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The New Inquisition | The Nation

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The New Inquisition

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Caldwell also suggests that Muslims are far more likely to commit violence against women. Under the heading "Virginity and violence," he writes that "there were forty-five [honor killings] in Germany alone in the first half of the decade." Since the argument here is that Muslims are more inclined to commit homicides against women in the context of "some trespass against sexual propriety," it would have been helpful if Caldwell had included, for the sake of contrast, the number of ethnic German women killed in incidents of domestic violence, as well as numbers for an entirely distinct and recent immigrant group, such as Eastern Europeans. Without such empirical comparisons, it is difficult to see how he can reach the conclusion he does, which is that "such acts make law. They assert sovereignty over a certain part of European territory for a different sexual regime." The label "honor killing" makes violence against women and girls sound like an exotic import rather than the pernicious and all-too-frequent reality that it is. Caldwell doesn't mention that domestic violence has been treated as a criminal problem in Europe thanks to the work of European feminists in the 1960s and '70s, and that now European Muslim feminists are working to create a similar zero-tolerance level about honor killings. Encouragingly, a recent Gallup study found that Muslims in Paris, Berlin and London disapproved of honor killings and crimes of passion about as much as the general French, German and British populations.

About the Author

Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami, the author of Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, is an associate professor of creative...

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One of Caldwell's frequent arguments is that Europeans should be worried about the Islamization of their continent because Muslim women are having children in greater numbers than non-Muslims. As proof for this claim, he cites a working paper from the Vienna Institute of Demography. But recent studies show that birthrates among European Muslim women are declining sharply; for instance, the fertility rate in the Netherlands for Moroccan-born women fell from 4.9 to 2.9 between 1990 and 2005. Turkish-born women had 3.2 children in 1990 and 1.9 in 2005. Similar patterns have been observed in France and Germany. Martin Walker, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, points out that, "broadly speaking, birthrates among immigrants tend to rise or fall to the local statistical norm within two generations." Moreover, the Financial Times, the newspaper for which Caldwell is a columnist, recently published an article that belied all the alarmist claims about Muslim birthrates, concluding, "in short, Islamicisation--let alone sharia law--is not a demographic prospect for Europe."

The fundamental problem with Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is that Caldwell focuses exclusively on the problems with Muslim immigrants without stepping back to assess the general status of the European Muslim community. While he frequently denounces idleness, urban separation and crime by Muslims, he does not see fit to devote any space to the discrimination they face in employment, housing or the justice system, or the successes they have had in fields like science, sports, arts and entertainment. The French even have a term for this wave of young successful Muslims; they call it beurgeoisie. (The word beur is French slang for "North African.")

This flaw in Caldwell's approach is, unfortunately, entirely intentional. Reflections, he writes in his introduction, is a book about Europe, immigration and the place of Islam and Muslims in it, not "a book about the difficulties faced by immigrants and ethnic minorities." He stresses that he will use the term "native" to refer to those of European blood and "immigrant" to refer to those who are from outside Europe, even when they have been citizens of European countries for two or three generations. But by simplifying his terminology and focusing exclusively on the problems immigrants cause, not on those they face, Caldwell has tilted the scales: he does not present a complete view of the relationship between immigrant and native. On the rare occasions (I counted two) when he does mention discrimination, it is to minimize it: "There was certainly measurable discrimination in the European job and housing markets, although it was mild alongside what one might have found in the United States four decades ago." How easy it is to dismiss discrimination when one is not on the receiving end of it. But the statistics on job discrimination defy minimization: while 27 percent of beur university graduates are unemployed in France, the overall unemployment rate for university graduates is just 5 percent.

In effect, this lack of context mirrors the way Muslim immigrants (even those in second and third generations, or those who are probably Muslim in name only) are talked about in newspapers and magazines, on the radio and television: their religion is at the center of any discussion, as if the only thing that defines their political convictions, their votes, their relationship with their neighbors, with people of other religions or with members of the opposite sex is their ability to tell their nisab from their khums.

The thesis that only Islam is to blame for Muslims' supposed inability to assimilate in Europe is far too simplistic to stand the test of reality. In fact, it's just as simplistic as the argument peddled by the Muslim right wing, which is that Islam is the only cure for whatever ails Muslims. When one looks at Muslims on another continent (America, say) the pattern that Caldwell insists has been replicated throughout Europe (ghettoization, crime, violence against women, a resurgence of anti-Semitism, homegrown terrorism and demands for accommodation) does not obtain. In fact, income and education levels of Muslims in America mirror those of the general public. But save for two paragraphs, which appear ten pages before the end of the book, Caldwell avoids this comparison, presumably because it does not fit with his theory.

Caldwell does contrast Muslim immigration to Europe with Latin immigration to America. "The cultural peculiarities of Latin American immigrants," he argues, "are generally antiquated versions of American ones. Latinos have less money, higher labor-force participation, more authoritarian family structures, lower divorce rates, more frequent church attendance...lousier diets, and higher rates of military enlistment than native-born Americans." This, he says, makes Latino culture "perfectly intelligible to any patient American who has ever had a conversation about the past with his parents." But intelligibility did not prevent Glenn Beck from claiming that immigrants were "trying to conquer our culture" or Lou Dobbs from suggesting that the "invasion of illegal aliens" was responsible for a huge (and undocumented) rise in leprosy cases in the United States. The scholar Anouar Majid has cataloged many similarities between the treatment of Latino immigrants in the United States and Muslim immigrants in Europe in his book We Are All Moors. Ironically, Caldwell behaves much like a new convert to a religion: having found an ideology he agrees with, he looks only for the evidence that confirms his beliefs and disregards everything else.

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