Islam in Europe

Book reviews
August 2009

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe
By Christopher Caldwell
Doubleday, 432 pages

Reviews edited by Andy Ross

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times:

Christopher Caldwell's thesis in this book is that the massive migration of Muslim immigrants into Western Europe now represents as much of a break with Europe's traditions as the French revolution two centuries ago. A relatively weak, self-doubting Europe, he argues, has allowed mass immigration from a fundamentally alien, basically antagonistic culture on such a scale that the continent's future is no longer its to decide.

Caldwell accepts Samuel P. Huntington's concept of the clash of civilizations and puts Western Europe on what the Harvard scholar characterized as Islam's perpetually "bloody borders." He shows that fumbling accommodation of Europe's assertive new Muslim minorities has accelerated the transmutation of an intellectually fashionable anti-Zionism into a virulent new form of anti-Semitism.

Caldwell is rightly hard on what he calls "the mediocrity of Muslim societies worldwide," the violent malice of contemporary political Islam, and the dissembling of its covert apologists. But the fact remains that as deadly as the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005 were, Europe's worst violence for half a century was visited on the Muslims of Bosnia by the Orthodox Christians of Serbia. Similarly, the body counts involved in the London and Madrid outrages pale beside those accumulated in Britain by Irish republicans or in Spain by Basque separatists.

Caldwell believes in the unspoken authority of tradition, habit, family, and shared cultural predilections. In that sense, he believes the clash of civilizations already has been lost in Europe. He also believes that its native peoples must now choose between American-style cultural pluralism or an order in which religious communities are self-governing within national borders.

Fouad Ajami, The New York Times:

Islam in Europe has occasioned calls of alarm about Eurabia. Christopher Caldwell's account is honest and forthright: "Islam is a magnificent religion that has also been, at times over the centuries, a glorious and generous culture. But, all cant to the contrary, it is in no sense Europe's religion and it is in no sense Europe's culture."

A young generation in Europe gave its allegiance to the new Islamist radicalism. The European welfare state tempted and aided the new Islamism. Two-thirds of the French imams are on welfare. In Caldwell's words, the flood of migration brought with it "militants, freeloaders and opportunists."

The militants took the liberties of Europe as a sign of moral and political abdication. They included "activists" now dreaming of imposing Sharia in Denmark and Britain. The legendary theorist of the Islamists, Sayyid Qutb, had written of the primacy of Islam: we may carry their nationalities, he observed, but we belong to our religion.

Nowadays, the movement of peoples goes by the name of globalization. It makes those who oppose it seem like nativists at odds with the new order of things. Caldwell does not see the Muslim immigrants conquering the old continent and running away with it. There is poignancy enough in this new tale of Islam in the West.

Dwight Garner, The New York Times:

Through decades of mass immigration to Europe's hospitable cities and because of a strong disinclination to assimilate, Muslims are changing the face of Europe. These Muslim immigrants are not so much enhancing European culture as they are supplanting it.

Christopher Caldwell is a vivid writer: "Imagine that the West, at the height of the Cold War, had received a mass inflow of immigrants from Communist countries who were ambivalent about which side they supported," he writes. "Something similar is taking place now."

Muslim cultures "have historically been Europe's enemies, its overlords, or its underlings," he deposes. "Europe is wagering that attitudes handed down over the centuries, on both sides, have disappeared, or can be made to disappear. That is probably not a wise wager."

Caldwell's book is the most rigorous and plainspoken examination of Muslim immigration in Europe to date. It is a sobering book. These immigrants are swamping Europe demographically. Muslims are forming what he calls "a parallel society." Newcomers to England now listen to Al Jazeera, not the BBC. They are bringing anti-Semitism back to Europe.

The debate over Muslim immigration in Europe is one that the continent can't openly have, because anyone remotely critical of Islam is branded as Islamophobic. Europe's citizens are scared to speak because of a demonstrated willingness by Islam's fanatics to commit violence against their perceived opponents.

Caldwell finds things to praise about Islamic society, but he is unsparing about its deficiencies. "The Islamic world is an economic and intellectual basket case, the part of the potentially civilized world most left behind by progress."

Caldwell's book is a wake-up call to many of Europe's liberal democracies: "When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture" (Europe's) "meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines" (Islam's), "it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter."

Daniel Johnson, Commentary Magazine

In June 2009, in Red Lion Square in London, Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim preacher, told the assembled media: "This country is rife with social and economic problems and only Islam has the answer. Muslims are multiplying at a rate eight times faster than the kaffir. In a couple of generations this will be a Muslim country, inshallah. We will dominate this country, my brothers, and implement the beauty and perfection of Islam."

Such incidents are now commonplace not only in Britain but also across Europe. Yet the rise of European Islamism has occurred without any of the Continent's political elites even noticing what was happening. As Christopher Caldwell argues, "Western Europe became a multi-ethnic society in a fit of absence of mind."

Choudary's prophecy is far less unreal than the cloud-cuckoo-land where European leaders have been living for the past generation. The multicultural model, based on pure relativism, is widely regarded as bankrupt. But it is too late to prevent or reverse the demographic transformation of virtually every major city on the Continent. By 2050 a third of the population of Britain and most European countries will be immigrants.

Caldwell believes that this transformation amounts to a revolution. He doubts whether Europe has the moral courage to win over its new immigrant populations in the contest for allegiance. He concludes that when an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.

Caldwell tells a story of relativism applied across the board. Instead of helping the waves of immigrants who came to Europe to assimilate, the new postwar welfare states enshrined in law the new doctrine of cultural relativism. The Muslim practitioners of wife-beating, forced marriage, polygamy, female mutilation, and terrorism were able to claim the protection afforded by political correctness and anti-colonialism. Any form of moral or cultural absolutism was taboo, but an exception was made for Islam's absolutism.

The most striking consequence of Caldwell's European revolution has been the return of anti- Semitism. Caldwell explains how the Muslim-immigrant communities of Europe were the true beneficiaries of the post-Holocaust taboo against anti-Semitism among European elites. What has only recently become clear is that this taboo is now a thing of the past.

It is in the universities that the new anti-Semitism is most ubiquitous. The clamor for boycotts and other sanctions against Israel has gone far beyond mere gesture politics. The atmosphere at Britain's traditional centers of expertise on the Middle East is becoming intolerable for scholars who try to discuss Israel with any degree of objectivity. The same process is being replicated across Europe.

The underlying problem is the collective amnesia that has afflicted Europe concerning its origins, values, and traditions. The fact that Europeans no longer agree about what their core values are suggests that they no longer have core values. The vacuum is being filled by a faith that knows precisely what its values are and is proclaiming them from the rooftops. The heart of Europe has been transplanted from Mecca.

The Economist

In April 1968, Enoch Powell, a Tory cabinet minister, destroyed his political career when he denounced mass immigration as a disaster: "like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the river Tiber foaming with much blood.'"

Christopher Caldwell is an American journalist who writes for the Financial Times and the Weekly Standard. He has spent the past decade studying European immigration. His controversial new book repeatedly echoes Powell's warnings.

European policymakers imported people to fill short-term job shortages. But immigrants continued to multiply even as the jobs disappeared. Today immigrants account for about 10 percent of the population of most West European countries, and up to 30 percent in some of Europe's great cities.

Policymakers were even more mistaken about culture than they were about numbers. They assumed that immigrants would quickly adopt the mores of their host societies. But a surprising number of immigrants have proved unassimilable.

Caldwell argues that the reason why so many immigrants failed to assimilate can be summed up in a single word: Islam. In the middle of the 20th century there were almost no Muslims in Europe. Today there may be 17 million.

Many countries are tightening their immigration laws, shifting to a skills-based immigration system and setting citizenship tests for would-be immigrants. The French have banned girls from wearing veils in schools. British politicians have denounced the veil as a symbol of separation.

Are Europeans really as feeble as Caldwell asserts? They have discovered that some principles are non-negotiable in their relations with Islam, particularly women's rights. And is Islam really as self-confident? The willingness of so many Muslims to take offence at any slight could be a sign of profound cultural anxiety.

Caldwell is also worryingly selective in his use of evidence. He all but ignores the multiple examples of upward mobility and successful integration. That said, this is an important book as well as a provocative one.

Paul Marshall, Wall Street Journal

Europe has intractable problems with many immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, and many immigrants have intractable problems with Europe. But without a rejection of the religion and culture that sustained Europe for centuries, says Christopher Caldwell, the immigration troubles might never have occurred.

Europe has discarded its historic religious underpinnings as irrelevant or even harmful. Even the memory of what a religiously ordered society was like has seemed to disappear. "A good definition of religion" for most modern Europeans, Caldwell says, might be "an irrational opinion, strongly held."

Most European elites have not debated seriously the potential effects of introducing into this land of postmodernism millions of devout believers in another religion, one previously seen as antagonistic to European culture. Many Europeans are determined to defend their values, but it is hard to defend what you cannot define.

In his reflections on Europe's slide into a sort of secular suicide, Caldwell notes the key role played by guilt. He argues that the dominant moral mood of postwar Europe was "repentance for two historical misdeeds, colonialism and Nazism." Over the decades, guilt has festered into "a sense of moral illegitimacy" and a "self-directed xenophobia" that now shapes the response to immigration.

Nowadays, immigration and asylum policies are "nonnegotiable moral duties that you don't vote on." Discussion about immigration is decidedly circumscribed in countries where postcolonial guilt has led to taboos against criticism of anything putatively Muslim. Caldwell asks "whether you can have the same Europe with different people. The answer is no."

Malise Ruthven, The New York Review of Books

There are now between 13 million and 20 million Muslims living in the European Union. The largest concentrations are in France with more than 5 million, Germany with around 3 million, Britain with 1.6 million, Spain with a million, and the Netherlands and Bulgaria with just under a million. Overall, the proportion of Muslims among European Union residents is 5 percent.

Muslims already make up 25 percent of the population in Marseilles and Rotterdam, 20 percent in Malmö, 15 percent in Brussels and Birmingham, and 10 percent in London, Paris, and Copenhagen. Given that immigrant Muslims have a higher birthrate than indigenous white Europeans or other immigrant groups, the US National Intelligence Council expects that by 2025 the Muslim population of Europe will have doubled.

In the aftermath of World War II, European countries drove down labor costs by importing cheap workers without regard for the social and cultural consequences. In macroeconomic terms the wealth they generate is only about 0.3 percent of the advanced countries' output. Much of the added value contributed by immigrant businesses that appears in economic statistics is absorbed in the costs of accommodating them or is sent back to their home countries.

Caldwell's concern is that the sheer volume of Muslim immigration endangers the indigenous cultures of Europe, not least because those cultures have become precariously fragile. Political correctness, anti-racism, and multiculturalism, born of guilt about colonialism and shame about the Holocaust, are eroding national cultures, while failing to produce a coherent vision of a common European identity.

In Caldwell's view, immigrants to Europe are able to exploit their rights not just as citizens but as residents, by claiming the health and welfare benefits to which natives are entitled. "The postwar Western European welfare states provided the most generous benefits ever given to workers anywhere." Germany's job market was the archetype of the systems replicated across Western Europe, with short working hours, seven-week vacations, full health coverage, and high wages for unionized workers.

In Caldwell's vision, Europe's welfare states have been succoring alien intruders. The most egregious examples of Caldwell's aliens are Muslims. He ignores evidence produced by numerous scholars such as Aziz al-Azmeh, Tariq Modood, Philip Lewis, and Jytte Klausen that Muslim identities are shifting to meet changing circumstances, that a majority of younger British Muslims, for example, "share many aspects of popular youth culture with their non-Muslim peers."

Caldwell pours scorn on writers who emphasize the diversity of the Islamic traditions in Europe. "For all its pleasing glibness," he says, "this harping on diversity is misguided." His reading of Islam takes an essentialist perspective of a primordial religion impervious to change. No one familiar with the work of scholars such as Aziz al-Azmeh or the political scientist Jytte Klausen would dismiss them, as Caldwell does, as "glib."

Nor does Caldwell exhibit any familiarity with the literature on the spread of Islam in peripheral cultures or with the vast literature charting the encounter between Islam and modern Western society. In his review of Western attitudes toward Islam he prefers to celebrate the prejudices of writers such as Ernest Renan (in 1883) or Hilaire Belloc (in 1938) than to engage with Muslim thinkers such as Muhammad Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman, Muhammed Arkoun, or Abdullahi an-Naim.

Nevertheless, Caldwell makes some useful points. European societies have yet to find satisfactory ways of institutionalizing Islam within their national polities. This is partly due to the fragmentary and contested nature of Islamic spiritual authority. Umbrella bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM) are rejected by many Muslims. Two thirds of the imams in France live on welfare, as do a similar number in Britain. A small minority of them have been exposed in the press as "preachers of hate." The funding of European mosques and Islamic institutions from ultraconservative countries should be a real cause for concern.

The British model of leaving immigrant communities to manage themselves has allowed extremism to flourish. Missionary organizations such as the Tablighi Jamaat, known for its pietism and declared abhorrence of politics, nevertheless encourage a separatist spirit in which extremism can be incubated.

Even marriage can be an agent of radicalization. Whereas the first generation of migrants' children pleased their parents by marrying cousins imported from Pakistan or Bangladesh, their children's insistence on marrying Muslim partners of their choice is leading to the creation of a Muslim identity that transcends the older patterns. This novel pan-Islamic identity both feeds on and contributes to the perceived hostility of the host society.

Caldwell points in an alarming direction. Islam is a religion of believers, but most Europeans regard religious skepticism as essential to their outlook and identity. "Clearly Europe's problem is with Islam and with immigration, and not with specific misapplications of specific means set up to manage them. Islam is a magnificent religion that has also been, at times over the centuries, a glorious and generous culture. But all cant to the contrary, it is in no sense Europe's religion and it is in no sense Europe's culture."

Caldwell selects a multitude of facts or quotations that support his central premise of a "believing" Islam pitted against a doubting or skeptical Europe. But Muslims do not greatly differ in religious behavior from other Europeans. For example, a French study in 2001 found that only 10 percent of Muslims were religiously observant. A study by the demographer Michèle Tribalat the same year found that 60 percent of French Muslim men and 70 percent of women were "not observant," though the great majority respected "cultural attachments" by abstaining from eating pork or drinking alcohol and by fasting during Ramadan.

Caldwell argues that unlike other religious traditions, Islam cannot be assimilated into European culture. In an extended critique of the work of Tariq Ramadan, the charismatic and articulate advocate of a distinctive European Islam, Caldwell argues that Ramadan's project for Muslim integration into European societies is basically asymmetrical: "The integration of Muslims into Europe will happen on Muslim terms. ... Only when Europe's ways are understood as Islam's will Muslims obey them."

In his new book, Ramadan says the Muslim presence in the West should not just be seen and engaged as a problem of religions, values, and cultures, but as a psychological one as well. It is not just Muslims who face challenging issues of self-identification. "Western societies in general and Europeans in particular are experiencing a very deep, multidimensional identity crisis" flowing from the double effects of globalization and supranationalism.

Immigrants threaten ideas of cultural homogeneity that are already endangered by globalization and the revolution in communications. Economic necessities are in conflict with the cultural forces around which European identities accrue. Muslims living in the West face similar predicaments. Their identity crisis generates anxiety leading them to "withdrawal and self-isolation."

Ramadan urges European Muslims to have more confidence "in themselves, in their values, in their ability to live and to communicate with full serenity in Western societies." There needs to be "a revolution in trust" built on the confidence that Muslims must have in their own convictions. Their task must be "to reappropriate their heritage and to develop toward it a positive yet critical intellectual attitude."

Ramadan's most trenchant critic, the French journalist Caroline Fourest, presents Ramadan as a fundamentalist wolf in reformist clothing. But in one sense Fourest's critique can be seen as reassuring: Ramadan's teachings fall into grooves already furrowed by the Christian right.

Secularists may abhor any alliance between anti-Enlightenment God-fearers from among Abraham's quarrelsome children, but such alliances mark a significant step away from fundamentalist certainties. Interdenominational collaboration on any issue is a stage in the process of secularization.

AR  All this is very depressing. We cannot let a thousand and more years of Christianization prevent us from pushing back against an inferior Arab ideology. We need an evolutionary account of the Abrahamic monotheisms. I have the outlines of such a theory in my head, which if it worked out as I imagine could be applied to debunk the mystique of those religions with all the authority of hard science. But working the theory out as imagined is a big task.