On Monday night, an Austrian associated with Islamic State—who was arrested last year for attempting to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group—went on a shooting spree in Vienna, killing four and wounding some two dozen more. Daniel Johnson observes:
The [attack’s] lesson should not be lost on any of us: the enemies of Western civilization respect neither borders nor politics. The peoples of Europe stand or fall together—and for these purposes at least, the British are very much still Europeans.
The Viennese had hitherto been spared the terror to which Parisians and Londoners have become accustomed in the past few decades. Taking a longer historical perspective, however, the Austrian capital is no stranger to the clash of Christianity and Islam. Besieged by the Ottomans in the 16th and 17th centuries, Vienna was also Europe’s gateway for Turkish influence, as its coffeehouses still testify. Mozart and Beethoven wrote popular tunes alla turca. By 1900 Vienna had become one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the continent and the Habsburg empire had developed a relatively tolerant relationship with its millions of non-Christian subjects.
Once the imperial city had become the oversized capital of a much-diminished Austria, however, that tolerance seemed to evaporate. No sooner had Hitler annexed his native land in 1938, than [Austrian Jewry] was successively humiliated, expropriated, and murdered. Few of the Jews who escaped ever returned. . . . Anti-Semitism had not ebbed away even long after the Holocaust: it resurfaced in the late 1980s during the Waldheim affair, [when the Austrian president’s involvement in Nazi atrocities during World War II was revealed], and has been exploited by the far right ever since.
We must hope that this week’s rude awakening from Vienna’s dreams of past glory does not lead to a resurgence of past horrors—either in Austria or across Europe.