Europe Was Yesterday

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Europe Was Yesterday The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent By Walter Laqueur (THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS/ST. MARTIN'S PRESS, 243 pages, $25.95)

Reviewed by Joseph A. Harriss

OFTEN DECLARED IN ITS DEATH THROES Over the last 200 years, Europe has been a long time dying. France in particular, bled white by Napoleon's wars, was considered down for the count following its defeat by the Prussians in 1871, and again after the humiliating capitulation of 1940. Twentiethcentury European historians and philosophers from Oswald Spengler to Jean-Paul Sartre saw no future for it following the determined destruction and mass slaughter ofthat century's two European wars. More recently articles with titles like "The End of Europe" and "The Decline and Fall of Europe" have appeared regularly in the U.S. media. But Europe has continued to show signs of life, creating seeming prosperity and welfare for all, plus six-week vacations.

Still, what if an insidious cancer, long ignored, covered by taboos, too late detected, really did threaten the Old World? Could the obvious exhaustion of Europe's creative juices-virtually all its popular culture today comes from America-its second-rate universities, high unemployment, hand-out mentality, and rising violent crime be the signs of a deep-seated malaise? From being the world's leader in 1900, when it boasted far-flung colonies, great military power, the strongest economy, and a population six times that of the United States, is it destined to become "a cultural theme park, a kind of Disneyland on a level of a certain sophistication for well-to-do visitors from China and India"?

These are the questions that the veteran historian Walter Laqueur poses in his latest work. European-born, polyglot author of more than 20 learned books, mostly about Europe and, lately, terrorism, Laqueur has taught at Georgetown, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins, and chaired the International Research Council of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. After observing Europe professionally for 40-odd years, he decided that it was time, he writes, "for a summing up, as the Europe I have known is in the process of disappearing.... The general direction seems to be clear, and it is not one that fills my heart with great joy.... I hope it will be more than that of a museum."

Recent developments seem to have changed Laqueur's mind considerably. The rosy picture he painted 15 years ago in his Europe in Our Time was full of praise. "The history of postwar Europe," he wrote then, "unlike many other periods in the history of the continent, reads almost like a Hollywood movie of the old-fashioned kind, with all kinds of tensions and conflict but a strikingly happy ending." A spirit of freedom reigned, it had become a civilian superpower and once more a partner in world leadership. He devoted barely two pages to problems posed by new immigrants. Muslim fundamentalism got short shrift. Terrorism was the homegrown variety of Basques, IRA, and Italian Red Brigades, not Islamic jihadists.

That was yesterday. Today Laqueur finds the European economy plagued by slow growth and high taxes, while the European Union is stumbling and trying to find a second wind after the failure of its draft constitution and ill-considered enlargement to 27 members. But what makes Laqueur despair of Europe's future are its demographic decline in the face of uncontrolled immigration, and the turbulent rise of militant Islam.

To illustrate the fast-changing face of Europe, Laqueur takes us on a brief tour of cities and towns being transformed. In Brussels he notes that over half of the children born in 2004 were of immigrant, mainly North African, parents. Bangladeshis are taking over the East End of London, a.k.a. Londonistan, while in Germany's Ruhr over half of the cohort under 30 will soon be non-German, mainly Turkish, in origin. (Note to travelers: A world atlas published by London's Times carefully identifies the country's language as German and Turkish. …