America’s providential dilettantism — our charmed capability for tinkering in a flash of inspiration, only to stop halfway and move on — goes a long way to explaining why, contrary to our popular and elite opinion, the U.S. is from Venus, and Europe from Mars. We lack the gravity, ponderousness, and epochal grandiosity necessary for true imperialism. And that same lack of heavy, statuesque, bog-like characteristics allows us to draw Muslims, like pretty much anyone, swiftly into the restless American present — from the marketplace to the ballot box to our flourishing multiverse of avocations: sex, food, gadgets, arts, and all the rest.
In Europe, the identities that are least compatible with democratic life are the hardest to assimilate. In spite of massive bureaucratic efforts to the contrary, the omnipresence of Europe’s past still tends to heighten, not weaken, those identities. In times of substantial economic pressure, it often weaponizes them. Europe can only hope to “assimilate” Muslims through a common creed expansive enough to include all, but particular enough to resonate as exclusively European. For Christian and post-Christian Europeans, only one such creed has emerged: the French trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
It is hard to be sure how many Muslim Europeans could swiftly submit to that tripartite ideal. But for Americans, it is easy to see that the rest of the world can’t snap its fingers and become just like us — a hard but vital lesson for citizens and policymakers alike.