Just why Europe has had such trouble can be partially understood by contrasting it with the U.S. Europe’s welfare states are more developed and, until recently, more open to noncitizens, so illegal or “underground” immigration has been low. But employment rates have been low, too. If Americans have traditionally considered immigrants the hardest-working segment of their population, Europeans have had the opposite stereotype. In the early 1970s, 2 million of the 3 million foreigners in Germany were in the labor force; by the turn of this century, 2 million of 7.5 million were.
Europe was not just disoriented by the trauma of World War II. It was also demoralized and paralyzed by the memory of Nazism and the continuing dismantling of colonialism. Leaders felt that they lacked the moral standing to address problems that were as plain as the noses on their faces—just as U.S. leaders ducked certain racial issues in the wake of desegregation.
Europeans drew the wrong lessons from the American civil-rights movement. In the U.S., there was race and there was immigration. They were separate matters that could (at least until recently) be disentangled by people of good faith. In Europe, the two problems have long been inseparable. Voters who worried about immigration were widely accused of racism, or later of “Islamophobia.”
In France, antiracism set itself squarely against freedom of speech. The passage of the 1990 Gayssot Law, which punished denial of the Holocaust, was a watershed. Activist lobbies sought to expand such protections by limiting discussion of a variety of historical events—the slave trade, colonialism, foreign genocides. This was backed up by institutional muscle. In the 1980s, President François Mitterrand’s Socialist party created a nongovernmental organization called SOS Racisme to rally minority voters and to hound those who worked against their interests.
Older bodies such as the communist-inspired Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among the Peoples made a specialty of threatening (and sometimes carrying out) lawsuits against European intellectuals for the slightest trespasses against political correctness: the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for her post-9/11 lament “The Rage and the Pride,” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut for doubting that the 2005 riots in France’s suburban ghettos were due to unemployment, the Russia scholar Hélène Carrère d’Encausse for speculating about the role of polygamy in the problems of West African immigrants.
Speech codes have done little to facilitate entry into the workforce for immigrants and their children or to reduce crime. But they have intimidated European voting publics, insulated politicians from criticism and turned certain crucial matters into taboos. Immigrant and ethnic issues have become tightly bound to the issue of building the multinational European Union, which has removed vast areas of policy from voter accountability. “Anti-European” sentiments continue to rise.
So impressed were the Europeans with their own generosity that they failed to notice that the population of second- and third-generation immigrants was growing bigger, stronger, more unified and less inclined to take moral instruction. . . .