The dark clouds over Europe
Before leaving Sydney a few weeks ago, I half-joked that we were off to Paris to see Europe once again before it disappeared. Now, sitting in the City of Light, that line doesn’t seem in the least bit funny.
Everybody should be intensely worried. The two most important powers, Germany and France, are showing themselves weak-kneed in dealing with the hoards of Africans, Arabs, Afghanis, Bangladeshis, and so on, flooding across the continent. Only the former Soviet-controlled, ex-communist states – Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, etc. – seem to realise the danger and have erected fences to protect their borders. That and, as I like to keep pointing out, the unresolved financial crisis in the Eurozone, should have everyone around the world concerned.
Before heading off, I had become increasingly astonished at the inability of the European Union to protect its borders. After all, Australia had just shown it could be done: a determined government elected in 2013 (under then Prime Minister Toby Abbott) set out to stop what seemed an endless procession of boats from Indonesia carrying “refugees” who had the forethought to destroy their identity papers so no one knew who they were – but that had not stopped the previous Labor government rolling over and letting them stay, anyway. And then they went on to government welfare, a fortune by the standards of their home countries. No wonder the boats kept coming.
Abbott changed all that. He stopped the boats, having the Australian Navy intercept them, either turning the boats around or packing the so-called asylum seekers off to rather unpleasant camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. No free entry, no welfare and the message that under no circumstances would anyone coming by boat ever be automatically in line for residency – no wonder the boats stopped, a lesson that Europe should have heeded but foolishly did not.
And now it has emerged that probably at least two of the terrorists who mounted the Friday attacks in Paris arrived as Syrian “refugees” and were allowed free entry without any attempt to check their stories.
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The first I knew that something was wrong on Friday evening is when I boarded the Metro at about 10.30 pm after we had been at a concert and the train was carrying several French marines with automatic weapons. Turning on the television news back at the hotel revealed why.
On Saturday Paris was like a ghost town. All the museums and the large shops were closed, restaurants were mostly empty (and those that did open in many cases served customers inside only, all the outdoor seats being stacked). Police cars were everywhere, the policemen now with machineguns as well as their side arms.
Sunday was subdued too. We went to the Bois de Boulogne (the large park in central Paris) to take the air on a warm, sunny morning and where, it seemed, half the dogs of Paris were out for their walks. But the Metro used to get there was largely empty. The main cafes on the Avenue de Champs-Elysee, usually packed with tourists, were all closed. We found one small one still open – but we were the only customers.
Monday trade in Asia saw gold spike as high as $16/oz – not surprising.
What has stunned Paris, it would seem from watching news reports (including the English language France 24 news channel), is that the Friday attack was something new. The killings at Charlie Hebdo earlier in the year had some explanation: the magazine had published caricatures of the Prophet. But Friday was an attack on Paris at large.
The best-selling historian Niall Ferguson (now a senior fellow of Hoover Institute) wrote a telling piece in London’s The Sunday Times, in which he equated what is happening now to the fall of the Roman Empire, where the Barbarians slaughtered innocent Romans and a civilization was brought down. He quoted Edward Gibbons’ history of the Roman Enpire: “Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, the helpless”. Sound familiar?
As Ferguson points out, Europeans have let their defence forces become weak.
And there is a lack of resolves, as he points out: “I am not going to say that the world stands with France, for it is a hollow phrase,” he begins. “Nor am I going to applaud Francois Hollande’s pledge of pitiless vengeance, for I do not believe it.”
Nor do I. And bombing Syria is not the answer, especially while the refugee boats continued to disgorge thousands more people on the Greek islands.
I prepare to leave Paris later this week in a mood of profound pessimism. Where are the Winston Churchills and Charles de Gaulles (or, indeed, Harry Trumans) of our age? Alas, nowhere to be found.
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