Europe thinks ‘that to achieve peace no price is too high: not appeasement, not massacres on its own soil, not even surrender to terrorists… Europe is impotent. A foul wind is blowing through [it]… the idea that we can afford to be lenient even with people who threaten us… This same wind blew through Munich in 1938… It could turn out to be the death rattle of a continent that no longer understands what principles to believe.’
This is not Michael Gove but Marcello Pera, President of the Italian Senate. But in fact the views of the three authors fit remarkably well. Celsius 7/7 is centrally about the political response to Islamist terrorism. Pera discusses the relativism that undergirds so much of the thinking that responds to terrorist Islam. Ratzinger’s contribution is a thoughtful history lesson about what European/American civilisation consists of, with some striking comments on the Spengler-Toynbee debate.
All three are pretty gloomy, and with good reason. I have never seen the arguments for a robust response to the threat spelt out so clearly and succinctly as in Gove’s book. He points out, and pointed out long before others, that the threat is not foreign fighters but terrorists, ‘born, nurtured and supported by Britain and its (welfare) institutions’. The threat is not and never has been a secret. Like the Nazis and the communists, the Islamist terrorists shouted their intentions to anyone who cared to listen. Best of all is his analysis of the role that the Israel issue has played in the debate about terrorism and Middle Eastern policy. He notes how bin Laden’s plans to attack the USA were made in the Clinton years when Israel was negotiating with the Palestinians; how since 1948 Arab countries have kept Palestinians in refugee camps, used them for their own purposes and failed to help to construct their institutions. It is a history of neglect which shows that the Israel issue can in no way be used to excuse Islamist terrorism. He dissects, too, the reasons for Western intellectuals’ hatred of Israel: it is, after all, of ‘our’ culture, an island of decency and indeed success surrounded by states known only for failure, tyranny and squalor. And intellectuals love to hate their own.
Joseph Ratzinger’s essay (written before his elevation to the papacy), ‘The Spiritual Roots of Europe’, is a concise history of European civilisation which concludes by identifying its main strands: the values of human dignity; freedom, especially of speech; the image of man ‘the moral option’; monogamous marriage and the family. He, too, notices the ‘peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological… It has lost the capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its history is the despicable and the destructive.’
Pera argues in his essay — and Ratzinger seems to agree — that ‘triumphant relativism’ and ‘silent appeasement’ have now infiltrated Christian theology itself and spread to clergy and Christian families. They are no longer the preserve of fashionable intellectuals. How can we expect the clergy and the ‘faithful’ to spread their faith when their true creed is appeasement, and when they insist on dialogue ‘with the very people who openly attack the fundamental values of the West and seek neither peace nor dialogue’?
Gove answers his own question, ‘What has to be done?’ in largely political terms — he is an MP and a political columnist after all. In the Middle East, he wants more troops; at home he wants a tougher policy on Islamist organisations. The problem, of course, is that if Ratzinger, Pera and Gove himself are right about the appeasement culture, then there will be no sustained popular support for sensible government policies. If the culture is rotten, what hope is there for the polity?
Ironically, there are those within Gove’s own Conservative party who have enthusiastically assisted the relativisation, ‘diversity’, matrimonial decay and decadence which are now undermining the culture. It is that culture which is an absolute necessity to ensure majority support of a robust foreign and anti-terrorist policy.