Thursday, July 30, 2009

Matt Carr on Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

I'd like to thank Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram for pointing to a detailed rebuttal of the latest Eurabian tome, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Matt Carr's "Christopher Caldwell Dissected"

At first sight it may seem odd that a senior editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and an admirer of Enoch Powell should receive such acclaim from such bastions of British liberalism. So what makes Caldwell different and why has his book managed to transcend the conservative/right-wing readership that the 'green peril' sub-genre normally attracts? Firstly, there is his approach to the issues he raises. Unlike Fallaci and Mark Steyn, Caldwell does not rant or sneer. He presents his book as an objective and judicious discussion rather than a polemic, and avoids conspiratorial explanations for Muslim immigration of the type made by Eurabian theorists like Bat Ye'or. His arguments are measured, thoughtful and nuanced, and considerably more sophisticated than the rantings of Melanie Phillips. His authorial persona is that of a puzzled and concerned observer of the European predicament, driven only by a willingness to consider all angles of a serious debate that others are ignoring. He is cultured and knowledgeable.

For all these qualities, there is virtually nothing in his book that would be out of place in any other examples of the 'green peril' genre. Caldwell's essential argument is that Enoch Powell's predictions have been proven to be mostly correct and that European elites naively - and unnecessarily - entered into a new era of mass immigration after World War II, without thinking through its long-term consequences. As a result they have paved the way for the implantation of a Muslim 'adversary culture' in the heart of Europe that now threatens to engulf the continent demographically, culturally, politically and even sexually. To support this thesis, Caldwell roams back and forth across the continent, combining first-hand reportage with a formidable accumulation of statistics and opinion polls from different countries. All the essential elements of Islamic threat narratives are here; the empty church pews versus burgeoning mosques; Europe's decadence and crisis of spiritual values versus the confidence and power of Islam; the dire warnings of an ageing Europe that is being out-bred by more virile and fertile Muslim immigrants; the failure of multiculturalism and the subsequent proliferation of parallel societies and 'ethnic colonies' characterised by female circumcision, honour killings, criminal violence and terrorism, gang rape and the oppression of women.

[. . .]

n Caldwell's estimation, Europe's misguided promotion of multiculturalism is a consequence of a self-loathing and loss of confidence that extends to religious, cultural and even sexual matters. Not only do Europeans no longer believe in anything, but immigration has made them feel 'contemptible and small, ugly and asexual'. Little evidence is offered to prove this ridiculous generalisation, beyond a few quotes from the misanthropic French 'post-humanist' novelist Michel Houllebecq and others. But Caldwell clearly likes to have his Eurabian cake and eat it. If Europeans are asexual and unconfident compared with the more virile immigrant hordes, they are also having too much of the wrong kind of sex, in societies marked by 'the pierced navel, online gambling, a 50 per cent divorce rate, and a huge rate of anomie and self-loathing'.

One minute Caldwell is suggesting that immigrants share a puritanical aversion to Europe's depraved sexual mores that might make them reluctant to integrate. The next he is explaining that 'Europe's Third World immigrants, and particularly its Muslims' might not undergo the 'same demographic transition that their Western hosts did' and have smaller families, because 'Muslim culture is unusually full of messages laying out the practical advantages of procreation'. One of these 'messages' consists of a verse from the Koran, the other is a quote from Yasser Arafat that the wombs of Palestinian women should be a 'secret weapon' against Israel.

Go read Carr's fact-based review, please.


Aslak said...

It's like a game of whack-a-mole, you knock one Eurabia-theorist down and another one just pops up. Some ugly xenophobic parts of the European right and certain American conservatives that sees Europe as the epitome of leftism run amok and therefore doomed to fail have entered a kind of unholy alliance that keeps this thing going.

Europe certainly has its problems with integrating its immigrants but judging Muslims in Europe as a failure after they've only been here for a generation is awfully fatalistic. It's like the people who claimed that the Italians and the Irish would never integrate in the US.

Miacek said...

Indeed, there was (and is) Italian mafia, there were Irish Molly Maguires.

But I do believe the situation is worse in e.g. contemporary Britain. It's not ethnic differences that matter, but cultural differences. Note the picture.

An interesting graph on Switzerland:

The immigrant population makes up some 10-20% of population. And account for 85% of rapes. committed.

Aslak said...

You can find Islamist extremists if you look for them, but that doesn't mean they're representative of Muslims in general, much less all of those who come from Muslim countries, since a substantial portion are not religious.

Immigrants do have higher crime rates, but that has often been the case. Note that it's not 85% of rapes committed but 85% of people convicted for rape. And there's a difference between "foreigner" and "muslim".

Anway, crime is a really different concern from the idea that the Muslims will stage an Islamic revolution and establish a sharia state. In fact, it is arguably the opposite.

Patung said...

"One minute Caldwell is suggesting that immigrants share a puritanical aversion to Europe's depraved sexual mores that might make them reluctant to integrate. The next he is explaining that 'Europe's Third World immigrants, and particularly its Muslims' might not undergo the 'same demographic transition that their Western hosts did' and have smaller families, because 'Muslim culture is unusually full of messages laying out the practical advantages of procreation'. One of these 'messages' consists of a verse from the Koran, the other is a quote from Yasser Arafat that the wombs of Palestinian women should be a 'secret weapon' against Israel."

And there is supposed to be a contradiction here? No I won't bother reading the review.

Aslak said...

Patung, I don't think that was supposed to be a contradiction. Rather, those are examples of the kind of superficial, tenuous arguments that form the basis of his thesis. But then, you'd know that if you read the review.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Caldwell's book, but that review has all the tell-tale signs of a hatchet job: twisting the author's arguments and tendentiously choosing its evidence.

And as for the reviewer's rogues' gallery of nutcases, Mark Steyn is doubtless a twit and a demagogue, but Hirsi Ali, really? I'd say her career and life story are good evidence that there's at least a _problem_ with the standard multicultural narrative. There really is something to discuss here, and if it's done by non-xenophobes like Hirsi Ali or Caldwell, that's a good thing.

And Aslak, when you make the standard comparison to 19th century immigration to America, don't you think it's possible that those communities' successful integration might be partially _because_ their beliefs and norms were subject to scrutiny - sometimes ugly scrutiny, for sure - among the native born? My point is that a Sicilian in New York in 1910 must have heard the voice in his head 'if you want to be American you can't do x' (where x includes things like honor killings, vendetta, extreme subjection and policing of female kin, etc.)

Similarly, perhaps the existence of this modern narrative, pointing out and politicizing the premodern and illiberal practices of, say, Pakistani immigrants to Britain, itself promotes the cultural change it frets will not occur - or would do so, if it were not shouted down with cries of 'racist'?

Aslak said...

Anonymous, you're absolutely right that there are certain cultural practices that are completely unacceptable in Europe (and elsewhere, for that matter). The Somali community that Hirsi Ali comes from is sadly afflicted with several of those. But that is different from saying that the Muslims are taking over Europe.

What bothers me about the Eurabia theorists are two things: One, the demographic numbers don't add up, there is no Muslim takeover of Europe.

Second, they are trying to create this narrative where European societies are depicted as weak, soft and frail, too liberal to do anything about integration. This has little to do with reality. France is one example of a country which actively intervenes in integration, far more actively than the state ever has in the US. To be fair, Caldwell is aware of this (unlike Steyn) expresses his admiration for Sarkozy in this matter. But it's not just France. Denmark has a famously harsh policy and Norway and the Netherlands are moving in the same direction. Germany has finally realized that the Turks are there to stay and has now formulated an integration policy, etc. etc. It's simply not true that pointing out that we cannot allow for backward practices that e.g. oppress women are shouted down as racist, these views are in fact increasingly mainstream. European societies have a tradition of having a strong state, which intervenes when there are problems and that, for better and for worse, is what we're seeing. For the record, I personally think this is a good thing.

The multicultural narrative is in fact far more widespread in Anglophone countries than elsewhere, but even the UK has taken small steps in the other direction.

The point is that Muslims (or rather, people with a Muslim cultural background, which is what we're really talking about here) do hear that voice you mentioned.

Anyway, my main issue is not that they point out that there are problems with integration in certain communities. These problems exist, even if they should not be exaggerated either since there are plenty of well-integrated and even assimilated people among Muslim immigrants and their descendants. It's as I mentioned that they have this idea that Muslims are actually supplanting Europeans, which is not borne out by the numbers.

Randy McDonald said...

"I haven't read Caldwell's book, but that review has all the tell-tale signs of a hatchet job"

You can tell this without reading the book how?

Anonymous said...

Randy, one hint is Carr's repeated use of the word 'parasite' to characterize Caldwell's views. Needless to say, no quotes on that. It's a way of saying "C. is a fascist dehumanizer of Muslims" without having to support it. As well as the _complete_ lack of acknowledgment that there's _any_ problem to speak of. 7/7? Nothing to see here...

Aslak, there's nothing in the review about implausible demographic projections: no prediction that the Islamic Justice Party is going to run the Dutch Parliament in forty years. That truly is a stupid thing to say, and if C. talks like that, I'm done defending him. C. speaks of a growing "adversary culture" in Europe, and surely he has considerable data points in his favor.

And on the mental transformation of immigrants, I really don't doubt that it goes on, but there is very clearly also a counter narrative of extreme rejection of European values (a voice to shout down the voice urging you to doubt your received notions). That a large number of Irish Muslims - whether just 'young' ones or not - want, or say they want, a theocratic law code instead of liberal democracy, is quite simply a serious matter. And so is 7/7 and 3/11 - to say that most Muslims in Europe don't support these attacks is true, it's important, but it also is totally inadequate.

And the changes in European thinking to which you refer have gotten the same reaction from the bien-pensant left in Europe that Caldwell is provoking. At every stage.

Randy McDonald said...

Multiple uses of parasite? I found only one.

"This background does not fit with Caldwell's depiction of asylum seekers as devious parasites in search of the softest touch and the country with the best welfare system."

This related to, incidentally, his portrayal of a Sudanese protest in Egypt asking for resettlement elsewhere as an economic migration, as opposed to a way to escape pervasive discrmination.

Aslak said...

I think everybody agrees that extremists are a problem. However, the problem is that in the post-9/11 climate, Muslims are increasingly being defined in the media and in public debate by their extremists and not by the vast majority that does not subscribe to that.

As for the demographic issue, the NY Times review suggested that Caldwell at least partially subscribes to that, but to be fair I haven't read the book. Maybe I'll order it and post a review.

"And the changes in European thinking to which you refer have gotten the same reaction from the bien-pensant left in Europe that Caldwell is provoking. At every stage."

This is kind of true, but isn't that a part of the democratic debate? I regularly see right-wing politicians in prominent front-page interviews here in Norway complaining about how criticism of Islam is being silenced and shut out by the mainstream media. It's surreal. The right absolutely dominates public debate about Islam in Europe all the while complaining about how oppressed their views are.

john said...

'Anonymous' here.


You're right, 'parasite' makes but one appearance in the piece. But for scurrilousness, this one is at least as good:

If Muslims should not prove 'assimilable' then what should be done with them? The nuanced observer does not say, but he does not need to, when so many others are saying it for him.

Your point about 'parasite' is similar to Carr's argument-style, actually. Like the defendant accused of killing his parents and the family dog, he triumphantly produces a living dog to refute the charges. So it's only a majority of 'young' Irish Muslims who oppose liberal democracy? So Caldwell doesn't know about the battle of Lepanto? Clearly the 'green threat' is a racist confabulation! (And no mention of 'Behead those who insult Islam' at rallies in London)


I'm sensitive to your points and don't think we disagree that much. Of course the emotional pressures on immigrants are serious in any case, and having to deal with the suspicion that your neighbors look at you and think 'terrorist' is very difficult. But I can't help but think that that pressure has its good side (this was my point about the Sicilian in NY) 'no, I'm not like that, no, that's those people not me.' A Jew who acted badly 'outside' was a 'shande for de goyim', and I think there is a lot of value in that sort of norm.

Having written that, it strikes me that that Jewish reflex took centuries of vicious repression to encode. No, I don't want that, if that's the price, a liberal society, my society, can't pay it. But can we find a way to say, somehow or other, doing our best not to give succor to the bigots, 'your group has this problem, and we must insist that you fix it'? Can we afford not to?

These are real issues and we need each other's help to think them through. I wish it hadn't become a staple of the left/right divide.

About your point about Norway, I'll defer to you of course, but one does get thin-skinned when called a racist.

Aslak said...

First, thanks for using a nick. It's always a better to have a name.

I do think we agree on a lot of things. I think that initially Europe got a lot of things wrong about, but I think we really have seen European governments clamp down on unacceptable practices. Immigrants do tend to become more conservative than people in their home country but I think that over time this will work itself out. The main issue today is providing people with jobs and the hope of social mobility.
Fundamentally, I think "Western values" are attractive enough in the long run that extremism can't and won't win. If we can the jobs issue right and clamp down on unacceptable practices, both discrimination against Muslims and certain cultural practices that restrict individual freedoms within parts of the Muslim community, I think we Europeans will be fine, no matter what religion we belong to. It might take a generation or two to work out all the kinks, but we'll be ok.

Randy McDonald said...

"Like the defendant accused of killing his parents and the family dog, he triumphantly produces a living dog to refute the charges."

Caldwell identified migrants as a whole, the Sudanese migrants described in Carr's essay in particular, as people willingly becoming dependents on Europe and as bogus petitioners for refugee status. What actually happened is that the Sudanese migrants were petitioning for escape from a repressive Egypt.

Caldwell cites an example; Carr goes on to demonstrate that Caldwell's interpretation is quite false. There's nothing wrong with that.

john said...


Look, just from the review it looks like Caldwell did get a number of facts wrong. And sure, I'm not saying 'facts, schmacts'. What I mean is that the assertions refuted in the review are embarrassingly low level and detachable elements of the case against Muslim immigration in Europe. The case goes something like this: 7/7,3/11, Theo Van Gogh, honor killings, increased crime, Rushdie. Those are undeniable and quantifiable. After that, there are the anecdotes - and cases of this sort cannot not rely on anecdotes. School children who disrupt lessons on the Shoah, or don't show up that day. Free speech about religion chilled (you can ridicule Christianity safely in Europe, but people are in hiding or dead for ridiculing Islam). Gays hissed at and threatened in public. The Danish Imams who took a tour of the Muslim world agitating (deceitfully, in fact) against the country which sheltered them. Walk out of the train station in Brussels and you see an Islamic bookstore with openly pro al qaeda propaganda in the window (a few years ago, at least this was true). Some of these anecdotes will end up true, and others will be false or exaggerated (and of course it matters to find out). But this is not medieval blood-libel: too many of them are simply true.

Carr's review utterly, absurdly ignores the big stuff, and finds maybe ten little claims that seem to be mistaken. He then goes on to blithely insinuate that Caldwell is a bigot, albeit a careful and 'cultured' one. He would not have been able to do this if he had done the intellectually honest thing and acknowledged Caldwell's case had large, obvious, and undeniable supporting facts.

You have to _want_ not to recall the big stuff to be persuaded by this sort of thing. Liberal multiculturalism is fine as long as the cultures agree to the liberal bargain. A large part of recent immigrants to Europe do not agree with it. This is a problem for the model; one can acknowledge this and do the hard work of rethinking one's commitments. Or one can double down on resolute denial and invective.


Thanks, and in fact I do agree. I too think the attractions of liberal society are enormous, and what the extremists offer instead is so impossible and fantasy-based, that they can't possibly win. And the numbers just aren't there anyway. I will still insist that while things will probably be ok, they're more likely to be so if we do in fact worry about them.

john said...

I will say another thing. I agree with you both (I'm sure) in saying that the 'pierced navel, casual sex, emotionally diffident' narrative of liberal Europe is nonsense, or at best greatly overstated. I wouldn't want to defend Caldwell on that.