JAMES WHITLOW DELANO/REDUX
At a literary festival in New York City some years ago, I was introduced to a French writer who, almost immediately after we shook hands, asked me where I was from. When the answer was “Morocco,” he put down his drink and stared at me with anthropological curiosity. We spoke about literature, of course, and discovered a common love for the work of the South African writer J.M. Coetzee, but before long the conversation had turned to Moroccan writers, then to Moroccan writers in France, and then, as I expected it eventually would, to Moroccan immigrants in France–at which point the French writer declared, “If they were all like you, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
His tone suggested he was paying me some sort of compliment, though I found it odd that he would want the 1 million Moroccans in his country to be carbon copies of someone he had barely met and whose views on immigration–had he asked about them–he might not have found quite to his liking. It was only later, when I had returned to my hotel room, that it dawned on me that the profile of the unproblematic Moroccan immigrant he might have had in mind was based solely on conspicuous things. Some of these, like skin color, were purely accidental; others, like sartorial choices or dietary practices, were in my opinion inessential, but from his vantage point perhaps they suggested a smaller degree of “Muslimness.”
Was this man really suggesting that I was a more desirable immigrant because I did not look Muslim? We had started our conversation as two equals, two potential friends, two writers discussing literature, but we had ended it as judge and supplicant–the former telling the latter whether or not she would make a suitable immigrant. And why on earth did I not say something on the spot? Why did I not ask him what he meant? Instead, I had stared back at him with what I imagine was dumbfounded perplexity, and then changed the subject. Perhaps if I had confronted him I would have been able to remove the sting of the insult that had lain hidden inside the compliment.
In any case, the man’s assertion was a purely theoretical speculation. In practice, there is little evidence that even inconspicuous Muslims are fully accepted in France, or elsewhere in Europe. This was made abundantly clear in September, when Le Monde released video footage from an encounter between Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister of France, and Amine Benalia-Brouch, a young Algerian-French activist. Hortefeux and Benalia-Brouch, who were both attending the summer congress of the center-right party Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, were asked to pose for a photograph. A female onlooker touched Benalia-Brouch on the cheek and, in a voice ringing with approbation, said, “[Benalia-Brouch] is Catholic. He eats pork and drinks beer.” “That is true,” replied Benalia-Brouch, smiling. “He is our little Arab,” the woman continued. Hortefeux added, “Very well. We always need one. When there’s one, that’s all right. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.”
However offensive Hortefeux’s statements may be, they are not particularly remarkable. In French politics, anti-immigrant posturing is something of a rite, often performed at the height of election season. When he was still mayor of Paris, and preparing to run for the presidency under the banner of the center-right party Rassemblement pour la République, Jacques Chirac bemoaned the plight of the “French worker,” who was driven “mad” by “the noise and the smell” of the immigrant family next door, “with a father, three or four wives, twenty kids, taking in 50,000 Francs in welfare payments without working.” After serving a term as president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing took to the pages of Le Figaro Magazine to argue passionately that citizenship laws needed to replace the “right of land” (jus soli, automatic citizenship for those born on French soil) with the “right of blood” (jus sanguinis, citizenship determined through French ancestry). If such a distinction were not made, he warned, France would face “an invasion.” The “right of blood” definition of citizenship, depending on how it is interpreted, could have ruled out the writer Alexandre Dumas, the footballer Michel Platini, the actress Isabelle Adjani, the physicist Marie Curie, the composer Maurice Ravel, the singer Charles Aznavour, as well as Nicolas Sarkozy, the current president of France, but perhaps Giscard d’Estaing felt his country could have done without any of them. (France eliminated the jus soli definition of citizenship in 1993 and then reinstated it in a limited form in 1997.)
In 2002 Manuel Valls, the mayor of Evry and a member of the Parti Socialiste, shot to national prominence when he tried to close down a halal supermarket because it did not carry pork or wine. He claimed the store had to “help us maintain some diversity.” Two years before his election to the presidency in 2007, Sarkozy promised he would “hose down” the “scum” of the Paris suburbs, where many of the city’s Muslims reside. Declarations such as these cut across party lines and constitute what the French press euphemistically calls dérapages, or blunders.
The reactions to the dérapages are also something of a tradition. Members of the offending politician’s party rally behind him, while members of the opposition call him a racist. Meanwhile, leaders of the far right gloat that–at long last!–the mainstream is recognizing something they have been saying for years. After Chirac’s infamous “noise and smell” comments, for instance, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the avowedly racist and anti-Semitic leader of the Front National, gleefully insisted that the French would always prefer “the original to a copy.”
So it would seem that the perfect Muslim immigrant in France is one who cleans the house, picks up the trash, attends to the infant or, increasingly, fixes the computer, heals the sick and runs the bank, and then disappears in a wisp of smoke, before his presence, his beliefs, his customs, his way of dress, his “noise and smell” offend the particular sensibilities of the general population. France is not alone in wishing that its Muslims were invisible. As anyone who has visited Western Europe in the past few years will tell you, the “Muslim question” is a matter of grave concern.
European Muslims have unintentionally revived a whole genre of nonfiction–the alarmist tract, billed as a “searing” yet “necessary” exposé on Europe’s impending demise now that it has allowed so many millions of Muslims to settle on its shores. The titles are each more ominous than the last: The Rage and the Pride, by Oriana Fallaci (2002); Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, by Bat Ye’Or (2005); Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips (2006); Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s Too, by Claire Berlinski (2006); and While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within, by Bruce Bawer (2006). The authors rely mostly on tabloid or newspaper accounts; the arguments are simple, or, more accurately, simplistic, and the preferred method of inference is extrapolation.
The latest offering in this genre is Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, by Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a regular contributor to the Financial Times, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications. However, just as Chirac and Sarkozy prefer to say more carefully what Le Pen says bluntly, Caldwell articulates in polite and embellished language what Bawer and others have been saying aggressively for years: Europe is being overrun by Muslim immigrants; these immigrants show no sign of assimilating to European culture and social mores; and as a result, Europe is in danger of becoming an outpost of the Islamic empire.
According to Caldwell, European “political and commercial elites” invited immigrants to work on the continent in order to help rebuild the infrastructure that had been destroyed during World War II. These immigrants were expected to take up jobs in construction and, in later waves, jobs that were deemed too menial or too low-paying for “European natives.” Immigrants revitalized industries like car manufacturing in the 1950s, but by the 1960s they were already propping up those, like textile mills, that were failing. Deindustrialization, combined with the 1973 oil crisis, resulted in the closing of factories and the loss of thousands of jobs. By then, the immigrants had already settled in Europe indefinitely, had married or brought spouses and had children. “Decade in, decade out,” Caldwell writes, “the sentiment of Western European publics, as measured by opinion polls, has been resolutely opposed to mass immigration. But that is the beginning, not the end of our story.”
That story, in Caldwell’s telling, focuses on the Muslim communities of Europe. The plot involves the physical isolation of rapidly growing numbers of Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, Turks, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians in suburban neighborhoods; high rates of crime and imprisonment; misogynistic practices and anti-Semitic confrontations; and general cultural tensions with mainstream society. The story’s climax is the Muslim minority’s “demands” for concessions to its religion, laws and customs. The other characters in this high drama are the “self-loathing” European elites, who are in love with the idea of a multicultural society and who close their eyes to any negativity because they feel they have to atone for centuries of colonialism.
However, Caldwell argues, “immigration is not enhancing or validating European culture; it is supplanting it.” European Muslims, he warns, are having children at a rate unmatched by the secularized natives. As of 2005, there were approximately 5 million Muslims in France; 3 million in Germany; 1.6 million in Britain; 1 million in Spain; and fewer than 1 million in the Netherlands and in Italy. All told, Muslims account for about 5 percent of the total population of Western Europe; but that may be 5 percent too many, because in Caldwell’s estimation, “if one abandons the idea that Western Europeans are rapacious and exploitative by nature, and that Africans, Asians, and other would-be immigrants are inevitably their victims, then the fundamental difference between colonization and labor migration ceases to be obvious.”
The comparison between labor migrations of the past fifty years and colonization–the most memorable example of which, in recent history, is European colonialism in Africa and Asia–leaves out such details as invasions by armed troops; the systematic expropriation of land; the exploitation of natural resources to the sole benefit of the settlers; genocide, as happened to an estimated 10 million Congolese; wars of independence that cost millions of lives; and the installation of brutal dictatorships. Unbelievably, Caldwell insists that the immigration of individuals, each one acting independently and for economic or political reasons, not in obeisance to a collective supranational policy or religious mission, is nothing short of colonization.
To continue with Caldwell’s story, the Muslims of Europe–and, naturally, the elites who enable them–have led each major European country to a national tragedy: the London underground bombing; the Madrid commuter train attacks; the Paris riots; the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands; and the cartoon crisis in Denmark. He concludes by sounding a pessimistic note on Europe’s chances of winning this existential fight for its cultural survival. “Europe finds itself in a contest with Islam for the allegiance of its newcomers,” he writes. “For now, Islam is the stronger party in that contest, in an obvious demographic way and in a less obvious philosophical way. In such circumstances, words like ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ mean little. When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctriness, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”
The assumption here is that Europe’s culture was a rigid construct that remained unchanged until the immigrants arrived. But cultures are not static; they change all the time. Of course Europe’s culture will change as a result of its demographic shifts, but that change need not (indeed, it should not) be turned into a culture war between Islam and the West. Caldwell’s conclusion is also contradictory, coming as it does after 300 pages in which he has argued just the opposite: that Muslims are backward, unemployed, criminal and, until recently, disengaged from the political process. By the time he ends the book, they are suddenly and inexplicably strong enough to “conquer” Europe.
Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is the kind of book that will reaffirm the opinions of those who already agree with its author. If you happen to think that the establishment of what is now called “Eurabia” is a matter of time, you will find plenty of support in the many statistics and anecdotes Caldwell culls from newspaper and magazine reports. If, on the other hand, you prefer a more reasoned and complex view of the issues, the simplifications, contradictions and errors in this book will fail to persuade you. Caldwell repeats the thoroughly debunked canard that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were roundly celebrated in the Muslim world: “It was a day of joy in much of the Muslim world, including parts of Muslim Europe.” On the contrary, there were demonstrations of solidarity with the families of the victims in nearly every major Muslim capital, from Rabat to Cairo to Tehran. More to the point, when the United States invaded Iraq, under the spurious claim that it possessed weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein had helped plot the 9/11 attacks, were the bombings not greeted with shouts of “U-S-A” in this country? That does not mean that the vast majority of Americans approved of the wholesale killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Simplifying the facts is expedient for Caldwell, however, as it helps bolster the argument he is trying to make, which is that Islam is locked in an inevitable and perpetual civilizational conflict with the West.
Although a large proportion of Europe’s immigrants are not Muslim, and although the continent has faced serious economic, political and social challenges at various times over the past fifty years, European Muslims are held to blame for the rise in crime, violence against women, the resurgence of anti-Semitism and homegrown terrorism. For instance, Caldwell examines rates of incarceration in Europe, finds them proportionately higher for Muslims and attributes this finding to their religion and their culture, neither of which, in his view, equip them with the necessary tools for succeeding in the West. Missing from this grim assessment is the stubborn fact that Muslims are more likely than non-Muslims to be prosecuted for minor offenses. In France, where judges and prosecutors have large discretionary powers, noncitizens are significantly more likely to be forced into pretrial detention while their case is being investigated. The sociologist Devah Pager, who teaches at Princeton, also found a strong correlation between crime-control strategies in French local jurisdictions and the ethnic heterogeneity of these jurisdictions. To put it more plainly, crime is not policed in the same way for everyone. Researchers at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands found a similar pattern; they recently published the result of a study showing that Moroccans sit in jail for lighter crimes than ethnic Dutch.
At no time was the question of crime in Muslim neighborhoods debated more hotly than in the fall of 2005, when the Parisian banlieues erupted in riots that lasted three weeks, leading then-President Chirac to declare a state of emergency. The riots were triggered by the deaths of two teenage boys, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, who, while fleeing the police, hid in a power station and were electrocuted. Initially, Sarkozy, at the time Chirac’s interior minister, claimed that the boys were suspected of robbery, but there was no solid evidence that they committed a crime–they had been playing soccer in a field when they saw police officers and fled to avoid a lengthy process of interrogation. In interviews after the riots, the people of the banlieues often described the teenagers’ deaths as a spark but cited as fuel discrimination, isolation and joblessness. The banlieues are ghettos, and as James Baldwin once wrote, “To smash something is the ghetto’s chronic need.” Though Pascal Mailhos, the head of the French national intelligence services, flatly stated that religious beliefs played no part in the riots, several French politicians blamed, persistently and exclusively, Islam. So does Caldwell: “Even if they did not believe in Islam, they believed in Team Islam.” The point here, I suppose, is that Muslims are acting collectively even when they tell you they’re not.
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.
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.
Not surprisingly, Caldwell’s assessment of Europe, like his assessment of European Muslims, leaves little room for nuance or complexity. He portrays the continent as a racially, culturally and politically homogenous place and its natives as extremely tolerant, respectful of human rights and largely secular. In his view, Europeans naïvely believed that Muslim workers who came after World War II would not stay. They welcomed the immigrants and muted their own concerns because they were afraid to be called racist. Caldwell makes the entire process of immigration seem like a giant hoax devious Muslims perpetrated on innocent Europeans. “European natives,” he writes, “have become steadily less forthright, or more frightened, about expressing their opposition to immigration in public.”
But the truth is that Europeans, particularly of the right-wing persuasion, have not been shy at all about opposing immigration. Anti-immigrant sentiment is as old as immigration itself, and Europe is no exception. Over the past few decades, immigration policy has repeatedly been a major theme of general elections in several European countries, including France, Italy and Spain. Still, the typical European one encounters in Reflections is ashamed of his country and unable to stand up to immigrants. Caldwell writes, rather preposterously, “The singing of national anthems and the waving of national flags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans.” Elsewhere, he argues that European natives have become so enamored with the idea of multiculturalism that they “know more about Arabic calligraphy and kente cloth” than they know about “Montaigne and Goethe.” Of course, this is hyperbole. But strikingly, Caldwell does not wonder how much European Muslims, a great many of whom are graduates of European schools on the continent or outside it, know about these subjects.
While Caldwell blames Muslim immigrants for a range of problems, he reserves part of his scorn for “the spiritual tawdriness” of Europe–which, in his estimation, may be the “biggest liability in preserving its culture.” The increasing secularization of Europe caused it to lose its bearings and gradually become vulnerable to “colonization” by “primitive” cultures. “Along the road of European modernization,” he writes, “lie the shopping mall, the pierced navel, online gambling, a 50 percent divorce rate, and a high rate of anomie and self-loathing. What makes us so certain that that Europeanization is a road that immigrants will want to travel?” But in fact polls show that attitudes of European Muslims vary from country to country and often display the same regional differences seen among various European publics. For instance, Gallup polls show that Parisian Muslims are more likely than Muslims in Berlin or London to consider adultery “morally acceptable,” a pattern that mirrors the larger proportions of native French who find adultery acceptable when compared with Britons or Germans.
For Caldwell, there is a quality of “Europeanness” that, on the one hand, is in danger of being lost because of the mass immigration of Muslims, and, on the other hand, is so idiosyncratic that it is not easily passed to new generations of European Muslims. He appears to suggest that this quality is innate: “[EU expansion] raised hopes that Western European labor needs could be filled by people who more or less thought like Europeans (say, maids from Hungary and machinists from Bulgaria) rather than people who did not (say, maids and machinists from Pakistan and Algeria).” The emphasis is his.
Caldwell argues that intra-European immigration had a higher degree of success because the immigrants who moved within Europe shared religious and cultural beliefs with the natives. Such an optimistic view leaves out inconvenient facts of history. In the early decades of the twentieth century, France brought thousands of Polish workers to its factories and its mines; many lived in suburban ghettos and, despite being Christian, were deemed by the natives to be too attached to their culture and too religious (they were referred to as calotins, or “Holy Joes“). Some French intellectuals and politicians began speaking of “invasion.” (Similar accusations were made about Spaniards, Italians and Belgians who later migrated to France.) When the recession of the 1930s put a crunch on the French economy, the government forcibly put Polish immigrants on trains and sent them back home. So the process by which immigrants integrate in European societies has historically been a slow one, even when immigrants “think” like Europeans.
This undiscerning approach leads Caldwell to severe errors of judgment. It is exceedingly disturbing to find so many right-wing leaders receive one form or another of rehabilitation in Reflections. The British conservative politician Enoch Powell–who famously warned that if Britain didn’t stop letting in nonwhite immigrants, it would soon be “foaming with much blood”–is described as “morally” wrong but “factually” right. Elsewhere, Caldwell decries the Dutch media’s portrayal of the far-right leader Geert Wilders as a “paranoid and sinister bumpkin,” while those who speak more conciliatorily about Islam are “spared ridicule.” Wilders once compared the Koran with Mein Kampf and proposed that it be banned. This past September, he argued that a tax of 1,000 euros should be levied against Muslim women who wear a headscarf because they “pollute” the landscape.
Pim Fortuyn, the notorious Dutch far-right leader, “was not a racist,” Caldwell informs us, “and his colorful repartee about the Moroccan men he had slept with was adequate to place him above the suspicion of being one.” By the same logic, should one forget that Strom Thurmond supported racist laws just because he had a black child? Caldwell writes wistfully that “Fortuyn could well have become prime minister had he not been shot dead days before national elections in May 2002, by an animal rights activist who claimed to be acting to protect Dutch Muslims.” Even though Muslims had nothing to do with Fortuyn’s murder, this formulation suggests that, somehow, they did.
Not coincidentally, several of the loudest forecasters of European doom were previously best known for their anti-Semitic views. Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, once called the Holocaust an “extremely profitable lie.” Nowadays, he asks that Muslims be prevented from flying into or out of Britain and runs ads with the slogan Enoch Powell Was Right. Vlaams Belang, the Flemish far-right party, has also had Holocaust deniers in its leadership, though now they seem most preoccupied with preventing Muslim women who wear the headscarf from working for local councils. And Le Pen, the founder of the French National Front, once described gas chambers as “a mere detail of history” and called a political opponent named Michel Durafour “Durafour crématoire” (the pun can be loosely translated as “Michel-hard-to-cook-in-a-gas-chamber”). Now he warns that it is only a matter of time before the mayor of Marseille will no longer be Mr. Gaudin but Mr. “Ben Gaudin.” Recently it emerged that the Vlaams Belang and other far-right groups have formed a coalition called “Cities Against Islamisation.” Europe has gone down this road before, and it did not emerge the better for it.
The societies of Europe are undergoing demographic changes, which have economic, social and educational consequences. So far, the debate on these changes has focused exclusively on Islam in Europe. Yet no one in the chattering classes seems to have noticed that the voices of European Muslims are seldom heard. This is a debate about them–not with them. And indeed Reflections on the Revolution in Europe has been reviewed in the American press mostly by people who are not European, much less Muslim. Not surprisingly, the argument that Muslims are collectively trying to “conquer” Europe “street by street” in order to turn it into an outpost of Islam has been taken at face value. But this argument is not serious criticism because it is not based on thorough empirical evidence; it is racism.
When European Muslims are heard from, it is often on the topic of religion, and usually immediately after some disaster caused by one of their co-religionists. Political leaders, eager to show that they are in dialogue with the “immigrants” (large proportions of whom are second- or third-generation citizens), quote from the Koran or invite some imam to tea at the presidential palace. The conversation turns into a battle over religion, over who has the right interpretation of what verse, instead of being expanded to the issues most relevant to the integration of European Muslims–issues like jobs, housing, education and civil rights.
The current debate places far too much emphasis on Islam as a set of codes and on the Koran as a literal text, rather than on Islam as it is lived and the Koran as an experienced text. A Moroccan man may be very devout and yet work as a sommelier in a restaurant in Paris. A Turkish teenager may not be particularly faithful and yet keep Ramadan because it is the only time of year she gets to connect with her community. An Algerian elder may be the imam of his mosque and yet carry credit card debt. Islam is not just its texts; it is millions of people, each one of whom has found an idiosyncratic way of adapting faith to modern life. Our religious beliefs are not the sum total of our lives. To discuss them as if they were puts our very lives up for debate.
The challenge of immigration is not Europe’s alone. In our increasingly globalized world, immigrants are moving in all directions, across large distances and at faster rates than ever before. What Europeans–what all of us–need to face is the unavoidability of living together. Caldwell has culled two tercets from W.H. Auden’s “The Quest” as the epigraph for his book:
Could he forget a child’s ambition to be old
And institutions where it learned to wash and lie,
He’d tell the truth for which he thinks himself too young,
That everywhere on his horizon, all the sky,
Is now, as always, only waiting to be told
To be his father’s house and speak his mother tongue.
Yet when I read Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, I was reminded of another poem, one Auden had written a year earlier, at the onset of World War II; and though the poet came to look with disfavor on the line, its truth is the one I would rather cling to: “We must love one another or die.”