TCS Daily


Belgians Waffle? A Ban to Worry About

By Michael Totten - November 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Now that the Cold War is over Western European countries ought to be role models for the East. What a farce, then, that Belgium has taken a cue from Vladimir Putin. In true autocratic fashion the high court banned Vlaams Blok -- the nation's most popular political party. The party has since been refounded and renamed Vlaams Belang, meaning "Flemish Interest."

Vlaams Blok isn't any party I'd want to belong to. They want to break Belgium in half along ethnic lines and completely shut down immigration. They even offered immigrants cash to leave and never come back. Still, banning a political party -- especially the one that's most popular -- is no way to behave in a democracy no matter how kooky the party in question may be. It's obviously, you know, undemocratic. And it will only make the targeted party (in whatever new form it takes) more popular than it was. Opinions can't be abolished by court order. Political grievances don't vanish just because party leaders have to slap a new label on an old bottle.

The best way to shunt the Blok's extremism off to the side is for one of the more centrist parties to adopt its moderate planks. They don't have to blacken their cosmopolitan souls in the bargain. There's a reason Vlaams Blok is rising in popularity. It's not because they want an independent state for Dutch-speaking Belgians. And it's not because the people of Antwerp have itchy fingers on the genocide trigger. It's popular because, in a country where the elite wallow in hysterical Political Correctness, Vlaams Blok is the only party willing to even discuss immigration at a time when radical Islam is metastasizing in Europe.

The party was banned as racist. I have little doubt that it is -- at least to an extent. Far-right anti-immigrant parties are always magnets for racist nuts and ethnic nationalists. The Belgian high court has a peculiar definition of racism, though.

One member of Vlaams Blok wrote a political tract denouncing female genital mutilation in Muslim countries. The high court says the tract is racist. Nevermind that "Muslim" isn't a race, the person who wrote it is not ethnically Belgian. She's a Muslim woman from Turkey.

Denouncing female genital mutilation is the sort of thing liberals and feminists recently did -- and occasionally still find the courage to do. If the European ruling class wants to relegate this view to the right-wing lunatic fringe they'll only boost the clout of the real fringe by making it look more reasonable than in is.

A liberal tolerant culture can't survive an infiltration of intolerant illiberal immigrants who refuse to assimilate even if most immigrants don't cause any problems. Decent-minded people don't like to think about this, let alone talk about it. But the problem can't be pretended away. The murder of Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam and the vicious backlash that followed ought to prove that.

Volksrant reported that ten Muslim and five Christian sites in the Netherlands were attacked in one single week. Though no one aside from Van Gogh has been killed (yet), the attacks included fire-bombing, arson, vandalism, and nailing bloody pig's heads to doors. 18 times as many people live in the United States as in The Netherlands. If Americans reacted as violently after the attacks on September 11, one hundred and eighty Muslim sites would have been attacked by vigilantes in one week alone. Needless to say, the minor backlash that did follow was an insignificant blip compared to the fury unleashed in Holland. Imagine the rage that would convulse Dutch society if Amsterdam or The Hague experienced an attack on the scale of what happened on September 11.

The Dutch are among the most liberal and tolerant people on Earth. So why was the civilian response to terrorism so out of proportion to what happened in the US? Glenn Reynolds has a theory that might explain part of it.

Nothing breeds that sort of freelance violence like the perception that the duly constituted authorities aren't willing to protect the citizenry. People in the United States didn't doubt that; people in the Netherlands have had reason to.

If Europe's mainstream parties can't come to grips with this they're toast. There is no shortage of political maniacs on the margins -- who are totally uninhibited by political correctness -- who can always propose a "solution" if no one else will. If (perhaps I ought to say "when") push comes to shove in Belgium as it already has in Amsterdam -- watch out. The extremists will appear a lot more sane than they are next to the feckless fantasists they'll have to compete with. They are setting themselves up to attract more and more frustrated moderates and even liberals into their ranks.

In time those moderates and liberals may, because of the slippery workings of the political slope, cease to be liberal or moderate. The center cannot hold if the state decrees the center doesn't exist, that the only choice is between left-wing fantasy and right-wing lunacy. When the pendulum swings -- and it will swing -- the ethnic nationalist parties will benefit most. And the phrase "Old Europe" might apply more aptly than it does now.

Michael J. Totten is a TCS columnist. Visit his daily Web log at http://michaeltotten.com.


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