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The revelations (or perhaps they are still accusations) that members of the Belgian police force engaged in a sex orgy during the lockdown of Brussels a few weeks ago (prompted by credible reports of an ISIS terror-plot) initially made me laugh. I laughed raucously, along with everyone else, muttering between giggles things like ‘ah Belgians’, ‘ah Europeans’, or even (with conscious inaccuracy) “ah French people’. This is the kind of behaviour English people expect from Continentals. We lazily imagine the citizens of France, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands (in particular) to be laid-back, cheese-eating nudists; sex-crazed, free-loving atheists; adulterous young poets or elderly lotharios etc.. Such pleasant stereotyping is as old and as traditional as the ingredients of a Cornish pasty.
But after laughing, I was soon overcome with sadness. I couldn’t help but contrast the lovably liberal antics alleged with the reason for their supposed practitioners coming together in the first place. If the charges are true (and I have no way of knowing either way), then the contrast is at once horrifying and revealing. European people of the 21st century engaging in the ultimate acts of liberated modernity, all while their society is menaced by those who would execute a woman for showing too much elbow. When these two ways of living are placed so dramatically and starkly side by side, I can’t help but feel an intense protective anger for my civilisation as a whole.
We are as far away from the Muslims as can possibly be imagined. They are right to call us infidels; for by the standards of their doctrine, we are actively flouting every rotten thing they stand for. We cannot possibly reconcile the Belgian way of life – with all its transgression and experiment – with the Flintstone prohibitions and prudishness of the Salafist (my spellcheck is being Islamophobic here – suggesting I mean ‘salami’) hordes. And I don’t think this incompatibility has ever been expressed so clearly, so beautifully as it was in the situation described.
I love and value the European mindset; the relaxed, pot-smoking, Sartre-reading, café-haunting intellectualism that is so superior to the stuffy Victorianism of our own. I would miss it terribly were it to vanish, or be vulgarised into a spiked fascism of necessity (as may happen in the future).
In tune with this, Bill Maher, US comedian and master of contradiction, caught my attention last year when he reported his fear that European tolerance was under threat from Islam, and not just its political stability or security. This is surely the main issue for us going into this new year. Indeed, this is the great challenge for our generation. To fight effectively against the virus afflicting our society, while preserving the very cause of our infection; namely, our tolerance, our brightside thinking and openness to new ideas.
How I miss Pim Fortuyn more with every year that passes! He saw this all so clearly. But he’s gone now, gone for good, and we have no leader with the clarity of mind to lead us into battle.
Happy New Year.