Francis Fukuyama knows how to toss out an idea that, like a baby rattle, is big enough for small minds to hold onto. And in the past three years, ever since he broke with his fellow neoconservatives and opposed the war in Iraq, he has emerged as one of the most devastating and prescient critics of the Bush administration. So the stars were in alignment for a little drama last night when Fukuyama delivered the National Endowment for Democracy's second annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture at the Canadian Embassy.
Perhaps a few told-you-so's, a little salt in the wounds of his fellow travelers who pushed the United States into a war that has lost the support of the people?
But no. Fukuyama, author of the best-selling 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man," is an academic and intellectual, not a politician, and he's moved on to a new preoccupation: the problem of Islamic terror in Western society. He spoke about it for almost an hour, without lobbing any sound bites or suggesting anything that would make a good book title. If there was a bold statement, it was that the real problem of Islamic terrorism isn't over there, in the Middle East, but in Europe, in the heart of the Western, liberal democratic world, which is producing the very young men who are attacking it -- in London last summer, and in the Netherlands a year ago, when a Dutch filmmaker was brutally murdered by a Dutch-born Muslim.
If Western society is based on tolerance, openness and democratic values, how should it respond to people within its own compass who do not share these values? The problem is particularly disturbing for Fukuyama because in "The End of History," his most widely read book, he argued that the world was coming to consensus about basic, liberal, democratic values. The Soviet Union, which looked invincible, fell apart; so did authoritarian governments in Portugal and Spain and Greece, and throughout Latin America. If history is a struggle for the right kind of society -- liberal democracy -- that struggle was ending. Or so it seemed. But now something is brewing within liberal democracy that threatens to unsettle not just riders of the London underground, but also Fukuyama's own (perhaps overly optimistic) grand thesis.
Building on the ideas of the French scholar Oliver Roy, Fukuyama argues that many Muslims in Europe, particularly second-generation Muslims, are unable to develop a satisfying sense of identity. Unlike the American melting pot, European societies don't integrate outsiders into their particular national fabric; and without the strong sense of identity that comes from living within a Muslim society, young Muslims are simply lost. Along comes Osama bin Laden, who offers them participation in a larger, militant, global Islam, and you have a problem.
Fukuyama even compared bin Laden to Martin Luther, a suggestion that, taken out of context, would inflame just about everyone but atheists. But there's always context, and what Fukuyama is really saying (perhaps) is that to some disaffected Muslims, bin Laden looks like a radical reformer and a visionary, standing astride history, saying no to the oppressive forces that belittle Muslims in a foreign world. European society has abetted his cause because it holds Muslims at arm's length while giving them an unwholesome, neglectful freedom to stew in their alienation, until some cross the line that separates the civilized from the barbaric.
So Fukuyama has a little lecture for the Europeans: Deep-six the multiculturalism. Tolerance should be extended to individuals, not to groups, which will inevitably jockey for more and more recognition, respect and autonomy, at the expense of democratic cohesiveness. At the same time, Europe needs to do a better job at integrating immigrants. Young Muslims need jobs and they need to believe that one day they might be as Dutch as the Dutch or as English as the English.
Muslims, listening to this, may find themselves feeling a bit like simple primitives who need the blessings of a good colonial education. Throughout his speech, and evident in references such as the comparison of Osama bin Laden to Martin Luther, is the sense that Fukuyama looks at Islamic society as fundamentally backward, not quite as far along the march of history as liberal democracy. But given how effectively liberal democracy brews up its own homegrown contempt for democracy, its own religious fundamentalism and authoritarian cravings, perhaps Osama bin Laden isn't a throwback to an old Christian reformer at all. Perhaps he's a man ahead of his time.
Curiously, when Fukuyama wrote "The End of History," nobody paid much attention to the second half of the book's argument and title, "the last man," in which he wondered what would happen to man's need for struggle and glory in a world that was happily, peacefully democratic. For all his optimism about democracy on the ascendancy, Fukuyama worried that some men, the kind that Newt Gingrich said had a biological disposition to go out giraffe hunting, might get lethally annoyed with all the dull, utopian bliss. Man's basic need to assert himself, to demand his props, to assert his will, might jump-start history again. The few, the proud, the bored might well become renegades against democracy.
It was clear that Fukuyama, who loves democracy, also rather admired these hypothetical rebels. But it's also clear he doesn't regard Muslims who take up arms against Western society as quite worthy of this dangerous, decadent, yet sophisticated breed of contrarians. Muslim terrorists are, rather, children of an earlier age, a danger to our own, and a serious theoretical kink in his understanding of the world. It was sobering to realize how far he, and the world, have come since his big book of 1992. There is not even a whiff of romance about these new rebels against modernity.