“A calm, dispassionate and long overdue look at the facts that too many elected officials have either not yet seen or conspired to overlook.”
Well-intentioned but woefully misguided politicians, Angela Merkel’s titanic and inexplicable u-turns on immigration, and an artful elaboration on Murray’s previous concept of Western Islamophilia, The Strange Death of Europe covers a lot of ground as it reports on distressing tales of refugees with a thorough analysis of the West’s failings to pacify their plight without committing suicide. Early on, the book reads as a line by line guide to every fallacy and fallacious cliché made in an attempt to prove we are dependent on immigration whether we like it or not. Getting that out of the way early, and so convincingly, lays the way for a more explanatory thesis to take shape.
— A Review of Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam —
Murray manages to reach back through time — from the Rushdie affair to the firing of Ray Honeyford to the more recent Rotherham scandal — to dispatch the idea that the rise of deference to Islam is a newfound ailment we never could have predicted. The puzzled response to the inclusion of this controversial little word in the book’s subtitle reminds me of the objection to Christopher Hitchens’ refutation of an Islamic maxim, made plainly and polemically in God is Not Great. Both cases go a long way to proving just how condescendingly protected one faith remains above all others. In other illustrative shifts of time, Murray persuasively outlines how past bromides designed to placate worries about immigration have been proved no more than therapeutic. The doomsayers and cynics of the past have had their most Malthusian predictions outpaced by the reality of uncontrolled immigration. Who could have predicted that White Britons would be an ethnic minority in 23 out of 33 of London’s boroughs by 2017?
If ethnic diversity isn’t a problem per se (or even just what opinion poll after opinion poll should be alerting the government the population doesn’t seem to want) then Murray’s detached reportage of societal friction, from Molenbeek to Malmo to the suburbs of Marseilles, certainly paints an impending picture that must appear far from abstract for those living in Oxford and Bradford who have already experienced the same. One of the most disturbing but characteristically understated portions of the book describes how Jewish communities have been overwhelmed by the threat of religious sectarian violence. After the doubling of anti-Semitic attacks from 2013–2014, last year the majority of European Jews reported that safety concerns had kept them from attending the synagogue. Freedom to worship, the very thing that critics of commentators like Murray employ in service of protecting the rights of a growing number of European Muslims, is a tenet rendered immediately mutable when the threat against it inconveniences multiculturalist ideals.
As Murray puts it, “throughout the multicultural era it had been assumed that minorities would have their minority status in common with other minorities,” rarely taken into account are the “ancient animosities” they bring with them. Never mind that Murray, despite what you might have heard, is remarkably steadfast in his defense of this and other freedoms. He is also more astute at detecting threats to them and more outspoken and articulate in relaying these threats to the rest of us.
What is our goal, how much is too much, what would the endpoint look like? These questions are so simple to ask, so rarely posited and not as hard to answer as detractors would have us believe. A strong insistence on the value of liberal democracy, a basic level of assimilation into a society that values human rights, free speech, and freedom of and from religion to the end that private and personal beliefs are allowed to remain as such so long as they do not encroach on the same private and personal lives of anyone else. Ultimately, we should aim for communities that are not parallel in all but post-code. At the very least, Murray argues, Western leaders should attempt a slowing down of migration so that all of this can be allowed to take hold at a natural pace. Not least of the benefits would be that the genuine bigotry lurking beneath the wave of anti-immigration sentiment could no longer germinate atop the bedrock of stories like Rotherham and the failed integration underlying them.
The overall thesis is bleak. A policy pathway that was designed to fill post-war labour shortages has morphed into surges of economic migration cloaked in the conciliatory veil of a humanitarian crisis. Short-term solutions and the myopia with which they were embraced have led to long-term problems that a whimpering belief in the power of multiculturalism has not protected us from. Merkel might be the last voice you’d have expected to utter the words “multiculturalism has failed,” even so, you’d expect this revelation to have come after and not before she decided to leverage open Germany’s doors for good. In contrast, the isolation of eastern Europe in response to the demand to take in migrants shows another path, but Murray’s account of this passes by without a suggestion of what it might look like if the rest of Europe was to take this staunch policy of self-preservation.
The argument in the book which has proved most contested happens to be the least developed, the suggestion that the antidote to Islamism and Europe’s malaise is a resurgence of judeo-christian morals. It is unclear exactly how this would look, and how one set of antediluvian ideas might mollify another set of slightly newer but slightly less liberal ones. However, if one looks back on the Enlightenment and reframes it not as a rejection of Christianity but as an opportunity to exchange the parochial parts of it for a more universal moral bedrock, it isn’t too great a leap to see what Murray is hoping for.
Perhaps, in lieu of an Islamic reformation, which authors such as Shadi Hamid have argued are implausible, Murray’s prescription of Christian morals is a necessary, motivating placeholder until Europe can overcome what he terms “existential tiredness,” a concept the book takes an engrossing chapter to elaborate on. Perhaps, when it comes to religion, we should not be too hasty to make perfect the enemy of the good. Still, the suggestion that our attitude to religious architecture will define our willingness to resist everything from Islamic theocracy to technocracy (though the punchline to a thoughtful takedown of the vapidity of modern art), seems anti-climactic without a full explanation of the virtues of the other two thirds of Abrahamic ethics.
In contrast, some of Murray’s most powerful arguments are so calmly made that they rather undermine their explanatory power. For example, Murray dispatches what idealistic hope there is left of successful integration, of immigrants adopting secular liberal values and rejecting the less tolerant views many of them still profess to hold. He does this by re-asserting, ad nauseam, that we have received more persons from more parts of the world at a time when we are too feeble, guilty, existentially tired and liberal to refuse to backtrack past the human rights threshold it has taken us centuries to construct. This part of the thesis can be summarized as shy liberalism being a poor stalwart against fervent illiberalism. Consider this, for example:
“The liberalism of modern Europe also provides arrivals with some ostensible justifications, […] that which they would refute is in the society all around them. Perhaps in time, rather than become more like the society into which they have moved, such people will become more entrenched in their own ways precisely because of the society into which they have moved.”
With such emotional stories — from the plight of those fleeing war and the destitution that comes from economic insecurity, to the crime sprees and rape crises in Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden — it would be at times easy for Murray to entertain demagoguery to make his points land. But it is to the book’s merit that caution is always exercised. Much more than this, the assault of facts from the salient to the elucidatory, and the equanimous tone in which they are delivered, is the very thing which prevents a sobering read from becoming dispiriting. Murray’s reserved, understated and punishingly factual style even makes for the odd patch of humor, dark and self-medicating against the backdrop of growing death-tolls in the Mediterranean and European suicide. In fact, I think Murray does not realize that in the very exercise of documenting, in terse, perceptive prose, the current state of Europe, he has constructed the first wrap of the tourniquet to treat the wounds he describes; a calm, dispassionate and long overdue look at the facts that too many elected officials have either not yet seen or conspired to overlook.
Jonathan Gleadell is a geography student at the University of Leeds. His interests as a writer include environmental issues, feminism, religion and free speech. He is also a music journalist, editor of The Math Rock Blog and a DIY musician. You can follow him on twitter @JGGleadell and read more of his work at jonathangleadell.wordpress.com