concerned, it is obvious that these questions will now, more than ever (and in spite of the mainstream politicians’ best efforts to keep them out) enter the political stream and discourse. And instead of calming tensions in an era of great economic discomfort, this will likely amplify them.

A War Between Two Worlds

By George Friedman
January 13, 2105

The murders of cartoonists who made fun of Islam and of Jews shopping for their Sabbath meals by Islamists in Paris last week have galvanized the world. A galvanized world is always dangerous. Galvanized people can do careless things. It is in the extreme and emotion-laden moments that distance and coolness are most required. I am tempted to howl in rage. It is not my place to do so. My job is to try to dissect the event, place it in context and try to understand what has happened and why. From that, after the rage cools, plans for action can be made. Rage has its place, but actions must be taken with discipline and thought.

I have found that in thinking about things geopolitically, I can cool my own rage and find, if not meaning, at least explanation for events such as these. As it happens, my new book will be published on Jan. 27. Titled Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it is about the unfolding failure of the great European experiment, the European Union, and the resurgence of European nationalism. It discusses the re-emerging borderlands and flashpoints of Europe and raises the possibility that Europe's attempt to abolish conflict will fail. I mention this book because one chapter is on the Mediterranean borderland and the very old conflict between Islam and Christianity. Obviously this is a matter I have given some thought to, and I will draw on Flashpoints to begin making sense of the murderers and murdered, when I think of things in this way.

Let me begin by quoting from that chapter:

We've spoken of borderlands, and how they are both linked and divided. Here is a border sea, differing in many ways but sharing the basic characteristic of the borderland. Proximity separates as much as it divides. It facilitates trade, but also war. For Europe this is another frontier both familiar and profoundly alien.

Islam invaded Europe twice from the Mediterranean — first in Iberia, the second time in southeastern Europe, as well as nibbling at Sicily and elsewhere. Christianity invaded Islam multiple times, the first time in the Crusades and in the battle to expel the Muslims from Iberia. Then it forced the Turks back from central Europe. The Christians finally crossed the Mediterranean in the 19th century, taking control of large parts of North Africa. Each of these two religions wanted to dominate the other. Each seemed close to its goal. Neither was successful. What remains true is that Islam and Christianity were obsessed with each other from the first encounter. Like Rome and Egypt they traded with each other and made war on each other.

Christians and Muslims have been bitter enemies, battling for control of Iberia. Yet, lest we forget, they also have been allies: In the 16th century, Ottoman Turkey and Venice allied to control the Mediterranean. No single phrase can summarize the relationship between the two save perhaps this: It is rare that two religions might be so obsessed with each other and at the same time so ambivalent. This is an explosive mixture.

Migration, Multiculturalism and Ghettoization

The current crisis has its origins in the collapse of European hegemony over North Africa after World War II and the Europeans' need for cheap labor. As a result of the way in which they ended their imperial relations, they were bound to allow the migration of Muslims into Europe, and the permeable borders of the European Union enabled them to settle where they chose. The Muslims, for their part, did not come to join in a cultural transformation. They came for work, and money, and for the simplest reasons. The Europeans' appetite for cheap labor and the Muslims' appetite for work combined to generate a massive movement of populations.

The matter was complicated by the fact that Europe was no longer simply Christian. Christianity had lost its hegemonic control over European culture over the previous centuries and had been joined, if not replaced, by a new doctrine of secularism. Secularism drew a radical distinction between public and private life, in which religion, in any traditional sense, was relegated to the private sphere with no hold over public life. There are many charms in secularism, in particular the freedom to believe what you will in private. But secularism also poses a public problem. There are those whose beliefs are so different from others' beliefs that finding common ground in the public space is impossible. And then there are those for whom the very distinction between private and public is either meaningless or unacceptable. The complex contrivances of secularism have their charm, but not everyone is charmed.

Europe solved the problem with the weakening of Christianity that made the ancient battles between Christian factions meaningless. But they had invited in people who not only did not share the core doctrines of secularism, they rejected them. What Christianity had come to see as progress away from sectarian conflict, Muslims (and some Christians) may see as simply decadence, a weakening of faith and the loss of conviction.

There is here a question of what we mean when we speak of things like Christianity, Islam and secularism. There are more than a billion Christians and more than a billion Muslims and uncountable secularists who mix all things. It is difficult to decide what you mean when you say any of these words and easy to claim that anyone else's meaning is (or is not) the right one. There is a built-in indeterminacy in our use of language that allows us to shift responsibility for actions in Paris away from a religion to a minor strand in a religion, or to the actions of only those who pulled the trigger. This is the universal problem of secularism, which eschews stereotyping. It leaves unclear who is to be held responsible for what. By devolving all responsibility on the individual, secularism tends to absolve nations and religions from responsibility.

This is not necessarily wrong, but it creates a tremendous practical problem. If no one but the gunmen and their immediate supporters are responsible for the action, and all others who share their faith are guiltless, you have made a defensible moral judgment. But as a practical matter, you have paralyzed your ability to defend yourselves. It is impossible to defend against random violence and impermissible to impose collective responsibility. As Europe has been for so long, its moral complexity has posed for it a problem it cannot easily solve. Not all Muslims — not even most Muslims — are responsible for this. But all who committed these acts were Muslims claiming to speak for Muslims. One might say this is a Muslim problem and then hold the Muslims responsible for solving it. But what happens if they don't? And so the moral debate spins endlessly.

This dilemma is compounded by Europe's hidden secret: The Europeans do not see Muslims from North Africa or Turkey as Europeans, nor do they intend to allow them to be Europeans. The European solution to their isolation is the concept of multiculturalism — on the surface a most liberal notion, and in practice, a movement for both cultural fragmentation and ghettoization. But behind this there is another problem, and it is also geopolitical. I say in Flashpoints that:

Multiculturalism and the entire immigrant enterprise faced another challenge. Europe was crowded. Unlike the United States, it didn't have the room to incorporate millions of immigrants — certainly not on a permanent basis. Even with population numbers slowly declining, the increase in population, particularly in the more populous countries, was difficult to manage. The doctrine of multiculturalism naturally encouraged a degree of separatism. Culture implies a desire to live with your own people. Given the economic status of immigrants the world over, the inevitable exclusion that is perhaps unintentionally incorporated in multiculturalism and the desire of like to live with like, the Muslims found themselves living in extraordinarily crowded and squalid conditions. All around Paris there are high-rise apartment buildings housing and separating Muslims from the French, who live elsewhere.

These killings have nothing to do with poverty, of course. Newly arrived immigrants are always poor. That's why they immigrate. And until they learn the language and customs of their new homes, they are always ghettoized and alien. It is the next generation that flows into the dominant culture. But the dirty secret of multiculturalism was that its consequence was to perpetuate Muslim isolation. And it was not the intention of Muslims to become Europeans, even if they could. They came to make money, not become French. The shallowness of the European postwar values system thereby becomes the horror show that occurred in Paris last week. 

The Role of Ideology

But while the Europeans have particular issues with Islam, and have had them for more than 1,000 years, there is a more generalizable problem. Christianity has been sapped of its evangelical zeal and no longer uses the sword to kill and convert its enemies. At least parts of Islam retain that zeal. And saying that not all Muslims share this vision does not solve the problem. Enough Muslims share that fervency to endanger the lives of those they despise, and this tendency toward violence cannot be tolerated by either their Western targets or by Muslims who refuse to subscribe to a jihadist ideology. And there is no way to distinguish those who might kill from those who won't. The Muslim community might be able to make this distinction, but a 25-year-old European or American policeman cannot. And the Muslims either can't or won't police themselves. Therefore, we are left in a state of war. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called this a war on radical Islam. If only they wore uniforms or bore distinctive birthmarks, then fighting only the radical Islamists would not be a problem. But Valls' distinctions notwithstanding, the world can either accept periodic attacks, or see the entire Muslim community as a potential threat until proven otherwise. These are terrible choices, but history is filled with them. Calling for a war on radical Islamists is like calling for war on the followers of Jean-Paul Sartre. Exactly what do they look like?

The European inability to come to terms with the reality it has created for itself in this and other matters does not preclude the realization that wars involving troops are occurring in many Muslim countries. The situation is complex, and morality is merely another weapon for proving the other guilty and oneself guiltless. The geopolitical dimensions of Islam's relationship with Europe, or India, or Thailand, or the United States, do not yield to moralizing.

Something must be done. I don't know what needs to be done, but I suspect I know what is coming. First, if it is true that Islam is merely responding to crimes against it, those crimes are not new and certainly didn't originate in the creation of Israel, the invasion of Iraq or recent events. This has been going on far longer than that. For instance, the Assassins were a secret Islamic order to make war on individuals they saw as Muslim heretics. There is nothing new in what is going on, and it will not end if peace comes to Iraq, Muslims occupy Kashmir or Israel is destroyed. Nor is secularism about to sweep the Islamic world. The Arab Spring was a Western fantasy that the collapse of communism in 1989 was repeating itself in the Islamic world with the same results. There are certainly Muslim liberals and secularists. However, they do not control events — no single group does — and it is the events, not the theory, that shape our lives.

Europe's sense of nation is rooted in shared history, language, ethnicity and yes, in Christianity or its heir, secularism. Europe has no concept of the nation except for these things, and Muslims share in none of them. It is difficult to imagine another outcome save for another round of ghettoization and deportation. This is repulsive to the European sensibility now, but certainly not alien to European history. Unable to distinguish radical Muslims from other Muslims, Europe will increasingly and unintentionally move in this direction.

Paradoxically, this will be exactly what the radical Muslims want because it will strengthen their position in the Islamic world in general, and North Africa and Turkey in particular. But the alternative to not strengthening the radical Islamists is living with the threat of death if they are offended. And that is not going to be endured in Europe.

Perhaps a magic device will be found that will enable us to read the minds of people to determine what their ideology actually is. But given the offense many in the West have taken to governments reading emails, I doubt that they would allow this, particularly a few months from now when the murders and murderers are forgotten, and Europeans will convince themselves that the security apparatus is simply trying to oppress everyone. And of course, never minimize the oppressive potential of security forces.

The United States is different in this sense. It is an artificial regime, not a natural one. It was invented by our founders on certain principles and is open to anyone who embraces those principles. Europe's nationalism is romantic, naturalistic. It depends on bonds that stretch back through time and cannot be easily broken. But the idea of shared principles other than their own is offensive to the religious everywhere, and at this moment in history, this aversion is most commonly present among Muslims. This is a truth that must be faced.

The Mediterranean borderland was a place of conflict well before Christianity and Islam existed. It will remain a place of conflict even if both lose their vigorous love of their own beliefs. It is an illusion to believe that conflicts rooted in geography can be abolished. It is also a mistake to be so philosophical as to disengage from the human fear of being killed at your desk for your ideas. We are entering a place that has no solutions. Such a place does have decisions, and all of the choices will be bad. What has to be done will be done, and those who refused to make choices will see themselves as more moral than those who did. There is a war, and like all wars, this one is very different from the last in the way it is prosecuted. But it is war nonetheless, and denying that is denying the obvious.

Editor's Note: The newest book by Stratfor chairman and founder George Friedman, Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, will be released Jan. 27. It is now available for pre-order.

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