Two weeks after the terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005, in London, a student, Jean Charles de Menezes, was in the London Underground when plainclothes police officers gave chase and shot him seven times in the head. Initial eyewitness reports said he was wearing a suspiciously large puffa jacket on a hot day and had vaulted the barriers and run when asked to stop. Mark Whitby, who was at the station, thought he saw a Pakistani terrorist being gunned down by plainclothes policemen. Less than a month later, Whitby said, “I now believe that I could have been looking at the surveillance officer” being thrown out of the way as Menezes was being killed.
The Pakistani turned out to be a Brazilian. Security cameras showed he was wearing a light denim jacket and in no rush as he picked up a free paper and swiped his card.”The way we see things is affected by what we know and what we believe,” wrote John Berger in Ways of Seeing. When some Western commentators see a terrorist attack, they are apparently far more comfortable with what they believe than what they know.
So it was on Friday when news emerged of the attacks in Norway that have left an estimated seventy-six dead and a nation traumatized. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun in Britain ran with the headline “Al Qaeda Massacre: Norway’s 9/11.” The Weekly Standard insisted, “We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra.” Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post claimed: “This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.” In just a few hours an entire conceptual framework had been erected—though hardly from scratch—to discuss the problem of Muslims in particular and nonwhite immigration in Europe in general, and the existential threat these problems pose to civilization as we know it.
Then came the news that the terrorist was a white Christian and a neo-Nazi, Anders Breivik, raging against Islam and multiculturalism. Actually, the bombings—and the presumptions about who was responsible—suggest that the true threat to European democracy is not Islam or Muslims but fascism and racists.
The belief that Muslims must have been involved chimes easily with a distorted, hysterical understanding of the demographic, religious and racial dynamics that have been present in Europe for well over a generation. The general framing goes like this: Europe is being overrun by Muslim immigrants, who are outbreeding non-Muslims at a terrifying rate. Unwilling to integrate culturally and unable to compete intellectually, Muslim communities have become hotbeds of terrorist sympathy and activity. Their presence threatens not only security but the liberal European consensus regarding women’s rights and gay rights; overall, this state of affairs represents a fracturing of society, which is losing its common values. This has been allowed to happen in the name of not offending specific ethnic groups, otherwise known as multiculturalism.
One could spend all day ripping these arguments to shreds, but for now let’s just deal with the facts.
There have been predictions that the Muslim population of Europe will almost double by 2015 (Oner Taspiner, the Brookings Institution); double by 2020 (Don Melvin, the Associated Press); and be 20 percent of the continent by 2050 (Esther Pan, Council on Foreign Relations). Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches, “The number I heard is every 32 years the population, the European population of Europe will be reduced by 50 percent. That’s how bad their birthrates are. This is in many respects a dying continent from the standpoint of European-Europeans.”