WORLD MATTERS: An Edmund Burke conservative in Europe protests Brexit ‘bigotry’ by U.S. conservatives

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By Uwe Siemon-Netto

Of the half-billion people living in the European Union, 440 million are not British. These 440 million all live in functioning democracies. Most of those 27 countries are members of NATO, and therefore allies of the United States. And they sent soldiers to fight on the side of their U.S. and U.K. allies in Afghanistan.

But you wouldn’t know this from reading American newspapers, or listening to American radio and television, or to conservative commentators and politicians, especially when they opine about Britain’s decision to leave the E.U. To write that Germany maintains the third-largest troop contingent in Afghanistan, and that the French, the Italians, the Danes, Norwegians and others also fought there, would weaken the conservative narrative of what feckless and ungrateful friends we Europeans are, the word “European” usually pronounced with a sneer.

Brex10Ah, and here is something else: Many of our countries have conservative governments, and on our Continent you will find catacombs filled with a fair number of conservatives in the tradition of Edmund Burke (1729-1797). I am one of them.

I believe, like Burke, that democracy turns into ochlocracy, the rule of the rabble, if it is not based on Christian values and the belief in divine providence in history. This is entirely in line with the cultural history of my own country, Germany.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe warned against mob rule, as did Luther who stated categorically, “The rabble possesses no reason.”

I presume that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter and chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, was driven by this principle when allowing 1.1 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees into her country last year. To do so might have been politically imprudent, but in was nonetheless a courageous decision by one of the rare world leaders not equipped with a jaded mind.

She did not do this because “it might be fine for Germany,” as British historian Andrew Roberts averred derisively in the Wall Street Journal. Instead she acted according to a “humanitarian imperative,” as she herself has said. She made her controversial decision after seeing on television bodies of refugee children washed ashore by the Aegean Sea.

Is it a coincidence that conservative commentators in the U.S. deem neither this nor a most troubling aspect of the post-Brexit drama in Britain worthy of consideration: a mob rule reminiscent of the nineteen-thirties in Germany?

Within one week after the Brexit referendum, the rate of hate-crimes increased by 57 percent. Polish and Lithuanian immigrants in the U.K. are being physically attacked or accosted as “vermin,” a slur the Nazis directed against Jews and, yes, Poles when I was a child. Polish children are beaten up on playgrounds. Vile graffiti has been smeared on a Polish cultural center in West London.

The Internet is rife with threats against foreigners such as, “You have 49 hours to f**k off.” The radio station LBC receives a desperate call from Karin, the elderly German, born widow of an English physician saying, “I am so afraid.” The door to her house has been covered with dog feces. Her neighbors, once friendly, now shun her.

And all this is happening while jubilant messages circulating on the Web saying, “God bless the Brits!”

Gillian, my wife of 54 years, is British and a conservative, as are many of our friends, all depressed over what is happening in their country where voters decided to quit the E.U. based on manifest lies, including the calumny painted on the Brexit campaign buses claiming that it costs the U.K. 350 million pounds per week to remain in the European Union, when the actual figure is 100 million pounds.

This is something for the next British government and its soon-to-be former partners in the E.U. to sort out. As for the conservatives in the United States, I believe that they might have to answer their fellow conservatives in Europe a number of questions: Whence your bigotry against us? Why don’t your mouthpieces in the media ever call on us, if only to hear “the other side,” as is good journalistic practice; some of us speak and write English rather well, you know? What naiveté make so many of you believe in a glorious all-Anglophone future on the side of a bride without bothering to first consult her previous suitors.

Britain was once comely bride, but of late she has been behaving like a snarling shrew too frenzied to work with the rest of us to iron out Europe’s many flaws.

As a conservative believing in the work of divine providence in history, like Burke, I am convinced that she will snap out of this in time. To wait for this requires patience, which we European conservatives possess. But patience is not known to be the mark of Americans, including U.S. conservatives, which is why they glibly dismiss 440 million Europeans in order to cook up an unsatisfactory worldview of their own, Nescafé-style.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 60 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Capistrano Beach, California.