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Guess Who's Coming to Europe?

Author: Steven Simon, Lecturer, Dartmouth College
March 26, 2006
The Washington Post


WHILE EUROPE SLEPT: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within
By Bruce Bawer
Doubleday. 247 pp. $23.95

THE ISLAMIC CHALLENGE: Politics and Religion in Western Europe
By Jytte Klausen
Oxford Univ. 253 pp. $29.95

When a right-of-center Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons in September depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist and lecher, it ultimately unleashed a storm of protest in the Arab world and South Asia. The repulsion and fury—which resulted in the torching of Danish diplomatic posts, as well as riots in Afghanistan—were predictable. But so was the underlying provocation. Many Europeans are increasingly alienated by what they take to be Muslim rejection of Europe’s liberal principles. It was only a matter of time before someone was going to return the favor. Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept, which castigates alleged West European complacency in the face of Muslim encroachments that threaten European values, reflects these brewing resentments.

This book picks up where Bawer’s 1998 Stealing Jesus left off. Then his target was American evangelicalism. Contemporary fundamentalism, he argued, had betrayed the more authentic religion of his Episcopal ancestors and foisted on American Christians eccentric ideas about rapture and the apocalypse. These beliefs not only corrupted the faith, he lamented, but underpinned a combination of certainty, intolerance and social conservatism that marred American society—and, in particular, penalized gays like himself.

Bawer, a widely published cultural critic in the United States, did not remain here. With his partner, he moved first to the Netherlands and then to Norway, which he saw as havens of rationality, measured hedonism and respect for personal choice. But for Bawer, the seductive openness and easy sophistication of Dutch and Norwegian urban society were soon clouded by his realization that not all the inhabitants of Western Europe were secularized Christians. There were also an estimated 15 million Muslims, often ghettoized. An ugly encounter with gay-bashing Muslim youths and reports of similar incidents triggered Bawer’s focus on this large and growing European minority, which in some countries makes up more than 10 percent of the population.

Bawer preaches here mostly to the converted. The presence of imperfectly integrated communities of highly traditional Middle Eastern and North African Muslims in Europe, as well as the chasm that separates many European Muslims from the cultural norms of their adopted countries, were familiar well before Bawer arrived, even if Christian Europeans had no idea how to cope with them. Indeed, Bawer’s complaint was vividly and conspicuously personified by the populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. A proud homosexual, he was assassinated by an animal-rights activist in 2002. His right-wing, anti-immigration stance rested on the insistence that Islam was too socially retrograde to be integrated into liberal Dutch culture.

So there’s not much new here, and one might be tempted to rename the book While Bawer Slept but for its passion and acerbity (“Europe is steadily committing suicide,” Bawer writes, “and perhaps all we can do is look on in horror”). With not a single endnote and virtually no data other than the author’s personal experiences and conversations, While Europe Slept is not going to ring scholarly chimes, and the spirits of Spengler and Churchill evoked by its overwrought title will alienate many specialists. Nevertheless, the book usefully crystallizes, without undue distortion, the apprehensions of many Europeans about what has become a dire cultural predicament.

Muslims came to Western Europe in large numbers after World War II to help provide the labor needed to rebuild the devastated continent. The largely South Asian Muslim population of Britain arrived even earlier. With the end of reconstruction on the continent and the collapse of the textile industry in England in the 1960s, these sizable pockets of Muslims were stranded in an alien land. The forebears of the Muslim kids who accosted Bawer, if they were already in Europe, would probably have been quietist without being assimilationist. Grateful for a paycheck, social services and housing, they would have accepted social prejudice and perhaps returned it, but without displays of open resentment or violence.

The situation is now far more volatile. First, European Muslims generally have less income, education and political representation than their Christian neighbors. Second, as Bawer illustrates vividly, progressive European social-welfare policies have unintentionally perpetuated and even intensified both the growth and separateness of Euro-Muslims. Third, Muslims are now more likely than ever to see their circumstances in global terms. Younger Muslims cannot help but be swayed by the gory imagery and heated rhetoric that now ricochets around the world on the Internet and satellite television stations like al-Jazeera. Polls show that Muslims are increasingly likely to feel that they have more in common with Muslims in other parts of the world. Along with an empowering sense of shared accomplishment, however, comes a fuming sense of shared grievance. Members of this “new umma,” as the French sociologist Olivier Roy has dubbed it, participate in a worldwide community in which a war against the perceived oppressors of Muslims in Iraq, Palestine or Chechnya can be waged in the cities of Western Europe or anywhere else that Jews and Christians can be targeted.

The resulting mobilization has been reinforced by the way that Salafism—a particularly tough take on Islamic tradition that urges a return to the faith as it was supposedly practiced at the time of Muhammad—has usurped the benign village religion brought to Muslim enclaves in Europe by the economic migrants of years past. The predominance in Europe of conservative imams newly arrived from an increasingly radical Arab world has also crowded out alternative approaches to Islam and helped activate the exclusivist, misogynistic and anti-Jewish potential in Salafism.

Bawer’s neoconservative sensibilities are particularly disturbed by what he brands the supine, even collaborationist posture of threatened European societies. “In the end, Europe’s enemy is not Islam, or even radical Islam,” Bawer writes. “Europe’s enemy is itself —its self-destructive passivity, its softness toward tyranny, its reflexive inclination to appease, and its uncomprehending distaste for America’s pride, courage, and resolve in the face of a deadly foe.” For Bawer, attempts at accommodation amount to appeasement. But the costs of confrontation are also high. At the extreme, they rise to political violence, like the jihadist bombings of the London tube in July 2005 and the Madrid commuter trains in March 2004. Those attacks were launched by terrorists who saw British and Spanish participation in the war in Iraq as an attack on Muslims everywhere; in other words, the bombers saw themselves as waging a global war in which one should not differentiate between an Iraqi battlefield and a European one.

The Islamic Challenge, by the respected Danish-American sociologist Jytte Klausen, should be required reading for buyers of Bawer’s book. Klausen is as dispassionate and methodical as Bawer is aggrieved and impressionistic. She interviewed some 300 European Muslim community leaders. Her detailed questionnaire explored attitudes toward a range of issues, including the degree of alienation experienced by her interviewees as well as their willingness to adapt to prevailing European liberal values. These leaders felt that Muslims were indeed marginalized by West European society. But Klausen found little evidence of the “We will bury you” stance of the bigoted, violence-prone and opportunistic Muslims of Bawer’s world. She concludes—partly on the basis of the evidence, partly on account of wishful thinking—that Islam in Europe will evolve into a tolerant faith compatible with the commitment to equality that underpins the liberal West.

Readers will find no way to square the respective Euro-Islams of Bawer and Klausen. The vast differences between the two portraits are probably best explained by the authors’ different emphases: Klausen focuses on political elites who have bet on the system as the key to their careers, while Bawer focuses on the “street.”

When Muslim rioters swept through the bleak suburbs of Paris last November, French diplomats insisted that Marx, not Osama bin Laden, brought the youths and their firebombs into the streets. That might well be true. But it will be bin Laden and his ilk who will take a select few from those streets into the cellars, where they will be transformed into something worse than arsonists—with European documentation and technical aptitude. So it matters vitally to the United States which way events on the continent break: in the direction that Bawer fears or the one for which Klausen hopes.

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