A shrinking and aging Europe keeps drawing in young Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. They want out of their impoverished Islamic homelands but are being consumed by, rather than enriching, the wealthier European societies to which they are drawn like moths to a flame. The recent rioting in Sweden, the gruesome near-beheading of a soldier in London, and periodic unrest in the French suburbs all remind us that the Mediterranean is not a shared postmodern vacation getaway. Instead it is increasingly a stagnant premodern pond of religious, political, and economic tensions.
Unrest in the West Bank, Gaza, Cyprus, Syria, Libya, and Egypt could at any moment spark violence that cuts across religious, racial, and political fault lines. Otherwise, these tired hotspots are immaterial to a world that from Shanghai, Mumbai, and Seoul to Palo Alto, Houston, London, and Frankfurt is creating vast new wealth, technologies, and consumer goods without much of a nod to Mediterranean science or innovation.
The old strategic fortresses at Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Malta, and Gibraltar are becoming inconsequential as the United States pivots to Asia. The Cold War is long over. Europe has all but disarmed. Meanwhile, societies on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are coming apart at the seams.
It is hard to find a robust free-market economy anywhere in the Mediterranean these days. Instead European socialism, Arab statism, and Islamic terrorism are in various ways retarding commerce and growth. Mediterranean tourism -- with visitors gazing at ancient rather than modern wonders -- is more profitable than manufacturing.
Will the Mediterranean world rebound again? History is usually more cyclical than linear, and the region's favorable climate and opportune geography suggest that it could.
Before we see another Mediterranean renaissance, constitutional government must sweep the Muslim world. The fossilized bureaucracy of the European Union must radically reform or disappear. A new generation of Michelangelos and da Vincis must believe that they can think, say, and write whatever they wish in a climate of economic confidence, prosperity, and security.
Unfortunately, Mediterranean culture is reverting to its stagnant 18th-century past rather than leading the 21st century.