New Book Stokes Fear of a Muslim Europe
Religion Dispatches, By Bruce B. Lawrence
August 13, 2009

Review of: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West
By Christopher Caldwell(Doubleday, 2009)

This is a full-throttle polemic, a meanspirited book meant to raise alarms, stoke fears, and tame a danger at once unseen and misunderstood yet pernicious and widespread.

The danger is Islam, the villains are Muslim immigrants, the terrain is the West, and the outcome is certain defeat for European culture—unless the tide of Muslim immigration, which threatens to become a tsunami, can be stemmed.

But how? This book, despite the myriad cases set forth in its 350 pages of rant and rave, offers no explicit steps to stem the Muslim immigrant tide allegedly sweeping Western Europe, ravaging its European culture, and threatening the future of Western civilization.

For those who thought that Samuel Huntingon was an alarmist, Christopher Caldwell makes him look like a benign, minor prophet. The latter appears to be saying: “It’s not about the clash of civilizations, dummy, it’s about the near-term victory of the enemy stranger over the helpless native. It’s not a clash abroad, it’s a surrender: a total, irreversible defeat at home.”

Instead of paraphrasing, let me offer the final salvo of Caldwell’s unending series of fearmongering quotations: “It is certain that Europe will emerge changed from its confrontation with Islam… 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.”

The key word here is ‘change.’ Change is deemed to be bad, if also inevitable. And here the culture clash is between two blocs. The European bloc is defined by its core values: “individualism, democracy, freedom, and human rights” (p. 83), unquestionable goods that Europe has defended in the past and that have not (and, according to Caldwell’s logic, cannot) have an equivalent in Islamic culture. Instead, what Europeans face is a series of unprecedented problems, unforeseen because of their blind embrace of immigration as an element of their contemporary sociopolitical involvement in world politics. Europe did not produce refugees or victims but it has to house them, and these same refugees and/or victims of other people’s wars now threaten the very fabric of their own “insecure, malleable, relativistic culture.”

The primary danger, therefore, is immigration. In a catalogue of problems facing 21st-century Europe, Caldwell puts immigration at the head of the list: “immigration, Islamism, bankruptcy of welfare states, financial panic, and the every-man-for-himself feeling that people got living in a consumer society.”

What of weaponry, poverty, and environmental challenges?

Bill Coffin, that ‘radical’ of the sixties, agreed with the second President Bush that there was indeed an “axis of evil.” In 2002, Coffin declared: “President Bush rightly spoke of an axis of evil, but it is not Iraq, North Korea, or Iran. It consists of environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash with weapons.”

For Caldwell these are not real problems. It is cultural values, the immigrant challenge to them, and above all, the Islamic offense to European norms and values that is the greatest change, the ‘revolution’ that is sweeping Europe and sweeping aside its noble past.

Demagoguery against Islam and Muslims is lauded in this book. Those who are lampooned for xenophobia should instead be praised. Not content to extol Enoch Powell and Marie Le Pen for their ‘insight,’ Caldwell excoriates Dutch, British, and Scandinavian parliamentarians but especially President Sarkozy of France for their concessions to ‘diversity.’

Reserving his strongest condemnation for “the double language” of Tariq Ramadan, Caldwell cannot find a single modern-day Muslim leader worthy of praise, unless it be Aayan Hirsi Ali. The Somali-Dutch activist, of course, is no longer a Muslim, and that is what fills Caldwell with glee: “More than any other Westerner,” he crows, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali has made the case for the superiority of the Western conception of women’s rights over the Muslim one.”

Sadly, this journalist-turned-polemicist is hailed by Faoud Ajami in the New York Times as a clarion voice who “has written the most sustained and thoughtful treatment of the subject (immigration, Islam, and the West) to date.” Pace that high-five imprimatur for one of its own guild, Caldwell is less an objective journalist than an alarmist rhetorician. He clogs the reader with untrammeled, and unqualified, binaries: us vs. them, immigrants vs. natives, Islam against the West. This book amounts to a series of pseudo-propositional arguments that frame Islam as a bane, Muslims as a scourge. Their youthful bulge forms a network power that will afflict the ‘innocent, naive, unsuspecting’ West with an unstoppable, and irreversible, pathology. It will not only produce change but the end of a way of life, Western civilization as we know—and were once taught to love—it.

For those who resort to YouTube, it would be more advantageous to watch the 7 1/2 minute video “Muslim Demographics” than to read (or try to read) Caldwell’s screed. Though he is not financed by the Christian Right, his message is identical to that of the initiators, writers, and promoters of “Muslim Demographics.” The tagline, which precedes this grossly deterministic, shrilly casuistic video, declares: “Islam will overwhelm Christendom unless Christians recognize the demographic realities, begin reproducing again, and share the Gospel with Muslims.”

The main difference between “Muslim Demographics” and Caldwell’s book is the action plan—the anonymous authors of the former have one (propagate and proselytize), while the latter only has shibboleth: “Watch out—Allah may be guiding your neighbor, and that is un-European!”