Europe: Laughing at the Messenger
How can one excavate the minds of so many European officials and the extraordinary mental gymnastics of denial to which they have become prone?
One of the finest demonstrations of this trend occurred in January 2015, after France was assailed by Islamist gunmen in the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and then in a Jewish supermarket. In the days after those attacks, Fox News in the U.S. ran an interview with a guest who said that Paris, and France, as a whole, had "no-go zones" where the authorities -- including emergency services -- did not dare to go. In the wake of these comments, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, chose to make a stand. She announced that she was suing Fox News because the "honour of Paris" was at stake.
It appeared that Mayor Hidalgo was rightly concerned about the image of her city around the world, presumably worrying in particular about the potential effects on tourism.
Of course, Mayor Hidalgo's priorities were all wrong. The reason Paris's public relations suffered a dent was not because of what a pundit said on Fox News one evening, but because of the mass murder of journalists and Jews on the streets of the "City of Light." Any potential tourist would be much more concerned about getting caught up in a terrorist firefight than a war of words. Mayor Hidalgo's manoeuvre, however, turned out not to be a rarity, but a symptom of a wider problem.
Consider the almost precise replay of that 2015 episode after U.S. President Donald Trump referred in a speech to "what's happening last night in Sweden." Much of the press immediately seized the opportunity to claim that Trump had asserted that a terrorist attack had occurred the night before in Sweden. This allowed them to laugh at the alleged ignorance of the president and the alleged concoction of what has become known as "fake news." Except that it swiftly became obvious to anyone who cared that what the president was referring to -- a documentary film about the situation in Sweden that had aired the night before on Fox News -- showed the extent of the lawlessness in parts of Sweden. While every authority in Sweden was laughing at Donald Trump, a day after his comments. residents of Rinkeby, a suburb of Stockholm, obligingly had a car-burning riot and attacked police.
The troubles that Sweden has gone through in recent years, since mass migration began in earnest, are hard indeed to ignore. These troubles include the setting up of what the American scholar of Islam, Daniel Pipes, most accurately referred to as "semi-autonomous sectors." Although non-Muslims can enter, the areas are different from the rest of the country. These are areas where, for instance, police, fire and ambulance services refuse to enter because they and other authority figures representing the state frequently come under attack. The filmmaker, Ami Horowitz, experienced the downside of some of these areas. On a recent visit to Sweden he was attacked for taking a film crew into a suburb of Stockholm when some of the locals objected. We are being given an accurate representation of a serious problem.
Car-burnings and riots do break out in Sweden today with considerable regularity, and sexual assaults have sky-rocketed in the country (although these figures are the subject of heated debate over whether they represent a rise in incidents or a rise in reporting). Either way, rapes carried out by immigrants remain a real and underreported issue. The authorities – including the Swedish media – have refused to run stories about these unpleasant facts
In Sweden, more than in perhaps any other European country, the media is homogenous in its support for the left-wing status quo in the country, and this includes a support for the views of recent governments on immigration policy. Anything which could give ammunition to critics of that policy is -- as in Germany -- deliberately underreported or actively covered over by the majority of the media.
The response to Trump's comments unfortunately demonstrated this yet further. The desire to pretend that the president had specifically claimed that there had been a terrorist attack the night before was one trick. Another was to simply mock and belittle him and his claims. Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt took to Twitter to say, "Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?" The European press gleefully took up tweets by members of the Swedish public who responded to Trump's claims by sending photos of people putting IKEA furniture together. A joke which would have been funnier had a failed asylum seeker from Eritrea not stabbed and killed a mother and son in an IKEA store in Västerås in 2015. Elsewhere, the present Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallström, in her familiar preaching tones announced that diplomacy and democracy "require us to respect science, facts and the media."
So, once again an American has pointed to a failing in European society, and instead of focusing on the problem or even admitting that there is a problem, the European response has been to point at the American and blame him for creating the problem he has in fact merely identified. Such behaviour is a psychological affliction before it is a political one. It must stand somewhere along the continuum of the famed stages of grief. But it bodes exceptionally poorly for Europe's future. If the response to every problem is denial, and the response to anyone pointing to the problem is opprobrium, legal threats or hilarity, it suggests that Europe is not going to make the softer-landing it could yet give itself in addressing these issues. It might make us feel better, but every time we attack or laugh at the messenger, rather than addressing the message, we ensure that our own future will be less funny.
Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England.