A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post dealing with one of Mark Steyn's hate tracts about the Muslim "takeover" of Europe. Steyn, like his ardent admirer Martin Amis, displays a remarkably transparent psychosexual panic at the thought of big Muslim bucks breeding holy warriors to cast the white man down. (As an American Southerner, I am all too familiar with this "Mandingo Syndrome.")
Oddly enough, of all the articles I've written over the years, the Steyn piece has produced the longest-lasting reaction. To this day, I still get hate mail and indignant comments from Steyn's little sycophants, denouncing my ignorance of Islam's relentless, monolithic devouring of European "civilization." (I would highly recommend Mark Mazower's magisterial work of history, "Hitler's Empire," for anyone interested in seeking how very civilized Europe has been within living memory.) Given that I live in one of the nations that the psychosexual panickers seem most exercised about -- Great Britain -- and in a neighborhood where at least every third person is a Muslim, or of Muslim background, I always find these condemnations of my "ignorance" on the subject of Islam in Europe pretty funny. I live among Muslims, work alongside Muslims, trade with Muslims, my children go to school with Muslims. I can reports from years of my own experience the astonishing fact that Muslims are actual, individual human beings like everyone else: a unique combination of disparate, changing, often conflicting elements, with wildly varying beliefs and behaviors. (What's more, a great many "Muslims" are not really Muslims; that is, they are about as "religious" in their actual behavior as, say, the countless millions of American "Christians" who have made pornography one of the Homeland's largest industries.)
But you would never know any of this from our best-selling Islamophobes. Or, given the ethnic and linguistic origins of Islam, should we not call them by their true names: anti-Semites? For indeed, their own rhetoric and ideas are indistinguishable from those of the anti-Semites of the early 20th century, who also wrote of dark, barbaric hordes of religious fanatics breeding and wheedling their way into dominance over a weak, flaccid, overly "liberal" white Europe. Substitute "Muslim" for "Jew" in the scared-stiff (or is it scared-flaccid?) screeds of Steyn, Amis, and others, and you will hear an exact replica of the anti-Semitism that was so rife throughout Western "civilization" in the pre-Holocaust years.
In Saturday's Guardian, Pankaj Mishra gives us a detailed and devastating look at the "respectable" Islamophobes who are given such prominence in the Anglo-American press -- and of the sinister, far-right political movements now piggy-backing on this "respectable" anti-Semitism to gain more and more power in nations which have indeed been "taken over" -- not by the miniscule number of Muslims in Europe, but by rapacious, homegrown elites, whose relentless, ruthless pursuit of profit and privilege have destabilized or destroyed communities for centuries.
The whole piece is well worth reading, but here are some choice excerpts:
Is Europe about to be overrun by Muslims? A number of prominent European and American politicians and journalists seem to think so. The historian Niall Ferguson has predicted that "a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonise - the term is not too strong - a senescent Europe". And according to Christopher Caldwell, an American columnist with the Financial Times, whom the Observer recently described as a "bracing, clear-eyed analyst of European pieties", Muslims are already "conquering Europe's cities, street by street". So what if Muslims account for only 3% to 4% of the EU's total population of 493 million? In his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe Be the Same With Different People in It? - which was ... commended as "morally serious" by the New York Times and has beguiled some liberal opinion-makers as well as rightwing blowhards -- [Caldwell claims that] "advanced" cultures "have a long track record of underestimating their vulnerability to 'primitive' ones".
...Caldwell stops short of speculating what Europe would or should do to atone for its folly of nurturing a perfidious minority. The Canadian journalist Mark Steyn, whom Martin Amis has hailed as a "great sayer of the unsayable", does not hesitate to spell it out in his bestselling America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It:
In a democratic age, you can't buck demography - except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out - as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can't outbreed the enemy, cull 'em.
Bruce Bawer, whose book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award, suggests that European officials, who are "in a position to deport planeloads of people everyday", "could start rescuing Europe tomorrow". There are now even politicians ready to do the "unsayable". The Dutch MP Geert Wilders, whose party was one of the big rightwing winners of June's elections to the European Parliament, proposes expelling millions of Muslims from Europe. A separate ministry for this purpose is advocated by Austria's extreme-right parties, which gained an unprecedented 29% of the popular vote last year...
Ordinary Muslims in Europe, who suffer from the demoralisation caused by living as perennial objects of suspicion and contempt, are far from thinking of themselves as a politically powerful, or even cohesive, community, not to speak of conquerors of Europe. So what explains the rash of bestsellers with histrionic titles - While Europe Slept, America Alone, The Last Days of Europe? None of their mostly neocon American authors was previously known for their knowledge of Muslim societies; all of them suffer the handicaps of what the philosopher Charles Taylor, in his introduction to a new collection of scholarly essays entitled Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, calls "block thinking", which "fuses a very varied reality into one indissoluble unity". Certainly, the idea of a monolithic "Islam" in Europe appears an especially pitiable bogey when you regard the varying national origins, linguistic and legal backgrounds, and cultural and religious practices of European Muslims. Many so-called Muslims from secularised Turkey or syncretistic Sindh and Java would be condemned as apostates in Saudi Arabia, whose fundamentalist Wahhabism informs most western visions of Islam....
A more thoughtful conservative than Caldwell could have examined valuably how neoliberal capitalism, while enriching Europe's translational elites, has frayed the continent's old cultures and solidarities. In Europe, as in India and China, globalisation has provoked great anxieties about inequality and unemployment, fuelling new xenophobic nationalisms and backlashes against ethnic and religious minorities. The social anthropologist Arjun Appadurai claims in Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger that "minorities are the major site for displacing the anxieties of many states about their own minority or marginality (real or imagined) in a world of a few megastates, of unruly economic flows and compromised sovereignties".
...In actuality, the everyday choices of most Muslims in Europe are dictated more by their experience of globalised economies and cultures than their readings in the Qu'ran or sharia. Along with their Hindu and Sikh peers, many Muslims in Europe suffer from the usual pathologies of traditional rural communities transitioning to urban secular cultures: the encounter with social and economic individualism inevitably provokes a crisis of control in nuclear families, as well as such ills as forced marriage, the poor treatment of women and militant sectarianism. However, in practice, millions of Muslims, many of them with bitter experiences of authoritarian states, coexist frictionlessly and gratefully with regimes committed to democracy, freedom of religion and equality before the law.
..Liberal spaces within Europe have brought many more Muslim women out of their old confinements. Benhabib asserts that these women, who "struggle at first to retain their traditional and given identities against the pressures of the state", then go on to engage and contest their Islamic traditions. As Europe's own passage from tradition showed, this necessary reconfiguration is not the work of a day. It requires the practices and institutions of European citizenship to grow more rather than less flexible.....
Writing in 1937 about the minority then most despised in Europe, Joseph Roth predicted that "Jews will only attain complete equality, and the dignity of external freedom, once their 'host nations' have attained their own inner freedom, as well as the dignity conferred by sympathy for the plight of others". This proved to be too much to ask of Europe in 1937. But the moral challenge has not gone away - civilisation remains an ideal rather than an irreversible achievement - and the dangers of leaving it unmet are incalculable.
NOTE: A follow-up to this post can be found here.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on August 17, 2009.