Bookforum | June/July/August 2009
Christopher Caldwell claims Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is not a lecture to Europeans about how to handle their Islam problem. But his analysis leaves room for only one conclusion. White Europeans need to start fighting fire with fire, shed their exalted notions of multiculturalism and human rights, find religion and civilizational purpose, and, for good measure, dig back a few centuries to rediscover arranged marriage so they can start matching immigrants baby for baby. They might also consider sending all those Muslims—referred to occasionally as “invaders” and colonizers—back where they came from. Otherwise, in no time, Europe will cease to exist. Caldwell, an editor at the Weekly Standard, doesn’t admit any other possible outcome for the battle between the two caricatures he draws. When in one corner you have “an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture” and in the other a “culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines,” which would you put your money on?
That he arrives at such a Manichaean understanding is unfortunate, since it effectively short-circuits a nuanced conversation about some good and challenging questions. Caldwell is right to wonder about the inevitability of the mass immigrations that began on the Continent in the 1950s and continued unabated through the 1990s, when Europe relaxed many restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers. The reflex answers are well known: The postwar economies needed the manpower. Guest workers were doing jobs no one wanted. Europe, with its history of murderous nationalism and exploitative colonialism, had an obligation.
But where was the long-term thinking as hundreds of thousands of immigrants streamed in? The industrial jobs that guest workers filled were fast becoming obsolete. And few stopped to consider that these immigrants would choose to stay and build their lives in Europe rather than returning home, that Europeans were importing, as Caldwell puts it, “not just factors of production but factors of social change”—people who, among other stresses, might weigh down Europe’s cherished welfare system.
Most Western European countries now have a foreign-born population that tops 10 percent, and for Caldwell it’s their overwhelmingly Muslim identity that is the threat. He regards Islam’s role in Europe today in the same way cold warriors understood Communism in the 1950s: as an all-consuming force that will take advantage of the West’s freedom in order to destroy its values and way of life. Regardless of where they came from, whether the Maghreb or Turkey, and where they have settled, whether Denmark or Spain, Caldwell sees Muslim immigrants as adherents of an adversarial worldview, which seeks to establish what ethnographer Rauf Ceylan calls “ethnic colonies” in the hope of eventually conquering Europe “street by street.” Even benign Muslim institutions are “worrisome, no matter how innocent their ends or how peaceful their ethos.” Caldwell ties together many events since 9/11, from the Danish-cartoon uproar to the riots in Paris banlieues to the killing of Theo van Gogh, as symptoms of the same disease: a hostile Muslim population that will never assimilate and—through high birthrate and fervent belief—will Islamize Europe in short order.
He saves his true scorn, though, for Europeans. The Islamic ethos at least has traditional values and cohesiveness. Next to it, Europe is nothing but decadence and uncertainty. His analysis drips with disgust for societies that lack self-confidence, that are willing to fight, if at all, only for gay rights and sexual permissiveness. As he sees it, this is the legacy of a guilt-ridden postwar moral order that put the need for tolerance above all else, sacrificing “order, liberty, fairness and intelligibility” on its altar.
Caldwell presents his argument in such with-us-or-against-us terms that it hurts to acknowledge the places he is right. It is un-deniable that there is a disgruntled and dangerous sense of victimhood among Muslim immigrants, and a culture that secular Europeans can’t help but view as misogynistic. These developments both pose immense obstacles to integration. But do they mean that integration is impossible? For every “ethnic colony,” there is also a sign of slow but steady adaptation to Europe, whether in the realm of the cultural, the religious, or the sexual. Caldwell rarely mentions political power—in his reading, it’s irrelevant when a minority rules through intimidation. But it is not at all irrelevant on a continent where democracy remains sacred. For the most part, these large immigrant groups have almost no political representation and no ability to counter the anti-immigration laws currently sweeping Europe. But it’s also telling that those who have risen to power—like Cem Özdemir, the son of guest workers, who is now a chairman of Germany’s Green Party, and Rachida Dati, the daughter of a Moroccan bricklayer and now France’s justice minister—have done so as loyal citizens.
As for European society, it is much stronger than Caldwell gives it credit for. Multiculturalism has given back to Europeans what the twentieth century took away: an ability to feel good about one’s country. Letting in strangers, challenging though it’s been, has not only helped Europe overcome its history, it has forced an expansion, in vibrant and diverse ways, of what it means to be German or French or English. Moving in the opposite direction, a retreat into some pre-Enlightenment ethnically and religiously based idea of the nation-state is not an option—as Caldwell himself has to know. Too much has happened since.