Best columns: Europe
An Islamist porn star as a spy
German intelligence is now an oxymoron, said Mirko Heuping. Our domestic spy agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), revealed last week that it mistakenly hired an Islamist radical—and then tasked him with monitoring dangerous Islamists. The man, 51, was a secret convert to Islam, and though married to a woman had a past as a gay porn actor. None of this was caught during the agency’s supposedly thorough vetting of the new recruit. The BfV realized its mistake only when an agent monitoring an Islamist site noticed the mole bragging about how he had penetrated the spy agency and how he could use his position to help the Islamist cause. “Nobody knows how much information he put in the wrong hands” or how much the Islamist community now knows about our spying methods. As if to insult Germans’ intelligence, the BfV is now trying to spin its exposure of the breach “as proof that its safeguards are working.” We don’t buy it. The whole story reads as satire. Germany faces a real threat from Islamist terror. The arrested spy was allegedly plotting to blow up the BfV headquarters in Cologne. “How can the agency protect Germany from terrorist attacks if it can’t even manage to keep its own office clean?”
Can’t we have secular education?
Irish parents are desperate for an alternative to Catholic school, said Linnea Dunne. Nearly all public schools in Ireland are still run by the Church, and Catholic dogma permeates the curriculum. While parents are allowed to opt their children out of religious education classes, that’s hardly a solution, because the child then feels ostracized. Many non-Catholic children are already estranged from their classmates because they are forced to attend Catholic schools far away from home, without their local friends. That’s because Catholic schools tend to fill up quickly with local churchgoing Catholics, who get preferential admission. Sure, there are a few secular schools, run by the group Educate Together, but just try to get your kid into one. When I called up to register my son, I was told, “He’s got place 432 in the queue” and not the faintest hope of a spot. In the next town over, “parents were queuing overnight for a place in the only Educate Together secondary school within a 30-minute drive.” Any child whose parents can’t do that, or can’t drive them to school—a poor immigrant child, for example— is out of luck. Surely we can do better than an education system that requires families to have “luck and social capital” to succeed?
Austria: Holding back the populist wave, for now
The “other Austria” has shouted a resounding “no” to the far right, said Alexandra Föderl-Schmid in Der Standard. In the presidential election runoff this week, Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen won nearly 54 percent of the vote, handily beating Norbert Hofer of the ultraright, anti-EU Freedom Party. Hofer’s party was originally formed after World War II by unrepentant ex-Nazis, and it still stands for ethnic-German nationalism and xenophobia. While most Austrians don’t support the far-left ideas espoused by the Greens, left, right, and center chose Van der Bellen as the “lesser of two evils.” It was a clear rebuke to the politics of hatred and exclusion.
Most experts thought that Austria would succumb to the international trend toward anti-immigrant populism, said Manfred Perterer in the Salzburger Nachrichten. In recent months, the British embraced narrow nationalism with their vote to exit the European Union; the Americans followed with their election of Donald Trump; and the Italians joined in this week with their rejection of center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Austria is different because we have experienced the repercussions of electing the far right in our recent past. In 2000, Austria was suspended from the EU after the Freedom Party—which the EU said didn’t support the basic values of the European family— joined a coalition government, and it is “still smarting from the experience.” Austrians are also a conservative people who “hate change,” and Hofer came across as a radical. That’s why this nation declared that “it wants no part of Trumpism.”
But for how long? asked Rainer Nowak in Die Presse. The republic “had to mobilize all its resources” to defeat Hofer, with the entire political establishment and virtually all of the media plumping for Van der Bellen. Yet 46 percent of voters still chose Hofer. The long election season— which lasted a full year, because the election had to be run twice due to irregularities in absentee ballot printing—saw a surge in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries. That won’t soon ebb, and neither will the Freedom Party’s popularity. Parliamentary elections are due in 2018, and the party’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, has already promised, “Our time is coming.”
That’s why the political mainstream must come up with “a credible counterpopulist message,” said Paul Schmidt in the Wiener Zeitung. Austrians are worried about terrorism, about Muslim immigration, about the 90,000 asylum seekers who arrived last year in this nation of 8.3 million people. Citizens need to hear that their leaders have “the openness and honesty to name the challenges and solve them.” It’s time for a national conversation on what benefits the EU brings to us, and what limits on integration and immigration might be acceptable or desirable. An open society that cooperates closely with its neighbors is “good for all of us.” If we don’t remind one another of that, Europe could once again fragment into selfish little fiefdoms.