By William Urban
I missed this spy thriller by Daniel Silva when it came out in 2007, but I wished I hadn’t. The train to Chicago and back gave me enough time to turn all but ten of the pages. Those were finished before lights went out.
Silva’s main character, Gabriel Allon, is an art restorer and an Israeli agent who defends his nation in the back alleys of Europe and the Arab world. In his world some people just ask to be killed. Not that Allon likes his job, but he understands that some people cannot be reasoned with, especially not those who want to destroy Israel, kill Zionists, and just murder Jews. Still, he can’t just go around murdering suspected jihadists at random. He can’t even safely defend himself — the politically correct police forces of Europe would love to put him in jail. Technically, he’s not even supposed to go there uninvited.
Fortunately for Allon, an upbringing in Germany made him fluent in that language, years in Venice and Rome did the same for Italian, and every educated European knows French. The Hebrew and Arabic he got from study and living in the Middle East. His English is okay, but you’d know he’s not from here. He’s an excellent shot, but his strength lies in his memory — he not only knows the brushstrokes of every important artist, but he remembers faces, a skill which allows him to identify, then elude trackers; when it’s matter of life or death, he makes decisions faster than his enemies.
Allon had been dealing with radicals since the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympic games, when he joined the “Wrath of God” squad that tracked down the twelve murderers one by one and killed them. The world has changed in the thirty-five years since then. Most importantly, there are Muslims living everywhere in Europe now. The first generation came to escape poverty and totalitarian governments; they loved everything that Britain, France, Germany and other western countries offered them.
The second generation is a different matter. They grew up fluent in the local languages — Dutch in the case of this novel, and often English — and knew what working class locals thought of them. The upper classes and intellectuals, in contrast, want to ignore ethnic problems altogether, even to the extent of punishing anyone who says a word about the growing Muslim presence and the rapidly expanding sympathy for jihadists.
In short, the welcome mat is out for anyone from outside, even imams supported by the Saudi government who say that true believers have to seal themselves off from the sins of the infidel (no drinking, no looking at women, and no toleration for gays, Christians or atheists) and who hate democracy. The second generation is eager to find an alternative to the low-paying jobs open to them, and to the moral vacuum of the West. As far as they are concerned, Europe and America mean alcoholism, random sexual encounters, and support for Israel.
Of course, European support for Israel has almost completely vanished in recent years. Anti-Semitism is socially accepted again, especially since so many Europeans believe that if Israel disappears, so too will disputes within Islam, the conflict between Pakistan and India, and Somalia and Kenya. Also, Jews also work too hard, study too long, they are pushy and they stick together.
It is a strange world. I remember a conversation at least thirty years ago in which I was told that we should bring in every immigrant who wanted to come, then settle them on 10 acres plots along Old Highway 34. When I suggested that the newcomers might want more than living on what they could produce themselves (and certainly their children would), I got a lecture that would not be out of place in a Sustainable Agriculture program today: immigrants would be very pleased to live a simple, healthy life without the excess luxuries that weigh down so many Americans.
In short, there are a lot of ideas in this book that we could well reflect on. But the birthrate among the immigrants, their increasing radicalization, and the blindness of the European political classes is not the only theme here.
There is a clear warning what would happen when the radicals overthrew the totalitarian governments of the Middle East. We’ve seen this happen. Our hopes for a good outcome from the Arab Spring rested on the same type of optimism that made the Dutch say “One nation, one people” even as anyone with open eyes could see that Holland was dividing into an amoral, unconcerned secular majority and a growing, angry minority. Islam was winning.
The West had long had ambivalent feelings about the authoritarian governments of the Middle East. The events following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran sobered a few thinkers, so that even as they disliked Mubarak in Egypt and others, they knew that the alternative was even worse. However, when the non-thinkers took charge recently, they helped overthrow the authoritarian governments. The Arab Spring led to turmoil and disorder everywhere, but only the Egyptian military has managed to take back control, and that only because the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated, once again, that being a revolutionary was poor preparation for governing. Elsewhere the genie has refused to go back into the bottle.
Egypt is a long way from quiet. The birth rate, the collapsing economy, and the environmental devastation are only the most obvious problems. More serious is the large number of youths across the Arab world who see themselves trapped in a worse situation than their cousins in Holland and Britain.
Thousands of boys of this generation have gone to Syria and Iraq, and the Saudis who paid for their religious education and who armed the first rebels are now trying to keep those trained warriors from bringing their jihad home.
We worry about this, too, but not enough to make our borders more secure, or to continue surveillance programs on mosques where hatred is preached. We have plenty of friends in the American Muslim community. But that is still the first generation. We have yet to see if we can do a better job of integrating the second generation than the Europeans have.
Recently Holland, Australia and Britain have begun to rethink their multi-cultural policies; the Germans have begun rounding up radicals. However, American politicians still worry about hurting feelings.
Review Atlas (Dec 4, 2014), 4.