Magazine | August 10, 2009, Issue

Struggle for A Continent

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, by Christopher Caldwell (Doubleday, 432 pp., $30)

Not long ago, when I was staying at a Turkish resort on the Aegean coast, my sleep was disturbed by two sounds: the call of the muezzin and the deep bass boom of rock music seeping out, like poison gas, from the local nightclubs. Needless to say, if my sleep had to be disturbed by one or the other, I would have much preferred the muezzin.

For many young Europeans, Western civilization comprises little more than pop music, soccer, a sexual free-for-all, social-security programs, and five-week holidays to exotic places: not a strong position from which to face either the economic or the ideological challenges of the day. A recent survey at Cardiff University in Wales, for example, revealed that only one in six undergraduates in economics could name the British commander at the battle of Waterloo, and even fewer could name any British prime minister of the 19th century. It is safe to assume that their knowledge of general European culture was not more extensive, and the students in question were probably at the better end of the British educational spectrum. While British youth is probably the most ignorant, and undoubtedly the most vulgar, in all of Europe, things on the Continent, alas, are moving in the British direction rather than away from it, and for the same reasons. In a world without transcendence, the present moment is all. For people without attachment to the past, the future ceases to have significance as well, and the getting of children seems but a mere distraction from the most fundamental question of human existence: Is it Goa or Bali this year?

At precisely the time when the present moment became all-in-all for Europeans, their continent was subject to mass immigration on a scale not seen in modern times. This immigration was neither desired nor agreed to by the native population; but the political elites who first encouraged and then permitted or failed to stop it changed their justifications for it seamlessly, as soon as the last justification became “no longer operative.” The elites implied at the same time that anyone who disagreed with them was neo-Nazi, which, for obvious reasons, was and remains a very effective tactic.

In this well-written and wide-ranging examination of the causes and consequences of the mass immigration into Europe, Weekly Standard senior editor Christopher Caldwell gives us the history of the shifting justifications for that immigration employed by the European political elites. First, of course, Europe had a labor shortage after the war, and tried to prop up its decaying and obsolete industries for a time by the importation of cheap labor. This was short-sighted, because, in a world of free, or free-ish, trade, cheap labor in expensive countries can never be as cheap as cheap labor in cheap ones, and so cannot be the basis of successful competition.

The original idea was that unskilled immigrant labor that became surplus to requirements would be sent back whence it came. Indeed, in the Netherlands, multiculturalism as a doctrine began as the means by which Moroccans would be kept in touch with their roots so that they could be transplanted back to Morocco without difficulty (or opposition). But human beings are not sacks of potatoes, to be moved about without consultation or consideration; and, thanks to the European welfare state, it was better to be an unemployed donkey in Europe than an employed lion in Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. The immigrants therefore stayed, and, the Europeans having in the meantime discovered human rights, such as the right to a family life, they were soon joined by their spouses, children, parents, grandparents, in-laws, cousins, and so forth, a process that has since become self-reinforcing.

Once structural mass unemployment became the general rule in Europe, the need for unskilled labor could no longer be advanced to justify immigration. Suddenly, the cultural and ethnic diversity of a population became itself the supposed advantage justifying mass immigration, though in actual fact most people, including immigrants, felt uncomfortable about such diversity, hunkering down in little ethnic enclaves rather than sampling the delights of the various cultures adjacent to them, to which indeed they were often very hostile. The only tangible advantage of mass immigration was culinary: One had henceforth only to walk a hundred yards to be able to taste a dozen or more cuisines.

Whether mass immigration was necessary to produce this agreeable result might be questioned. Moreover, if you were to ask a believer in multiculturalism for the tangible cultural or other benefits brought to Europe by hundreds of thousands of Somalis, not as individuals but as bearers of Somali culture, he would almost certainly be reduced to silence; for the truth is that believers in multiculturalism are not really very interested in other cultures (for such interest is very hard work): They are, rather, moral exhibitionists, out to prove the largeness of their minds and the breadth of their sympathies to others of like disposition.

The European political elites were in a very vulnerable state of mind, which Caldwell explores with subtlety. On one hand, they felt that their civilization was worthless, having brought about the twin catastrophes of the First and Second World Wars; but on the other they felt that their civilization was so strong that nothing could undermine or destroy it. It was therefore for their countries to accommodate themselves to immigrants, and not for immigrants to accommodate themselves to their countries; moreover, because the Europeans had ceased to be religious, and were intellectually the most advanced people in the world, they believed that all other people were destined to follow suit very soon. The upshot of all this is that the political elites displayed no real interest in where the immigrants came from or what culture they brought with them. They thought that everything would come out in the tepid wash of European social democracy.

It has been an unpleasant surprise for Europeans, at least of the political-elite class, to discover that the response of immigrants to their new countries depends as much upon the immigrants as upon the receiving countries; and that, by arrogant inadvertence, and by supposing that it held all the cards, Europe has landed itself with a problem it has no idea how to solve.

Not surprisingly, Caldwell devotes more than half his book to the question of Islamic immigration into Europe. Is there a specific problem attributable to Islam? It certainly seems so. In Britain, for example, both unemployment and imprisonment rates for young Hindus and Sikhs are below those of young whites, while those of young Muslims are well above. While Hindus and Sikhs outperform whites in education, Muslims have even lower educational levels than whites. Unless British racists are pro-Hindu and pro-Sikh, but anti-Muslim, which seems prima facie unlikely, the racism of the host country cannot explain these differences. They must reside in the characteristics of the immigrant groups.

Of course, it is possible that the various groups started off at different levels; the upper classes of Pakistan, for example, are deeply anglicized and usually religiously tolerant, unlike the lower classes. It could be, then, that the differences I have mentioned (of a type that exists in all European countries) are those of class rather than religion, but I rather doubt it. The reason Indonesians, though Muslim, succeed in the Netherlands by comparison with Moroccans is probably that Islam in Indonesia has mostly been of a mild and syncretic form. The Moroccans, and many other Muslims, came to Europe seeking a higher standard of living, but not a new way of life, for they saw nothing wrong with their own and did not want to change. Other immigrant groups were more willing and anxious to integrate and even assimilate; they were more likely to ask themselves where Western wealth and freedom came from.

For Caldwell, the problem boils down to a confrontation between a civilization that has lost confidence in itself and a resurgent religion that is self-confident. The Europeans now have such a foreshortened sense of history that they suppose that homosexual marriage and an equal representation of women in parliament and the boardroom have been their core values since at least the time of Julius Caesar; the religious roots of their civilization are to them either not evident or a cause for embarrassment and apology. This means that they think it normal to apologize for the Crusades and for Muslims not to apologize for Islamic imperialism; this is a manifestation of the strange European complex of self-denigration and arrogance, according to which only Europeans are sufficiently human to do real wrong.

The self-confidence of Islam is, of course, just as misplaced, and could be easily punctured. Islam has added nothing to the stock of human knowledge or intellect for hundreds of years and is unlikely ever to do so again. Islamic polities are usually sinks of iniquity and corruption; Islam is incompatible with the modern world so long as it does not permit apostasy and believes in the legal inferiority of people of other religions. The problem for Islam is that an alteration of its attitudes in this regard implies error in the past; and admission of error in the past undermines all its claims to inerrancy.

Muslims have seen what happened to Christendom once the light of inquiry was allowed to enter, and do not want the same to happen to Islam. Oddly enough, the self-confidence of Islam is therefore but a gestalt-switch away from deep collapse.

In my opinion, however, Caldwell overestimates the degree of religious fervor among Muslim immigrants to Europe. The majority of young Muslim men are by no means religious; they see in Islam but a pretext for the domination of women (that is why nine out of ten European converts to Islam are men; most of the women convert for marital reasons). Islam in Europe draws its strength from anti-feminism; and since the world that feminism, along with other currents of liberal thought, has helped to create is often not very attractive, ammunition is not hard for Islamists to find. A reflective young male Muslim is almost certain to be attracted by Islamism, for lack of any other ideology to hand.

This book is the best on its subject I have read. It successfully employs anecdotes, statistics, and abstractions to make its points. It does not offer solutions, though I think that greater open criticism of Islam and the Islamic record would certainly help. Incidentally, the book provides no grounds for American complacency or self-congratulation: President Bush’s response to the Danish cartoon crisis was either mendacious or cowardly, but in either case was a disgrace.

– Mr. Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Theodore DalrympleMr. Dalrymple, a retired doctor, is a contributing editor of City Journal and The New English Review. His next book, False Positive: A Year of Error, Omission, and Political Correctness in the New England Journal of Medicine, will be published in June.

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