Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Earth’s last decade has been primarily defined geopolitically by what’s now commonly referred to as “The Clash of Civilizations”, East vs. West, Muslims vs. Judeo-Christians, and so on. Depending on how this stretch of history plays out, the years 2001 to the present will likely be held up by historians as a time when the descendents of the Ottoman Empire attempted, successfully and with stealth, to reassemble the empire in the West. It may be a quiet and unplanned revolution, but it’s a revolution nonetheless, and how Europe (and to a lesser extent, the US) responds to it is a story that’s only growing in magnitude every year. Burqa bans, headscarf bans, minaret bans and increasingly loud disdain for Muslim ways have been on the rise in Europe the past few years. The terror threat from the East continues to be a real fact of life on the ground in Europe, as elsewhere. I was glad to see a book that tried to make sense of it all, how Europe very quickly became a continent of immigrants from outside of Europe, and what it will mean for the 21st century.

And I suppose I should make my prejudices clear before I go further: I’m a huge champion of American immigration in all its forms. My philosophy is that people follow the jobs, and if the jobs are there, let the people come to fill them, whether legal or illegal. If the people abide by the norms and rules of the “host culture”, and don’t expect taxpayer subsidization, then they’ll have no bigger champion than myself. I can envision a time in the future where national borders cease to be meaningful, and I like the sound of a world in which that’s the case. Oh, and I’m also a raging atheist. I also, uh, dislike terrorism very much, and am willing to go out on a limb and culturally profile the perpetrators of 21st-century terrorism as overwhelmingly Muslim. I sympathize with a Europe that sees its liberal traditions and even its physical well-being as being under assault by Muslim immigration, while being bemused and even a little alarmed at the simultaneous withering of those liberal traditions in response to it.

So cutting to the chase, Christopher Caldwell’s recent book, “REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN EUROPE – Immigration, Islam and The West” is a fascinating, if flawed read. If you’d like to get a sense of how Europe got to its current quandary around immigration – a combination of loose rules, half-truths, religious decline, demographic decline, general apathy and a surfeit of political correctness – this is great book to tackle. Caldwell nails the well-meaning approach to immigration in Europe over the past 40 years, and how it rapidly accelerated and started violently confronting European norms about 15 years ago. His best writing regards how Europe slowly woke up to the key differences between Muslim immigration to Europe, and quick-assimilating immigrants to the United States:

The marital behavior of immigrants and their children (not to mention the entire history of colonization) shows that you can migrate to a place while being hostile to it, or at least while holding it in no special regard. Yes, immigrants “just want a better life”, as the cliché goes. But they don’t necessarily want a European life. They may want a Third World life at a European standard of living. They may want to use the cosmopolitanism made possible by Western rule of law to secure citizenship for their nonfeminist brides and their pre-Enlightenment ways.

This is what Europeans are waking up to in all sorts of funny and sometimes even enlightened ways. The Muslim immigrants, by and large, are replicating their home countries’ ways of life, just on European soil, and often at European taxpayers’ expense. Caldwell blames Europeans’ abandonment of their traditional culture, and of Christianity, in favor of the very liberal social consensus that rules the continent now as being part & parcel of why it was so easy for, say, Algerian or Turkish culture to gain such a strong foothold in, say, France and Germany. He loses me when he puts too fine a point on this thread – particularly the religious part. One can admire the values that are attributed to Judeo-Christian traditions, without fully buying into them being divinely inspired (I certainly don’t). If only Europeans got some religion again, he seems to say in various spots, Europe would have an effective bulwark against its centuries-long foe, Islam. I don’t buy it. I think Europe’s secular evolution is one of its post-WWII strengths, and I tend to agree with the assassinated Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn and his protégés, who argued that Europe had created a culture of liberal tolerance, enlightenment and intellectualism that was very much worth fighting for and defending.

Islam has the upper hand as things stand today, at least as portrayed by this book. It knows what it stands for, and it knows what it stands against. It is rapidly gaining in numbers both in Europe and around the globe as European population declines. Caldwell believes, as I do, that “moderate Islam”, while being something that exists for millions of people, is a red herring for cultural relativists who prefer to see peace and harmony where there is actually war, fear and religious antagonism. This will continue to be a signature issue for years to come, and while I found Caldwell’s old-school religious conservatism a little hard to stomach at times, I applaud him still for laying out the boundaries of the problem so clearly.