Christopher Caldwell dissected
July 2, 2009 — Review
Written by Matt Carr
The author of key works on contemporary terrorism and the concept of Eurabia dissects the latest anti-Muslim tome.
Since the late Oriana Fallaci published her anti-Muslim diatribe The Rage and the Pride in 2001, the Islamic threat to Europe has become something of a minor publishing phenomenon. Mark Steyn, Bat Ye’or, Bruce Bawer and Melanie Phillips have all made their contribution to a genre whose effects can be compared to a scratched record being played ad infinitum at piercingly high volume. Now the American Financial Times journalist Christopher Caldwell has made another contribution to the genre, in his Burkean analysis of the ‘revolution’ in Europe wrought by immigration, and Muslim migration in particular. But Caldwell’s book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, has received an unusual level of critical attention and acclaim that may make it even more significant than its predecessors.
We might not be surprised that a book on the Islamicisation of Europe has received praise from Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Niall Ferguson, but Caldwell has also been interviewed on Andrew Marr’s Start the Week and on Radio 3’s cultural flagship Nightwaves. His book has been lionised in the liberal press, including a full-page review in the Observer by Prospect magazine’s editor David Goodhart, which hailed Caldwell as ‘a bracing, clear-eyed analyst of European pieties’. The Guardian‘s Martin Woollacott described Caldwell as one of the ‘more urbane and interesting voices’ in the neoconservative political orbit and hailed his book as an important contribution to the ‘sluggish’ debate on immigration.
At first sight it may seem odd that a senior editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and an admirer of Enoch Powell should receive such acclaim from such bastions of British liberalism. So what makes Caldwell different and why has his book managed to transcend the conservative/right-wing readership that the ‘green peril’ sub-genre normally attracts? Firstly, there is his approach to the issues he raises. Unlike Fallaci and Mark Steyn, Caldwell does not rant or sneer. He presents his book as an objective and judicious discussion rather than a polemic, and avoids conspiratorial explanations for Muslim immigration of the type made by Eurabian theorists like Bat Ye’or. His arguments are measured, thoughtful and nuanced, and considerably more sophisticated than the rantings of Melanie Phillips. His authorial persona is that of a puzzled and concerned observer of the European predicament, driven only by a willingness to consider all angles of a serious debate that others are ignoring. He is cultured and knowledgeable.
For all these qualities, there is virtually nothing in his book that would be out of place in any other examples of the ‘green peril’ genre. Caldwell’s essential argument is that Enoch Powell’s predictions have been proven to be mostly correct and that European elites naively – and unnecessarily – entered into a new era of mass immigration after World War II, without thinking through its long-term consequences. As a result they have paved the way for the implantation of a Muslim ‘adversary culture’ in the heart of Europe that now threatens to engulf the continent demographically, culturally, politically and even sexually. To support this thesis, Caldwell roams back and forth across the continent, combining first-hand reportage with a formidable accumulation of statistics and opinion polls from different countries. All the essential elements of Islamic threat narratives are here; the empty church pews versus burgeoning mosques; Europe’s decadence and crisis of spiritual values versus the confidence and power of Islam; the dire warnings of an ageing Europe that is being out-bred by more virile and fertile Muslim immigrants; the failure of multiculturalism and the subsequent proliferation of parallel societies and ‘ethnic colonies’ characterised by female circumcision, honour killings, criminal violence and terrorism, gang rape and the oppression of women.
Caldwell also adds his particular variants, such as his assertion that European opinion leaders and elites were so affected by Holocaust guilt and anti-racism that they recklessly celebrated diversity and bred monsters in their midst. These worthy sentiments were transformed by ‘the pressure of mass immigration’ so that ‘post-Holocaust repentance became a template for regulating the affairs of any minority that could plausibly present itself as seriously aggrieved’ while Europeans engaged in what Caldwell calls ‘fear masquerading as tolerance’. The main beneficiaries of Europe’s ideological sickness, Caldwell argues, were Muslims, who were ‘a living, thriving, confident European ethnic group with a lot of claims to press’.
In Caldwell’s estimation, Europe’s misguided promotion of multiculturalism is a consequence of a self-loathing and loss of confidence that extends to religious, cultural and even sexual matters. Not only do Europeans no longer believe in anything, but immigration has made them feel ‘contemptible and small, ugly and asexual’. Little evidence is offered to prove this ridiculous generalisation, beyond a few quotes from the misanthropic French ‘post-humanist’ novelist Michel Houllebecq and others. But Caldwell clearly likes to have his Eurabian cake and eat it. If Europeans are asexual and unconfident compared with the more virile immigrant hordes, they are also having too much of the wrong kind of sex, in societies marked by ‘the pierced navel, online gambling, a 50 per cent divorce rate, and a huge rate of anomie and self-loathing’.
One minute Caldwell is suggesting that immigrants share a puritanical aversion to Europe’s depraved sexual mores that might make them reluctant to integrate. The next he is explaining that ‘Europe’s Third World immigrants, and particularly its Muslims’ might not undergo the ‘same demographic transition that their Western hosts did’ and have smaller families, because ‘Muslim culture is unusually full of messages laying out the practical advantages of procreation’. One of these ‘messages’ consists of a verse from the Koran, the other is a quote from Yasser Arafat that the wombs of Palestinian women should be a ‘secret weapon’ against Israel.
It is not at all clear whether Arafat’s exhortation had anything to do with ‘Muslim culture’, let alone what relevance it has to ‘Third World immigrants’ in Europe. But this rhetorical slickness is an essential component of Caldwell’s style. He often attributes the ideas and attitudes he describes to ‘Europeans’ or ‘native Europeans’ as though he were merely reporting what other people are thinking, but this veneer of neutrality is constantly undermined by intellectually shallow arguments that are entirely his own. Hailing ‘Pakistani cuisine’ as the ‘single greatest improvement in British public life over the past half-century,’ he notes that ‘the bombs used for the failed London transport attacks of 21 July 2005, were made from a mix of hydrogen peroxide and chapatti flour’ before concluding with seamless illogic that ‘Immigration is not enhancing or validating European culture; it is supplanting it.’
Not many writers would quote Malcolm X’s famous celebration of the multi-racial world he encountered in Mecca as another example of the threat to Europe from an Islamic ‘hyper-identity’, but Caldwell revels in these tenuous connections. At one point he suggests that Islam has become so powerful that it might become a ‘dominant culture amongst immigrants as a whole’ and a German leitkultur (leading culture) ‘in a different context’. As an illustration of this possibility he cites the ‘Muslim-led gang’ consisting of a ‘multicultural mix of recent immigrants from Africa and Asia, as well as several French-born minorities’ that tortured the Jewish cellphone salesman Ilan Halimi to death in 2006. To enlist this horrific murder in support of such arguments requires intellectual blindness on a breathtaking scale. The trial of Halimi’s murderers is still ongoing, but it has not been suggested that their motives were ‘Islamic’ or that the gang was held together by Muslim cultural or religious hegemony.
Caldwell’s rhetorical sleight-of-hand is also matched by a lackadaisical attitude towards factual accuracy, which frequently bends facts and statistics to suit his arguments and ignores those that don’t. This tendency is evident on numerous occasions, such as his discussion of the attack by Egyptian riot police in December 2005 on 3,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers outside the United Nations offices in Cairo, where they were camped out in protest at the High Commission for Refugees’ refusal to consider appeals for their resettlement to another country. While Caldwell concedes that the deaths of more than twenty protesters was a ‘sad ending’ to this episode, he describes their protest as ‘bizarre’ since ‘many of them already had refugee status in Egypt’ and were therefore ‘bogus petitioners in the sense that what they were really seeking was passage to some country more prosperous than Egypt’.
This is a gross distortion of what took place, to say nothing of the conclusions that Caldwell draws from it. Though many of the protesters did have refugee status, Caldwell does not mention that Sudanese refugees in Egypt are often subject to vicious discrimination and social exclusion which makes a mockery of their asylum status. According to Barbara Harrell-Bond, a specialist in refugee studies at the American University in Cairo, the protesters wished to be resettled in a country where ‘their rights would be respected and where they would not face racial discrimination, sexual harassment and abuse’.
This background does not fit with Caldwell’s depiction of asylum seekers as devious parasites in search of the softest touch and the country with the best welfare system. His book is littered with similar evasions and distortions. Discussing the phenomenon of emigration from Europe, he suggests that Europeans are fleeing their immigrant-dominated countries in a transnational version of American ‘white flight’ to the suburbs. He also suggests that Jews are leaving the continent in large numbers as a consequence of anti-Semitism, even though Europe remains the preferred destination not only for Soviet Jews, but increasingly for Israeli Jews, who according to Time magazine in 2004 were ‘flocking to European embassies to apply for EU passports’. Caldwell’s depiction of a continent engulfed by anti-Semitic violence is contradicted by various sources in various countries, including an Anti-Defamation League report in 2004 that described a ten per cent drop in anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe for that year. For Caldwell however, European anti-Semitism is an essentially Muslim phenomenon and a product of ‘the ideology of diversity and racial harmony’ through which ‘anti-Jewish fury was reinjected into European life’. Even an egg thrown at Oona King during a war memorial service in 2005 is described as an anti-Semitic act against a ‘Jewish parliamentarian’ rather than a response to her outspoken support of the Iraq invasion.
Caldwell is not a writer to allow a fact to get in the way of a good argument. To illustrate the absurdity of political correctness, he quotes a tabloid story in 2005 that Dudley town council ‘banned certain toys and images from its municipal offices after a Muslim employee complained about a colleague’s keeping a picture of Piglet on her desk’. In fact the original story referred to a complaint about a pig-shaped stress remover, not a picture. Though one Muslim employee did complain about the toy in the run up to Ramadan, a cursory glance at the internet could have found an email from councillor Les Jones of the controlling Conservative group, which denied that any action had been taken beyond an informal request to employees to keep such toys out of sight. Councillor Roberts also condemned the ‘media exaggeration’ that had ‘given any extreme racist group another flag to pin to the mast and may well have created an impression among sections of the white population that there is some hidden agenda within the establishment to pander to prejudice from one section of our community at their expense’.
This certainly seems to apply to the Sun and the Express, and Caldwell’s uncritical interpretation of this episode suggests that he belongs to the same category. On this issue, as on so many, Caldwell fails to get his basic facts right. Determined to leave no tabloid stone unturned he mentions the story of Nadia Eweida, the British Airways stewardess (temporarily) suspended from her job in 2006 for wearing a crucifix outside her uniform while Muslims were allowed to wear headscarves as another example that ‘Europeans were coming to despise their own cultures, much as the bigots among their forebears had despised the cultures of other peoples.’ This was not the explanation given by BA at the time, which argued its case on the grounds of practicality rather than discrimination. In a press statement, BA claimed that ‘personal items of jewellery, including crosses may be worn – but underneath the uniform’ and the statement insisted that ‘it is not practical for some religious symbols – such as turbans and hijabs – to be worn underneath the uniform’.
Whatever can be said about this argument, it has nothing to do with Caldwell’s interpretation of this incident. Caldwell mobilises similar factoids in an attempt to demonstrate that ‘the tabloid-reading public is not off-base to fear the introduction of sharia law’. To prove this thesis, he claims that 57 per cent of Irish Muslims want Ireland to become an Islamic state, citing a survey carried out for the Irish Independent/RTE by the Lansdowne market research company. The actual figure quoted in the survey found that 57 per cent of young Irish Muslims wanted this outcome, compared with only 37 per cent of Irish Muslims overall. The same survey found that 73 per cent of Irish Muslims considered themselves ‘fully integrated’ and that 58 per cent were prepared to abandon parts of their religion and culture that conflicted with Irish law.
In 2004 he notes that for the first time there were more emigrants than immigrants in the Netherlands, and suggests that this phenomenon was a specific response connected to the murder of Theo van Gogh. But according to the Dutch government agency Statistics Netherlands, the numbers of emigrants and immigrants for that year were 75,049 and 94,019 respectively. One of the most egregious examples of Caldwell’s promiscuous bending of the facts concerns his depiction of what he calls ‘the ongoing attempts of Muslims to get the Cordoba cathedral rededicated for Muslim prayer’. Caldwell cites these efforts as another example of the religious irredentism of European Muslims, who arrogantly insist on the right to worship in Christian churches without any reciprocity in Muslim countries. In presenting this case, he seems entirely oblivious to the fact that the Cordoba cathedral is located inside the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The cathedral was built in the early sixteenth century, in a crass display of Christian hegemony that appalled even the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V when he saw it. For centuries Christians have worshipped in the cathedral, while Muslims are not allowed to worship in the surrounding mosque. In recent years some local Muslims have asked to be allowed to worship in the mosque complex and argued that such a concession would be an act of reconciliation – demands that have so far been rejected by the Church.
Caldwell perhaps does not know this, just as he does not seem to know that what he calls the ‘old Byzantine mihrab’ refers to part of a mosque, not a ‘shrine’, in which case he is merely ignorant. But on the evidence of the book, it is equally possible that he simply chose once again to ignore facts that did not fit his polemical purposes. Though he likes to quote historians, he seems unwilling to engage with any version of history that does not bear out his own prejudices and assumptions. At one point he suggests that Muslim immigration is another version of an old enemy that ‘for virtually all of Europe’s history since the Dark Ages … had been a mortal threat’ to European civilisation.
Quoting anti-Islamic statements of Hilaire Belloc and Ernest Renan with approval, he dismisses the work of the anthropologist Jack Goody for its ‘Panglossian’ emphasis on the more positive cultural interactions between Islam and the West, as a form of historical political correctness. His assertion that ‘Europeans abandoned the Mediterranean to Muslim navies and Saracen pirates’ following the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century is entirely ahistorical. Caldwell has clearly not heard of the defeats inflicted on the Ottomans at Lepanto or Malta, the sacking of Tunis, the numerous Christian attempts to conquer Algiers and other parts of North Africa in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He seems unaware that Christians as well as Muslims had navies and engaged in piracy throughout this same period.
For Caldwell, like Renan and Belloc, Islam is the ancestral enemy, as dangerous to present-day Europeans as it was to their predecessors. Thus he accepts Samuel Huntington’s hoary assertion that ‘Islam has bloody borders.’ He dismisses the Islamic world as ‘an economic and intellectual basket case, the part of the potentially civilised world most left behind by progress’, citing the UN’s Arab Human Development Reports published by the UN as evidence. For Caldwell, European Muslims are the religious and cultural footsoldiers of a new Islamic conquest, intent on establishing Islamic enclaves that override the political sovereignty of their adopted countries. Thus the ‘relative violence of Muslim neighbourhoods is a main obstacle to social mixing and integration’, since ‘Immigrants and their children commit much of the crime in all European countries, and most of the crime in some of them’ and ‘violence has kept native Europeans out of certain immigrant neighborhoods as effectively as an electric fence’. In his discussion of the banlieue riots in France in October 2005, he dismisses suggestions of racism, police brutality or discrimination as motivating factors and rejects the conclusions by the International Crisis Group and other observers that they were not Islamic in character since, ‘Even if [the rioters] did not believe in Islam, they believed in Team Islam.’
Some of Caldwell’s statements are demonstrably absurd, such as his assertion that ‘In very few parts of Europe are active steps taken to send rejected asylum seekers home’ or his rejection of the possibility of a fascist resurgence because there is no evidence that ‘the rightist parties that exist today are especially preoccupied with Islam’. But again and again the shrill tone of the ideological zealot breaks through the nuance and detachment, whether he is condemning Europeans for refusing to join the Bush administration’s war on terror because ‘their self-esteem meant more to them than their self-interest’ or his insistence that ‘Any Euro reluctance to embrace Islamic immigration gets called Islamophobia. So does any suggestion that immigrants or their children adapt to European ways’.
Caldwell is less categorical about the solutions for Europe’s ills than he is about the disease itself. He admires the Danish People’s Party; he hails the French president Nicolas Sarkozy as ‘the representative figure of the politics that is replacing uncritical multiculturalism’ and the embodiment of the new ‘love it or leave it’ attitude towards immigrants that he sees emerging in some European countries. But he also criticises Sarkozy’s support for affirmative action as inadequate for France and Europe since, unlike America, ‘Europe’s predicament involves population decline, ageing, immigration, and the steady implantation of a foreign religion and culture in city after city’.
‘Can Europe be the same with different people in it?’ asks the question on the front cover. For Caldwell the question is purely rhetorical, particularly when these ‘different’ people are Muslims. At the end of his book he concludes that: ‘It is certain that Europe will emerge changed from its confrontation with Islam. It is far less certain that Islam will prove assimilable’ since ‘when an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter’. If Muslims should not prove ‘assimilable’ then what should be done with them? The nuanced observer does not say, but he does not need to, when so many others are saying it for him. And the uncritical reception given to this artful anti-Muslim diatribe in liberal circles is a depressing reminder of the extent to which its essential assumptions have moved from the political margins to form a new mainstream consensus.
Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, Christopher Caldwell. Allen Lane, 2009.  'You are now entering Eurabia', Matt Carr, Race & Class, Vol. 48, No. 1, (2006). Matt Carr is a regular contributor to Race & Class. He is also the author of The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism from the Assassination of Alexander II to al-Qaeda (New Press, 2007) and the forthcoming Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain (New Press, September 2009).
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.