A protester throws a tear gas canister back at the police during a "yellow vests' demonstration near the Arc de Triomphe on December 8, 2018 in Paris France. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
For years, those of us who write and worry about the rise of Islam in Western Europe have known that eventually, if the governments of these countries did not change course dramatically, something had to give. So far, the natives had, for the most part, been remarkably tame. They had swallowed a lot. Their leaders had filled their countries with huge numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, a disproportionate number of whom were making it clear that they had no intention of fully joining or contributing to their host societies but, rather, were content to take, to harm, to damage, and to destroy, and were determined, in the long run, to conquer and rule.
No one had ever asked the citizens of Western Europe whether they wanted their countries radically transformed in this manner. This transformation, moreover, was intensifying by the year. At some point, surely, the native peoples of Western Europe would react.
But what form would it take? Those of us who are professionally preoccupied with these topics spent untold hours pondering this question. We asked one another: what do you think will happen? Some prophesied Balkanization. Already there were no-go zones – enclaves in and around major cities where "infidels" were unwelcome and where police and fire personnel were routinely pelted with rocks if they dared to intrude. It was easy enough to imagine those areas expanding, their de facto sovereignty under sharia law officially recognized and some kind of relatively stability established. Other observers forecast riots by natives -- not the elites whose personal lives were minimally affected by the Muslim presence in their countries, but the less privileged types whose neighborhoods and schools had become danger zones, whose taxes had been raised repeatedly to bankroll massive payouts to immigrant-group members, and whose doctors and hospitals had been so overburdened by the newcomers that vital treatments were increasingly rationed and waiting times increasingly long.
In 2016, the British shocked the world by voting for Brexit, and later the same year Americans pulled off an even bigger stunner by electing Donald Trump to the presidency. Some commentators expected that elections in France, Sweden, and the Netherlands would also yield sensational results, but although there were advances for parties that favor immigration controls, such as Marine Le Pen's National Rally (formerly National Front), the Sweden Democrats, and Geert Wilders's Freedom Party and Thierry Baudet's Forum for Democracy, both in the Netherlands, those gains were smaller than expected. On the other hand, last year the Austrians elected as their Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a vocal opponent of EU-imposed asylum quotas, and this year the Italian premiership went to Giuseppe Conte, who takes a strong stance against illegal immigrants and has barred migrant ships from Italian ports.
The most important news on this front, however, has not been at the ballot box. This year Brits expressed growing outrage over Theresa May's bungled Brexit and, during the summer, took to the streets to protest the illegitimate incarceration of Tommy Robinson, who in that country had become the very face of resistance to Islamization. Furthermore, in recent weeks, citizens of France from across the political spectrum, and mostly hailing from small towns and rural areas, have been engaged not just in standard-issue public protests -- that perennial Gallic recreational activity -- but have been rioting and committing acts of vandalism in Paris and other major cities, despoiling iconic locations such as the Champs-Elysées, forcing the Eiffel Tower and Louvre to close, and even causing damage to the Arc de Triomphe.
At first it was reported that the French rioters were angry about a hike in fuel taxes that had been motivated by President Emmanuel Macron's environmental priorities. "The price of gas has become incredible," Ghislain Coutard, credited with starting the so-called Yellow Vests movement, said the other day, then cited friends who "are barely surviving" because of the costs of owning a car. "The smallest problem with the car becomes a catastrophe," he explained. "You have to go into debt and then it never ends." Unfortunately, even after Macron, realizing he had overreached, canceled the tax hike, the rioting continued.
Journalists have had trouble getting clear and concise explanations from the rioters of their motives and goals. Perhaps the rioters cannot find the words -- perhaps they are expressing a rage that they have yet to be able to articulate. Or perhaps they are reluctant to speak their minds out loud for fear of being called xenophobes, Islamophobes, or racists. In an interview the other day, the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut attributed the riots to economic and cultural insecurity on the part of the ethnically French lower and middle classes -- people who have been driven out of the major city centers by rising rents, who have seen their jobs and small businesses destroyed by "green" taxes and regulations, who feel they have lost a power struggle with Muslim immigrants, and who sense that their ruling classes have more sympathy for immigrants than for them.
Now the riots have spread to Belgium and the Netherlands. There, too, the rioters' goals can be elusive. The Associated Press quoted one older Dutch women's complaint about high taxes, the housing shortage, and the loss of welfare benefits: "The social welfare net we grew up with is gone," she said. "The government is not there for the people. It is there to protect its own interests." Of course, those "interests" include prioritizing freebies for immigrants at the expense of Dutch people who have put in a lifetime of work. Even today, however, for many Western European natives, it can be easier to be an insurrectionist than to speak honestly about Islam and immigration.
Will these riots spread even further? Somehow it is hard to picture ordinary Scandinavians rioting -- they are just too low-key. Their idea of public demonstration is a quiet candlelight vigil. As for Germans, they are too orderly to erupt in spontaneous uprisings. Yes, they are good at marching in lockstep to the orders of some hysterical fascist maniac, but they are not individually inclined to break into violence. Then again, that impression may be wrong. After all, it was quite a surprise to see so many ordinarily polite, even repressed, Britons piling into London squares to voice their solidarity with Tommy Robinson. So maybe these French riots will spread across Western Europe. Maybe this is it -- the start of the Western European public's pushback against the elites' disastrous multicultural and globalist project. Or maybe it is just one more step that is bringing us closer to the continent's day of reckoning. We shall find out soon enough.
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. His other books include A Place at the Table (1993), Stealing Jesus (1997), Surrender (2009), and The Victims' Revolution (2012). A native New Yorker, he has lived in Europe since 1998.