How did we come to lose confidence in our own civilization?
This year the leaders of both France and Britain declared that their countries' policies of multiculturalism had failed. As when Germany's Angela Merkel made similar statements last year, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron sparked a political firestorm that continues today. Europe's debate over multiculturalism, and how to deal with non-European immigrants, will only intensify in the coming years as the full effects of the Arab Spring play out on our continent. But it's worth stepping back now and considering how we arrived at this point. How has it become so controversial for a Western leader to affirm a preference for his own culture? In short, how did Europe come to lose confidence in its own civilization?In their modern forms, the noble Western traditions of self-assessment and self-criticism have often degraded into sentimental self-flagellation. Consider Africa, whose underdevelopment many people think is the fault of the West. This guilt over Africa's poverty is one of the sentiments that underlies Western development aid. But the question to ask is not, "Why are poor countries poor?" The right question is, "Why are wealthy countries wealthy?" After all, in the beginning we were all poor. Whoever wants to study the rise of the West and the roots of our prosperity should go back to the Renaissance, if not to classical antiquity. Colonizing Africa had nothing to do with it; the interior of most of Africa was inaccessible until late in the 19th century. European colonizers also came late to North Africa and the Middle East, which for many centuries was ruled by the Ottomans. Europe is no more responsible for the underdevelopment of Africa than Rome was for the underdevelopment of Gaul.
Many people also hold great sympathy for the Palestinian people. That is understandable because their situation is indeed pitiful. But who bothers about the lot of Christians in the Middle East? Their situation is at least equally pitiful as that of Palestinians, if not more so. At least 10% of Egypt's population is Christian (Coptic). They are repressed and frequently lead miserable existences. The Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan are similarly discriminated against. In Somalia, Islamists hunt down anyone in possession of a Bible. Yet no one here seems to get excited about these crimes; Christianity appears to be a spent force in Europe, with the exceptions of Poland and Ireland. But for Christians in Asia, Africa, Arabia and beyond, it is not the anemic religion that it has become here. These Third World Christians rightly feel deserted.
If they have any doubt about the importance of Christianity in contemporary Western life, these non-European Christians need only look to locales such as England's Oxford. There, in a land with an established Christian church, the municipality has decided to replace Christmas with a "Winter Light Festival." According to a spokesman, this ensures that equal attention is paid to all religions.