Monday, April 20, 2009

While Europe Slept

Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within is a cri d’coeur from an American gay writer who found the sanctuary of tolerance he had thought he had found in the Netherlands and Norway to be not so.

Having fled, amongst other things, the American Religious Right, he found that Europe had a far worse—more violent, more dangerous, more ruthless—Religious Right. One, moreover, whose claims were much less publicly contested than the Religious Right in the US’s were. Worse, whose claims were ignored or excused by Europe’s cosy (indeed claustrophobic) elite. What made them worse and far less contested? This Religious Right is Muslim.

The book’s subtitle is misleading. It is about Europe, not the West—one of the themes through the book is that the US is handling Muslim migration much better than Europe is—and about slow social suicide more than it is about Muslim aggression.
The book has three single-chapter parts. The first, Before 9/11: Europe in Denial, examines the problems building up in Europe’s Muslim communities. Such as the systematic resistance to integration—including such techniques as marrying locally born or raised daughters to Muslim men from the conservative rural villages the family came from. Also, the burgeoning sense of entitlement—Muslims make up 5% of the Danish population but consume 40% of welfare outlays (p.30). With spreading patterns of crime—rape, gay-bashings, honour killing, muggings, assaults. 70% of those in French prisoners are Muslim (p.52). Too many imans act as community gate-keepers, defining and extolling separateness to maintain their own power. With subordination of women, hatred of homosexuals and rejection of secular democracy setting the psychic fences they seek to build and police around Muslim communities.

Given Muslims now typically make up between 5% and 12% of European populations, these are serious issues. But the very narrow European media, political and intellectual elites are generally uninterested in openly examining such problems. Indeed, they are typically actively hostile to any consideration that reflects either negatively on Muslims or positively on their own societies. The only acceptable diagnosis is (European) racism and (Muslim) poverty, to be solved by tender concern for Muslim sensibilities and welfare spending.

Such racism does exist. Bawer notes evidence that it is hard for people with the “wrong” names to get interviewed for jobs. The contrast between Europe’s parochial welfarism and the US’s more open “get a job” approach is such that the more educated and liberal Muslims tend go to the US, the more conservative and less educated ones to Europe (p.72).

But the wilful blindness of European elites to real problems is a far bigger problem than European racism. (Unless, of course, one takes the view that the “tender concern” is actually a form of condescending racism itself.) Matt Ridley’s definition of political correctness as inferring is from ought (it ought to be the case that Muslims are trying to integrate happily, so it is the case, and anyone who says otherwise is a bad person: indeed, is probably racist) is well on display. Bawer is clearly fairly appalled at the narrow range of views in most European media; much narrower than the range of views he was used to back in the US.

Of course, one could argue that such elites are engaged in their own form of gatekeeping—defining their own people and society as inherently problematic, hence requiring the constant ministrations of their “betters”. So we have a destructive complementarity of imans enforcing conformity within Muslim communities and European elites—showing particularly virulent forms of the standard progressivist intolerances—enforcing conformity in public discussion: with Muslim (and other) women, gays and Jews the main victims.

There can be no better indication of how much progressivist moral posturing is simply status-seeking preening against their own societies than the mealy-mouthed ignoring or excusing by so many progressivists (with some honourable exceptions) of what are clearly patterns of patriarchal violence. But to denounce such would take genuine moral courage, rather than the pretence of it. (Hence, of course, the animus against those who do speak up.)

The second part, 9/11 and After: Blaming Americans and Jews examines the pervasive and (there is no other word for it) pathological nature of anti-Americanism in Europe. Hatred always tells you far more about the hater than the hated. One doesn’t look to the writings of anti-Semites to find out about Jews, or the writings of the Catholic Church and Catholic apologists to find about gays and lesbians. So the writings of the anti-Americans are not sources to be seriously informed about the US. Yet those are the writings that Europeans are overwhelmingly fed or consume.

Europeans, particularly in public, clearly define themselves against the US. But not the US as it is; the US as they imagine it to be. All the while being avid consumers of American popular culture.

Throughout the book, Bawer weaves his own experiences into the narrative. He clearly finds the smug (and often deeply ignorant) but pervasive anti-Americanism extremely frustrating.

Bawer also examines the growing anti-Semitism in European countries and the refusal of European elites to take it with due seriousness. Harassment of Jewish students by Muslim students has become endemic (particularly in France), with increasing desecration of Jewish property and violence. Bawer observes that while Americans speak of “Jews” or, more often, “Jewish people,” Europeans speak of “the Jews” (p.140). He is surely correct in suggesting that bad faith over the Holocaust is a major factor. An assault by three men from France on Jewish students, one of whom was wearing an Israeli flag around their neck, at the Auschwitz memorial (Pp 150-1) seems emblematic.

The third part, Europe’s Weimar Moment: the Liberal Resistance and its Prospects, examines the passivity (and worse) of European elites while also looking for signs of an increased willingness to defend the freedom of Europeans. There are some, but Bawer is not very hopeful. Nor is he in the Afterword to the paperback edition on the Danish cartoons controversy. He finds the recurring passivity of European bystanders to crimes of violence a worrying symbol.

While Europe Slept is passionately written bleak reading. It is easy to imagine grim scenarios of either continuing slow collapse or vicious backlash. Less easy to see a more civilised reversal. Too many people’s sense of identity is wrapped up in not seeing and not dealing with.

The devastating effort of the two World Wars is likely the ultimate cause of this cultural collapse. Not only did the second leave the psychic burden of the Holocaust, but they were experiences of futile devastation that left Europe inward-looking and subordinate to the “flanking victors” of the US and the Soviet Union: with Britain as an intermediate case of exhausting victory. History became A Problem; a story of evil, loss and devastation. Rejection of the past seemed to be the only decent option.

Which, of course, leaves nothing to anchor a sense of pride in one’s own society in. And those who do not believe in what they are, are very vulnerable to those who need to believe passionately in what they are. In a conflict between those who reject themselves and those who believe in themselves, belief will win whatever the numbers look like because belief will keeping coming back and lack of belief will keep retreating.

Europeans will have to find a belief in themselves, their societies and their values if they are going to deal with the passionate hostility of radical Islam to secular liberal society.

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