Christopher Caldwell on European 'Identity'
In Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, which I'm still reading, Christopher Caldwell notes with irony the fact that Europe is returning to a sense of self-understanding in part due to the growth of Islam there:
[T]he conditions unifying Europe culturally have not been better for decades, and Islam is part of the reason why. Renewed acquaintance with Islam has given Europeans a stronger idea of what Europe is, because it has given them a stronger idea of what Europe is not. (Page 301)But this seems to mean less than it seems, if I may put his point paradoxically. Apparently, Europeans mean that "Europe is not Islam." Or "not Islamic." Or "not Islamist." Or not something like that. Europeans are not sure what they genuinely stand for. They're been 'post-Christian' long enough to no longer be certain what Christianity actually means. Culturally, says Caldwell, being 'European' seems to mean little more than holding to "equal treatment of women, racial nondiscrimination, and (perhaps above all) freedom of sexual comportment" as "absolute rights" (312). Not necessarily bad things, I might add.
In terms of "the EU model of belonging," however, one can be even less European:
You are one person for your culture and another for law. You can be an official (legal) European even if you are not a "real" (cultural) European. (307)As Caldwell notes, one need not even be culturally European! This arises partly due to a radical multiculturalism that refuses to judge among cultures, but also partly due to political compromises. The EU is a multicultural entity, for it unifies various European cultures. This fact makes difficult any 'discrimination' among not only Europeans but also among non-Europeans, who are (naturally) just following their cultures . . . and who can protest about that?
Well . . . perhaps Europeans could, but this sort of cultural development in modern Europe has succeeded among native Europeans because even though they implicitly recognize their Judeo-Christian heritage, they have accepted that "the multicultural nation-state is marked by a state monopoly on moral order" and that "Christians and Jews . . . [will only] worship God privately" (311). This is a risky perspective, thinks Caldwell, because it is comparatively weak, for "Muslims are distinguished by their refusal to submit to this spiritual disarmament" on the part of religion, so if "the multicultural order [should] fall, Islam is the only value system waiting in the wings" (311). Apparently, Islam will not devolve into a 'private' religion.
I think that Caldwell is exaggerating on this issue of a merely superficial European identity. Granted, he's describing what he thinks many Europeans believe, but when I spent a lot of my time in Europe -- roughly from 1986 to 1995 -- I felt that there was more to being a European than subscribing merely to these somewhat narrowly delimited, superficially described rights identified by Caldwell. European identity included not just the Judeo-Christian inheritance but art, architecture, science, philosophy, rationality, law, a culture of discussion, even food and drink, and a host of other things.
But perhaps Caldwell has something less polemical and more substantive to offer on this topic of European identity -- not that he doesn't score points, of course.
Anyway, I'm still reading.