Top positive review
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on 4 April 2011
The middle years of the first decade of the twenty-first century were rather rough for the good old Europe. The economic doldrums coupled with a spate of civil unrest, terrorist attacks, and a lot of social uncertainty created a very dire image that was reflected in several books and publications that were published around that time. Many of these books (such as "While Europe Slept," "Menace in Europe," "America Alone," and of course this one - "The Last Days of Europe") had a very stark and foreboding view of the current situation. These books were in part a reaction to an almost pathological refusal by the European intellectual and political elites to even acknowledge that there is a problem, to say nothing about its nature or the possible solutions. At the time of their publication, these books polarized American (and needless to say European) public opinions. However, as I write this review about five years later, heads of states of Germany, France and the United Kingdom had publicly denounced "multiculturalism" as practiced in their societies, and have all called for a greater integration of immigrants. This is a welcome development and a vindication of the views and arguments that had just a few years earlier been dismissed as belonging to the fringe extremist groups. Unfortunately, many of the trends that had been criticized in the above books (most notably the steep demographical decline of most European countries) have been going on for way too long, and there is not even the remotest theoretical possibility that they could be reversed in the foreseeable future.
The misconception that the critical views of the future of Europe come only from the extremists should have been immediately put to rest once one comes across works by Walter Laqueur. A Holocaust survivor and an eminent historian with decades of impeccable academic credentials, Laqueur embodies what a thoughtful and informative social critic ought to be like. He is methodical in presenting his evidence, and one never gets a sense that he gloats over the misdirected policies that he describes and criticizes. Indeed, he comes across as someone who is deeply rooted in all the great achievements of the European civilization, and writes about Europe's decline with a genuine concern and regret.
Laqueur concentrates most of his analysis on three distinct countries: United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Even though it has become fashionable to lump all "Old Europe" countries together, and even European elites are striving to present themselves as speaking form a unified position, the fact remains that the facts on the ground are sometimes drastically different when one takes a closer look at each big European country individually. The profile of immigrants, and especially Muslim immigrants, varies widely as one moves from one country to another. In the UK majority of the Muslim immigrants are from the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh), in France they are predominantly north-African Arabs, while in Germany they are Turks and Kurds. There are a lot of internal tensions between different immigrant groups, and very often their loyalties are foremost with their ethnic group and not with their religious affiliation. Furthermore, the exact level of religiosity, and the extent that it influences immigrant attitude, is highly debatable. This is especially true of the younger immigrants who had been born and raised in their adoptive countries. Laqueur on occasion draws on the examples from Spain, Italy, Russia and a few other countries, but the "big three" dominate his analysis.
One thing that I wish this book spent more time on is the impact of the European social state on all of the other deleterious trends. Laqueur touches upon this topic a few times, and even offers a few ideas that have been circulated around in recent years, but he doesn't strongly endorse any one of them nor does he delve deeper into this topic. This is unfortunate, because a strong case could be made that, if not being the root-cause of many of the problems that are mentioned in this book, then at the very least the various social and economic incentives that have been at work in Europe since the end of the Second World War have at the very least significantly contributed to them. It would be interesting to read a comprehensive critique of the present-day ills that are plaguing Europe which is based on the analysis of the European social state.
Overall, this is an incredibly insightful and informative book on some of the major social problems that are affecting Europe. Despite the grim title, I am still somewhat optimistic that Europe will be able to pull itself from the brink of a precipice. However, decisive actions need to be taken, and taken soon. Hopefully a book like this one can be instrumental in mobilizing hearts and minds for such painful but necessary actions.