As a dutiful American columnist, I should probably be pondering the half-baked presumption behind Barack Obama's bizarre "presidential" seal. Or shaking my head at John McCain's hair-trigger panic over an aide's answer to a question about terrorism's political impact. Or clucking over the irresponsibly childish $300 billion goodie bag -- I mean, mortgage bailout bill -- that just passed in the U.S. Senate. But I can't stop thinking about Europe.
No surprise there. I just returned from a swift-moving, fact-finding journey through six European countries. And that tally doesn't even include two side-trips: one to Luxemburg just to buy cheaper diesel fuel (no kidding); and one to the German town of Monschau in the northern Ardennes where my G.I. father, still wearing the summer-weight uniform that perfectly suited Normandy in June of 1944, contracted pneumonia in December of the same year, and was thus taken off the front line for medical treatment just days before the Germans launched their final offensive later known as the Battle of the Bulge. In all, 19,000 Americans were killed.
Sacred soil, you might say. But not necessarily regarded as such in the same way by its native populations. Nearby Belgium and Holland, for example, didn't field armies after they were swiftly occupied by Nazi Germany. That means, as a very perceptive Flemish lady pointed out to me, for many Europeans on this Western front the war was more a civilian matter of personal survival than the military exercise in national sacrifice that the United States and Great Britain in particular underwent.
All these decades later, such basic experiential differences still play out in ways both obvious and subtle in the American and European disconnect on sundry issues and attitudes -- the fissures Americans airily dismiss as anti-Americanism, or perhaps see as doctrinal differences (eroding but historical) over socialism and capitalism. Such differences have helped turn Europe into the European Union, a nation-destroying behemoth both driven and empowered by the infantilizing machinery of the welfare state. Indeed, so shockingly totalitarian is the orientation of the EU, it strikes me that President Bush's misguided effort to democratize the Islamic Middle East might well have been better aimed at liberating the hostage peoples of the Brussels-dominated supra-state.
That said, it's crucial to recognize the precious common ground between the United States and Europe. While on a different plane from those fallow battlefields of the Ardennes, it is also sacred soil. I refer to our shared cultural and historical progressions as civilizations whose ideals are founded on liberty. Such liberty is once again under threat and from an ideological enemy -- the ideology of Islam, which, as spread by a massive influx of Islamic immigration over the past several decades, promises, as historians and writers from Bat Ye'or to Mark Steyn have copiously explained, to transform all of Europe into an Islamic continent.
And what do our presidential candidates think of the strategic ramifications of an Islamic Europe? Who knows? The likely but not inevitable civilizational shift is so far off the U.S. radar screen (with our government keeping it there, what with its recommended lexicon discouraging all terror-related references to Islam) it is invisible. American tourists -- those flush enough to pay their way with Euros, that is (and I didn't see many) -- can still visit the old Europe of gingerbread towns and Gothic cathedrals without noticing much more than a few hijabbed women, signs of Islamization that usually fail to register more than a multicultural nod.
Of course, even many (most?) residents are blind to the staggering changes in progress. This is something I discovered, to take one example, in conversation with a conservative British MEP (Member of European Parliament), who, after nine years of representing a sector of southern England in Brussels, both doubts the existence of "no-go zones" in Britain -- despite the writings on the subject by the Bishop of Rochester -- and has never visited the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. A stone's throw from the ritzy EU environs in which we sat, this Islamic enclave more closely resembles a bustling outpost of the umma than the so-called capital of Europe.
"You ought to get out more," I suggested.
As should we all -- which is why I embarked on this expedition in the first place. In the following weeks, I hope to turn the mountain of raw material I brought home with me into a series of reports from Over There, augmented by interview transcripts and photos that I plan to post at my Web site (dianawest.net).
We have a lot to learn from Europe.