As 2016 ended, then, Western Europe's current leaders had a lot to answer for. And because most of their countries have a tradition of broadcasting a brief year's-end address by the head of state or government – which a remarkable number of Western Europeans are in the habit of watching – those leaders also had a golden opportunity to speak directly to their people about the events of the past year and about hopes and concerns for the year to come. So what did they have to say for themselves?
Speaking on New Year's Eve, Angela Merkel got right down to business, stating at the outset that at present Germany's #1 challenge is “undoubtedly Islamic terrorism.” Of all the leaders whose year-end speeches I read or watched, I'm pretty sure she was the only one who actually used the words “Islamic terrorism.” Full points for that. Alas, Angela was quick to proclaim that the way to oppose the terrorists' hate was by turning the other cheek – and keeping the borders open. Echoing Hillary Clinton, she affirmed: “We're stronger together.” François Hollande followed much the same formula, lamenting the year's “terrible attacks” in Nice and elsewhere but saying that while the terrorists “wanted to divide” France, the French people had refused to engage in “stigmatization” and shown that they were (guess what?) “stronger together.” Hollande closed with a warning: if Marine Le Pen's National Front wins this year's election, France will “no longer be French.” Hey, look around you, M. Hollande: thanks to you and your crowd, France is becoming less and less French every day.
Then there were the European royals, whose speeches were likely written (or at least vetted) by their respective governments but who do have some personal leeway in deciding what to say. These are people whose job it is to serve as living symbols of their respective nations and of those nations' histories, cultures, and values. And what did they have to say in this time of deepening anxiety?
Most admirable, perhaps, was Queen Elizabeth, who, speaking on Christmas Day, actually mentioned Jesus Christ and described herself unashamedly as a follower of Christ “because Christ's example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love.” Of course the Queen is famously tight-lipped – and, in any case, no Prime Minister would ever let her openly express apprehension about the Religion of Peace – but she managed to communicate something important, I think, simply by referencing her personal religious belief and reminding viewers of her role as Head of the Church.
Other crowned heads were less impressive. In Belgium, King Philippe admitted that this year's terrorism in Brussels and Zaventem caused some Belgians to have “doubt about the future”; but he offered what he called “a message of hope,” pointing out that all over the country, people are taking care of the elderly, abused, disabled, etc. – actions which “show that a more cordial society is within our reach.” So there, all you gloomy Gusses! Also fatuously sanguine was Sweden's Carl XVI Gustaf, whose once safe and prosperous nation has probably already been Islamized beyond repair. He began his oration by acknowledging that these are “times with great challenges.” What “challenges”? Why, global warming, naturally: “The temperature in the sea and on land continues to rise.” To be sure, after rattling on at length about water shortages and “environmentally friendly forestry,” the king finally mentioned “terrorism, armed conflicts, and insecurity,” which, he noted, can make people “feel concern about the future.” But, he insisted, “we can't let fear run our everyday lives.” Mentioning “an ecumenical worship service” (i.e., Protestant and Catholic) that he attended during a recent papal visit, he claimed that this experience of religious unity gave him “hope for the future” – as if comity among Christians had anything whatsoever to do with the dark reality of Islam. The king added that some time in 2017, Sweden will acquire its ten millionth inhabitant, and that individual, whether newborn or immigrant, will be “a part of our common future.” Maybe. But the question, Your Majesty, is how much of a future your own democratic constitutional monarchy has. Let's just say it's not looking good.
Equally lame was King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who started his Christmas address by acknowledging (in a general, unspecific way) Europe's current horrors: “Extreme seems to be the new normal.” But he then seemed to draw a moral equivalence between the invading hordes and the fearful natives: “Searching for security, groups dig into their own certainty. That often makes an open conversation impossible.” There it was, the same old European illusion of “open conversation” – dialogue, that sacred thing – as a cure-all. Like Philippe and Carl Gustav, Willem-Alexander had something to say to those who, as he put it, “have doubts about the future.” His message: they're idealizing the past, indulging in “nostalgia” for a time that was really “less rosy” than we think. Also, “many issues we are now so worried about, on closer inspection, are less serious than we sometimes think.” Briefly put: don't worry, be happy. Hey, king: tell that to Geert Wilders, who has to live with bodyguards around the clock and whom your own courts just found guilty for saying the very things you should be saying in place of all this claptrap. In any event, it's rather galling to see a guy who lives in a well-guarded palace telling his increasingly unsafe subjects to calm down. But what can you expect from a guy whose mother, Beatrix, responded to the jihadist butchering of Theo van Gogh by rushing to a Moroccan community center to demonstrate her dhimmi docility?
King Harald of Norway, too, lived down to expectations. Recalling a schoolgirl who'd written to him that it's “important to maintain old traditions,” he recounted an interfaith Palace event at which he and his guests “shared thoughts, cultural expressions, and food from various religious treasure chests” and thereby “came closer to one another and understood one another better.” That reference to foreign foods being kept in “religious treasure chests” perfectly reflects the tendency of condescending European elites to reduce Islam to exotic cookery and clothing – to equate kebab with the Koran. And of course we're all used to seeing those same elites, who may or may not actually understand anything at all about Islam, use the word “understanding” in the way Harald did, as a sort of synonym for “socializing.” Harald concluded with this bromide: “If we wish each other well, a lot of magical things can happen.” Good luck with that.
(In her own New Year's remarks, Harald's prime minister, Erna Solberg, maintained that “even though we live in a time of insecurity, I feel optimism.” Why? She mentioned a scientist who's doing cutting-edge research on cancer. But this was just prelude to her protracted, gushing praise for another Norwegian hero – Aisha Ali Mohammed, a hijab-wearing woman who is none other than Oslo's first female Somali bus driver: “If you are lucky enough to ride on her bus, I hope you will give her a warm smile.” Can you say “the soft bigotry of low expectations”?)
Finally, there was Denmark's Queen Margrethe, who's smarter and gutsier than her Belgian, Dutch, Swedish, and Norwegian counterparts put together, and, owing to her customary forthrightness, perhaps even more praiseworthy than Liz II. Speaking on New Year's Eve, Margrethe addressed immigration in a more honest way than any of these leaders, stipulating that refugees who come to Denmark, “must understand” that they've settled in a country “where not only the climate is entirely different but where the way of life and the customs are different, and have a long history and deep roots.” Newcomers must fit in, and that takes hard work – learning Danish, acquainting oneself with Danish traditions, holding down a job, raising one's children well, and, generally speaking, “feeling at home in Denmark.” Margrethe's insistence on responsible assimilation and the primacy of Danish values was underscored by her praise for Danish soldiers who fight terrorism and for all those who labor to “preserve Danish culture, tradition, and history.” In short, a class act by a woman who loves her country and its values, who recognizes the threats thereto, who understands her duty as sovereign, and who in her New Year's speech managed, within constitutional confines, to speak up for freedom and patriotism and, implicitly, against sharia and jihad. If only Western Europe had more royals – and politicians – like her.