Amidst the near-daily accounts of suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings and foiled terror plots—from the streets of Paris to the Borough Market—the spectre of Islamic terrorism in Europe has taken on a wearying familiarity. That the response of many to these obscene incursions upon the values and liberties of the European peoples should be a sigh of resignation at the inevitability of it all, is itself a remarkable phenomenon. Oddly, few among the media class deem it fit to remark upon. Yet the sense of resignation is almost as palpable as the terrorism itself.
With this in mind Douglas Murray has written a stylish and tightly argued volume, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, that addresses the concatenation of events that has put Europe on the verge of “committing suicide”. Far from a boisterous call-to-arms in defence of Western civilisation, Murray’s book speaks with a deep regret that “by the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home”.
The proximate cause of this suicide is the decades-long current of mass immigration. Unplanned by those who originally set it in motion, it increasingly pushes Europe in the cultural direction of the very places from which many immigrants seek refuge. But another object of Murray’s critique is the cultural condition of Europe itself. Mired in a chronic state of torpor and self-abnegation, the media and political class of Europe lacks the courage of its convictions necessary to make a stand against developments it would once have found unthinkable.
Douglas Murray is an indefatigable debater and verbal jouster, ever on the offensive against thuggish Islamists and the cretinous Western apologists who give them cover. Yet his book draws much of its power from the sombre realisation that even the most basic and decent of European values—rule of law, equality of treatment, protection of minorities, freedom of expression and the artistic creativity it engenders—may perish with scarcely a word of protest from the culture that gave birth to them.
A unique virtue of the European peoples has been their ability to assimilate ethnicities and cultural currents initially strange to them. But successful integration can only occur if there is a stable core of values that can be successfully inculcated in the arriving population. Human beings are tribal creatures, and the virtues of a multi-ethnic and sexually equalitarian outlook in Europe have taken centuries to achieve. For this to occur the meaning of “European” identity has evolved to become above all a question of the ideas in someone’s head—communicable and amenable to debate—rather than being based on ethnic origins or skin colour. As Murray writes: “If being ‘European’ is not about race—as we hope it is not—then it is even more imperative that it is about ‘values’.” Murray wishes this condition of development to be maintained. But the future of such healthy pluralism is in doubt.
Murray cites the results of the 2011 census as showing that only 44.9 per cent of London residents now identified themselves as “white British” and that “nearly three million people in England and Wales were living in households where not one adult spoke English as their main language”. He quotes the Oxford demographer David Coleman as saying that, on current trends, within our lifetime “Britain would become ‘unrecognisable to its present inhabitants’”. Obviously, changes in ethnic identification would not matter if the values remained much the same—or improved—but it is here that we witness a disturbing trend; and where the question of mass Islamic migration becomes of particular concern. The 2011 census showed the Muslim population in England and Wales had risen from 1.5 million to 2.7 million in the previous decade. In a country as small as Britain, population expansion and integration are burdensome enough, but even more so if a foreign religious group is simultaneously the most culturally dissimilar minority and the fastest growing.
Those of us in secular societies are used to thinking of religion as something primarily cultural and private—something that spiritually sustains people in their personal capacity, but that is largely separate from their broader political convictions. But this conception of religious belief is anomalous in the long run of human history, and remains unusual in large parts of the non-Western world. In our own tradition, one need only consult the Old Testament or recall the Crusades to be reminded of a time when religious convictions were one and the same with political convictions—and to be reminded that religion is not only something people may die for, but often kill for.
Murray locates one of the early warning signs of our current dilemma in 1989, on Valentine’s Day, when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to assassinate the British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie—a punishment supposedly deserved for the offence of irreverently depicting Mohammed. Blasphemy leapt back into the Western consciousness as a live issue, as associates of Rushdie and his publishers were threatened, injured and murdered.
Rushdie himself scrambled into hiding under police protection. Even Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) endorsed the death sentence and said he’d abet the assassination effort if Rushdie were before him. What’s worse, many British non-Muslims in politics and the press failed to stand up against this egregious attack on freedom of speech. Many, including Prince Charles, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, either asserted a moral equivalence between Rushdie’s blasphemy and the actions of his would-be assassins or indicated that Rushdie deserved any punishment that came upon him.
The Danish cartoon controversy of 2005, when a small Danish newspaper published caricatures of Mohammed (as at left) resulted in similarly violent reprisals and tepid defences. Murray comments:
“If a Dane in the 1990s had said that the story which would bring most attention to their country in the next decade would most likely be a ‘cartoon crisis’ (a phrase people increasingly uttered with a straight face), people would have thought the person unhinged.”
These instances, and the more recent murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, have set the stage for a culture of silence and self-censorship in the face of religious thuggery. And in Britain polling data suggests the existence of many fellow travellers to the Islamist blasphemy police. In 2006 it was revealed that “78 per cent of British Muslims believed the publishers of the [Danish] cartoons should be prosecuted”. In 2015: “27 per cent of British Muslims said they had ‘some sympathy’ for the motives of the [Charlie Hebdo] attackers. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they believed violence against people who publish images of Mohammed can be justified.”
Yet blasphemy is but the tip of the iceberg. Other regrettable tendencies on the up include homophobia, misogynistic violence and anti-Semitism. Out of a plenitude of illuminating statistics and studies, here are some choice examples from Murray’s admirably researched book: a 2003 report into anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Centre found that an upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks was attributable to increased attacks by young Muslims; the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France doubled between 2013 and 2014 alone (Jews were the victims of nearly half of all racist attacks, despite accounting for only 1 per cent of the French population); a 2009 Gallup poll found that zero per cent of British Muslims (sample size: 500) thought homosexuality was morally acceptable; a 2016 survey found that 52 per cent of British Muslims thought homosexuality should be made illegal; by 2015 Sweden had the second-highest number of rapes per capita amongst all countries (after the chronically impoverished African nation of Lesotho); Danish research published in 2016 found Somali men (almost 100 per cent of whom are Muslim) were roughly “twenty-six times more likely to commit rape than Danish men, adjusted for age”; and “In 2016 it transpired that as much as 80 per cent of the Swedish police force were considering quitting because of the dangers that their jobs now entailed in dealing with the increasingly lawless, migrant-dominated areas of their country.”
Among the political and media classes, terror attacks remain (fairly) easy to condemn. They are calculated to attract the spotlight, and do so very successfully. Sexual crimes, however, are notoriously under-reported and under-acknowledged. “Intersectionality” is the term coined for a modish branch of left-wing theory that purports to analyse the unique “intersection” of various disadvantages that may affect an individual (the confluence of gender and racial discrimination, for instance). But what happens when the fear of inflicting one kind of injustice gives cover to the perpetrators of another injustice? Murray provides two recent examples—one British, one German—that illustrate the dire consequences of this other kind of “intersectionality”.
Overlooked and wilfully ignored for years, it came to light in the 1990s and 2000s that the town of Rotherham in northern England was home to a massive child-sex trafficking ring. An inquiry held into the criminal operation and its accompanying police failings “revealed the exploitation of at least 1400 children” between 1997 and 2014. Murray elaborates:
The victims were all non-Muslim white girls from the local community, with the youngest victim aged eleven. All had been brutally raped, some had also been doused in petrol and threatened with being set on fire. Others were threatened with guns and forced to watch the violent rape of other girls as a warning should they tell anyone about the abuse. The inquiry into the abuse found that although the perpetrators were almost all men of Pakistani origin, operating in gangs, staff of the local council described their “nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought as racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so”. The local police were also found to have failed to act for fear of accusations of “racism” and of what this might do to community relations.
Likewise in Cologne, where on New Year’s Eve 2015, up to 2000 men sexually assaulted and robbed about 1200 women in the city centre. As with the Rotherham case, it transpired that police and media had kept silent about the issue for fear of being labelled “racist”.
The consequences of such moral idiocy hardly need to be stated. The criminal law is meant to operate in terms of individual, not group, responsibility. And yet dubious attempts to prevent racism—as if the skin colour of the person was the only indicator they needed of a person’s guilt, after which police would conclude the investigation and the courts would record a conviction—preclude the victims of horrific sexual crime from having their assailants brought to justice. One shudders to think what other horrors have been swept under the societal rug. (Murray notes, amongst other dispiriting statistics, that 130,000 women in Britain have suffered from female genital mutilation, which has been illegal for three decades, yet no one has been successfully prosecuted.)
The statistics on mass migration over the past few decades in general, and the last few years in particular, are staggering. In the 1960s it was assumed that the “guest workers” brought in by Western European nations to fill gaps in the labour market (resulting from mass youth casualties in the Second World War) would return home eventually. Hence, there was little proper planning for integration, or the consequences of foreign communities choosing to stay. Although the “guest worker” arrangements between Germany and Turkey ceased in the early 1970s, today there are roughly four million people of Turkish descent in Germany. The New Labour government in the UK greatly eased restrictions on moving to the UK, yet despite their enthusiasm they greatly underestimated the numbers that would come:
“The numbers of non-EU nationals were expected only to double between 100,000 a year in 1997 and 170,000 in 2004. In fact over five years the government’s predictions for the number of new arrivals would be off by almost a million people.”
Murray points to such statistics to illuminate the astonishing lack of foresight amongst policy-makers, who consistently had to play catch-up to their own blunders. Given how politicians struggle with far easier political problems, it is flabbergasting that the incredibly complex dynamics of population movements—political, social and economic—should have been given so little thought. This pattern of carelessness reached its apex with Angela Merkel’s off-the-cuff invitation in 2015 for more than one million migrants to enter Germany.
Lacking the means even to assess who were refugees and who were not (the Vice-President of the European Commission later admitted that at least 60 per cent of the people who came to Europe in 2015 were economic migrants rather than refugees) this decision was bound to have catastrophic consequences. Although Europeans are generally hospitable to genuine refugees, surveys reveal a steadfast disapproval of mass migration to their countries. Needless to say, an unplanned and unprecedentedly large influx of non-refugees during the recent migrant crisis has done nothing to assuage their reservations. Murray gives as evidence a 2016 Europe-wide Ipsos poll querying whether Europeans had a generally positive or negative view of the impact of immigration on their country. The results were dire, with positive assessments in Britain at 36 per cent, 24 per cent for Sweden, 18 per cent for Germany, and 10 to 11 per cent for Italy, France and Belgium.
Murray includes a pithy chapter dispatching the oft-cited (and bogus) justifications for policies of large-scale immigration. To the economic argument that immigrants as a whole contribute more to the economy than they take out, Murray gives a number of commonsense and easily verifiable replies. Noting that it will take a long time for immigrants to pay in as much into the social security system as they take out (if they ever do)—a fact fudged by politicians often claiming tech-entrepreneurs and the like to be representative migrants—Murray presents the findings of a UCL report that immigrants over the period from 1995 to 2011 had cost the UK somewhere in the order of £114 billion. This is unsurprising if you consider also the population pressures immigration presents in a small country such as the UK: in order to accommodate current trends of immigration the country would need to build a city the size of Liverpool every year.
This latter point contributes also to invalidating the claim that countries need to import a population to keep the ageing populations of Europe in the comforts to which they are accustomed. Surveys indicate that the current peoples would like to have more than enough children to maintain the current population. That they don’t is largely due to the astronomical costs of living pushed upwards by, among other things, a scarcity of available housing and educational opportunities—something unlikely to be alleviated by importing massive numbers of people.
Another argument trotted out by the mass-migration enthusiasts is the cultural benefits that accrue from ethnic diversity. This argument in particular has a great superficial appeal—no one would deny the great benefits that have come in language, cuisine and the arts as a result of new peoples settling in Europe. But—Murray queries—when does a country have enough diversity, or enough of a particular type of diversity? Immigrants to European countries by and large come from the same parts of the world—and little effort is made to import people from far-flung parts of the earth of which there is a genuine lack of knowledge. The result has been not a proliferation of different cultures living side by side, but rather discrete monocultures living apart from the broader community. Again, he provides evidence from the 2011 census showing that in England certain areas have a lack of diversity not due to lack of immigration, but due to a lack of native English people.
The final most common argument to be addressed is that of globalisation—the idea that inflows of people are inevitable and unstoppable, given our economically and technologically interconnected world. Quite aside from the free pass it gives to policy-makers lacking the courage and intelligence to tackle the issue head on, it is manifestly false. China and Japan not only do not import large numbers of people, but successfully dissuade people from taking up permanent residence (something for which, incidentally, they receive remarkably little criticism). And yet who would argue that these economies are shut-off and unsuccessful?
It need hardly be said, though it bears repeating, that the primary victims of Islamist violence and oppression are Muslims themselves. If European civilisation is to continue as a civilisation with virtues to share—a place that can receive real refugees and offer them a better life—then those who come to it must adopt the values that enable that better life to continue for those that come after them. Yet liberal voices within the Islamic community are too often denounced as being themselves “Islamophobic” when they so much as criticise Islamic practices they abhor.
Murray lists Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands, Maajid Nawaz in Britain and Kamel Daoud in France as examples of critical voices with Islamic backgrounds who have been smeared for their reformist efforts:
In every Western European country it is the Muslims who have come here or been born here and stood up for our own ideals—including our ideals of free speech—who have been castigated by their co-religionists and carefully dropped by what was once “polite” European society.
In the Australian context, we might add Dr Jamal Rifi to Murray’s list.
A failure by European leaders to discern the different currents of Islam results in the foregrounding of those “community leaders” who are loudest and most aggressive in pushing their views. And it silences not only those Muslims we admire, but also the Muslim victims in our midst.
Murray gives an example of the kind of odious personality that comes to represent Islamic communities because of this abdication of intellectual and moral responsibility:
So, for instance, the chairman of the Luton Islamic Centre, Abdul Qadeer Baksh, is also the headteacher of a local school, associates with local politicians including MPs, and works with local officials on the “Luton Council of Faiths” interfaith network. He also believes Islam to be in a 1400-year war with “the Jews”, that in an ideal society homosexuals would be killed, and he has defended the chopping off of hands of thieves and lashing of women under Islamic “hudud” punishment laws. Yet none of these facts—all easily available, all known or knowable—made him a pariah or an untouchable.
Murray closes The Strange Death of Europe with two chapters, sombrely titled “What Might Have Been” and “What Will Be”. In the penultimate chapter he lists a handful of commonsense approaches that would help deal with the problems of mass migration in a manner beneficial both to the current European populations and to those they seek to assist.
First, he argues, measures should be taken to relieve more refugees in areas more proximal to their original homes. Not only would this allow such people to maintain a connection to the cultures with which they are familiar, and easier for them to return to their homes in the future—it also makes economic sense. One comparison he gives is provided by Dr Tino Sanandaji, who has pointed out that “it costs more for 3000 migrants to be housed in temporary accommodation tents in Sweden than it does to fund outright the largest refugee camp in Jordan (housing around 100,000 Syrian refugees)”.
Additionally, he advocates the adoption in Europe of an Australian approach to enforcing migration borders through boat turn-backs and a refusal to accommodate people who attempt to enter the country illegally. This would have a discouraging effect on the people-smuggling trade (a racket far easier to operate between Africa and Europe than to isolated Australia) and lead to fewer deaths at sea.
Furthermore, Murray posits a strict adherence to law enforcement and the deportation of those without legitimate asylum claims as being necessary to maintain order and optimise the use of governmental resources to help legitimate refugees. Finally, he points out the need for a framework of temporary asylum in case of humanitarian emergencies so that people can be given shelter and comfort when fleeing catastrophe, but be returned to their countries when conditions are suitable.
But for such approaches to be feasible, there needs to be a reassertion of cultural confidence and a return to the belief that some basic European values are necessary foundation stones for a cohesive, secure and free society. Murray cites with approval the concept of a “core culture” put forth by the Syrian-German academic Bassam Tibi:
This notion—first put forward by him in the 1990s—argued for a form of multi-ethnic society that embraced people of different backgrounds but united them around a set of common themes. Like jazz, it could work if everyone knew the theme that they were riffing around. But it could not possibly work if the theme was unknown, forgotten or lost.
At another point in the book Murray recalls the sense of surety that Izaak Walton wrote of upon the death of his friend John Donne. Walton maintained a Christian belief that he would in time see his friend rise again:
At the end of this brief work Walton speaks of his friend’s last days and described his body “which once was a temple of the Holy Ghost and is now become a small quantity of Christian dust”. And then the last line: “But I shall see it reanimated.”
A pessimistic and foreboding book, The Strange Death of Europe nevertheless offers a spark of hope. In the grip of repeated crises, and a feeling of historical despair, Europe stands on the brink of death. But we may see it reanimated.
Edward Cranswick is completing a postgraduate degree in law at the University of Melbourne