As the economic crisis deepens and spreads, Europe may be able, by turning in on itself, to postpone its struggle to preserve the culture of the “bourgeois” in Flaubert’s sense of the word, but that will not solve the problem. When I look at Istanbul, which becomes a little more complex and cosmopolitan with every passing year and now attracts immigrants from all over Asia and Africa, I have no trouble concluding that the poor, unemployed, and undefended of Asia and Africa who are looking for new places to live and work cannot be kept out of Europe indefinitely. Higher walls, tougher visa restrictions, and ships patrolling borders in increasing numbers will only postpone the day of reckoning. Worst of all, anti-immigration politics, policies, and prejudices are already destroying the core values that made Europe what it was.
In the Turkish schoolbooks of my childhood there was no discussion of democracy or women’s rights, but on the packets of Gauloises that French intellectuals and artists smoked (or so we thought) were printed the words “liberté, égalité, fraternité” and these were much in circulation. “Fraternité” came to stand for the spirit of solidarity and resistance promoted by movements of the left. But callousness toward the sufferings of immigrants and minorities, and the castigation of Asians, Africans, and Muslims now leading difficult lives in the peripheries of Europe—even holding them solely responsible for their woes—are not “brotherhood.”
One can understand how many Europeans might suffer anxiety and even panic as they seek to preserve Europe’s great cultural traditions, profit from the riches it covets in the non-Western world, and retain the advantages gained over so many centuries of class conflict, colonialism, and internecine war. But if Europe is to protect itself, would it be better for it to turn inward, or should it perhaps remember its fundamental values, which once made it the center of gravity for all the world’s intellectuals?
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