The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Economist, Caldwell, and "Eurabia"

Parts of this post were published as letters in The Economist, a response to their review of Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. He held his opening lecture for his book at LSE ("Can Europe be the same with different people in it?"). I was able to attend and ask a question. (See here, search "Caldwell", includes video).

Caveat: Because I am generalizing about Muslims in the whole of Europe, I will not do justice to the fact that there is no one "Muslim community" within Europe, or even within individual European nations. Coming from various nations in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia, there is a good deal less coherence to "Muslim Europeans" than the term might imply.

Books on Islam's coming takeover of Europe are a veritable cottage industry, of which I think Mark Steyn's puerile sensationalism tops the lot. Caldwell's most recent book, however, is perhaps the most dangerous because it purports to be the most “respectable” version of the “Eurabia thesis” to date. The thesis has many parts, the most prominent being that we will see an “Islamized” Europe because of allegedly relentless Muslim immigration and congenitally high birth rates. It is the nightmare of European anti-immigration parties concerned with those with darker hues walking their streets and the crass fantasy of neoconservatives that effeminate, flaccid, relativist Europe should pay the ultimate price for its Neville Chamberlainism. Let me say a few things.

It would have been good for The Economist to debunk some of the “unremitting pessimism” from Caldwell and others on Europe's “Islamization”. It is at odds with basic facts. In the United Kingdom, immigration from India, the West Indies and non-Muslim parts of Africa means a majority of ethnic minorities are not in fact Muslims at all. In Germany, half a century of “mass” immigration means just over 1 in 20 residents of that country are Muslims. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe with perhaps 6 million, of which Algeria has provided the largest number. According to the CIA and other sources, while France has a fertility rate of about 2 per woman, for Algeria the figure is only 1.8. Cultural essentialism reveals its bankruptcy yet again.

More broadly, It is a grave mistake to portray the problems of Muslims in Europe as chiefly attributable to “culture”. Obviously, the conservatism of some recent arrivals, especially from rural parts of the Third World (not just Muslims, mind you), can be at odds with the post-feminist values of Europe (themselves a relatively recent phenomenon: Swiss women could not vote until 1971, to rape one’s wife only became a crime in England in 1991). For most European Muslims, cultural conservatism is not the issue. Children are quickly socialized to the materialism, consumerism, values and sexual mores that characterize Western society today.

I do not claim that there is a seamless multicultural Utopia in Europe. However, a statement like “a surprising number of immigrants have proved ‘unmeltable’” could only be made by someone with a rather rosy and idealized view of the American “melting pot”. Immigrants to the U.S. have tended to form their own ethnic neighborhoods that can be extremely durable, if not permanent. De facto residential segregation and somewhat defensive identity politics among ethnic groups is the norm in most countries. Muslims in Europe have proven no different. It should not be surprising that these “new Europeans” should maintain their identities as Muslims (or, forth that matter, as Arabs or Turks) while also being British or French. These identities, incidentally, are partly based on the need for community organization and consciousness against the varying degrees of hostility towards Muslims that exist in Europe. The existence of such “hyphen identities” is hardly a sign of failure in itself, any more than is the existence of Hispanic Americans or Malaysian Chinese.

The issue is not so much culture as ethnicity or, to use a good French term, “communitarianism”. The Economist notes that Caldwell “echoes” the warnings of the anti-immigration British politician Enoch Powell’s “warnings all those years ago.” It would have been nice to actually quote those warnings. Powell’s famous 1968 Rivers of Blood speech spoke of a woman who “finds excreta pushed through her letterbox. When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies.” The issue for Powell was not “culture” but race. His prejudice was aimed at the presence of Blacks and South Asians in and of themselves (whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim). At the beginnings of mass immigration in the 1950s, the image of the “native” of Africa or Asia was still roughly that of the poems of Rudyard Kipling or of Hergé’s Tin Tin in the Congo: a child and a savage, either comical or dangerous, to be educated and to be disciplined. It never occurred to Europeans that they might live in Europe, with their own lives, viewpoints and rights.

For this reason, it is absolutely ridiculous for The Economist to say that “[f]or the most part European countries have bent over backwards to accommodate the sensibilities of the newcomers.” Ever since Muslims were invited into Europe for economic reasons in the 1950s, they have been subject to hostility and discrimination by the host populations. One example was the Paris Massacre of 1961 where between 40 and 200 peaceful Algerian protesters were killed by French police. This event was officially denied until 1998. Obviously, the unflattering reality of anti-Muslim prejudice was rarely discussed. Moralistic Europeans preferred to think Americans and South Africans had a monopoly on race prejudice. The question of minorities in Europe today is dominated, not by religious practice, but by ethnicity, racism, marginalization, social dysfunction, poor relations with the police, and so forth. This is why relations with other marginalized minorities in Europe (such as non-Muslim Blacks, Gypsies and secular ethnic Albanians) are not noticeably better than with Muslims. The allegedly unchanging essence of “Islam” is about as relevant to the problems of Muslims in Europe today as Catholic theology is to the Northern Irish question.

The question is not whether young girls who choose to cover their hair are destroying Europe. The question is why second and third generation Muslim Europeans are expected to become uniquely good, well-adjusted citizens when they are left to fester in the marginalized, decaying and “containable” ghettos of many of Europe’s major cities. And here, the example of the U.S. is informative.

There is a long history of internal migration of African Americans to cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Americans crammed a brimming population into slums and ghettos, letting the problem fester for decades, until the vicious circles of social decay and state crackdown now seem inescapable. Since the 1980s, the American prison population has quadrupled, with a very large proportion of that expansion being driven by the imprisonment of Black men. The problem is nowhere near so bad in Europe, though the proportion of minorities has steadily grown. Social problems are tackled less by systematic incarceration (often for non-violent crimes) which turns petty crooks into hardened criminals and more by stronger welfare states that provide basic economic security for those at risk. There is cause for optimism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people would cheerfully disagree with you

3:12 AM  
Blogger Brett Hetherington said...

"Some people would cheerfully disagree with you" says Anonymous above.

Well that's probably because some people have read history books with their eyes closed.

I thought this was one of the most clear headed and balanced pieces of writing that I have read on the subject recently.

11:06 AM  
Blogger CJWilly said...

Anon: What disagreement is there? I explicitly discuss native European hostility towards both the over practice of Islam and to Muslims as such (Islamophobia). The Swiss vote does not contradict anything I said, I mention there not being a "seamless multicultural Utopia".

9:12 PM  
Blogger Brett Hetherington said...

I am a strong believer in tolerance of others beliefs but the recent case of the Muslim women in Tarragona who had to escape twenty extremists wanting to kill her under Islamic “sharia law” is too alarming to quietly stomach.

For several months I worked as a teacher in an Islamic school, and in my personal experience, the average Muslim who just wants to live their life without trouble and strife would be very much against a death penalty for a 30 year old woman who has defied her husband over keeping her unborn child.

As usual it is the extremists who get the publicity. In this case it is obviously well-deserved, because they are, it is alleged, clearly breaking Spanish laws against kidnapping and attempted murder while holding up what they believe to be their own moral code.

I continue to expand on this point in my blog at:


9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

8:42 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home