In his new book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (Bloomsbury, 2017), Douglas Murray foreshadows factors that will contribute to the decline of Europe, including restriction of free speech, western guilt, and mass immigration.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published what became arguably the most seminal book of the latter half of the twentieth century. In The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama expounded his thesis that Western liberal democracy had emerged as the one political model with sufficient moral and practical resilience to endure as the final form of human government. His prediction that liberal democracy in Europe represented the final stage in mankind’s ideological evolution has since been subjected to a barrage of criticism from those who claim he failed to give sufficient weight to liberal democracy’s ethno-religious rivals. His critics claimed that religious fundamentalism, and radical Islam in particular, pose a powerfully resistant bulwark against the spread of liberal democracy and an influential counter-force against it.
If ever there were reason to doubt Fukuyama’s optimism about the continuation of Western liberal democracy, Douglas Murray’s painfully prophetic book explains why now is the time to do so. Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam is probably the most important book so far written in the twenty-first century. He is not the first to predict the downfall of Europe, but Murray’s case is better timed and more persuasively argued than any previous proclamation.
Europe’s Illness: The Diagnosis
The cause of Europe’s fatal illness is not simplistically attributed to a single factor, but rather to a confluence of several. First is the unprecedented scale of mass migration to Europe. Second is the illiberal religious ideology that a disproportionately large number of immigrants bring with them. Third, and simultaneous to this, is a crisis of confidence among Europeans about the legitimacy of their own beliefs and traditions. Guilt and self-doubt have made them unwilling to take their own side in an argument. Finally, and closely related to the previous point, is the poisoning of the discursive ground. At the peak of the migration crisis, when thought, speech and debate about the future implications of migration ought to have been at a zenith, speech is constricted and speakers spuriously smeared. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was pressured by the German Chancellor to stem criticisms of her migration policy on social media, The Guardian turned off its “comments” section on the topic, and anyone who attempted to raise the issue of European values was unambiguously tarred with the “right wing” brush. Murray argues that the movement of millions of people into a guilty, existentially exhausted and dying culture that has lost sight of its own ethics and beliefs – Europe – has resulted in a self-inflicted death sentence.
Census statistics show that between 2001 and 2011 the size of the Muslim population in England and Wales has almost doubled, with illegal immigration of at least a million making the figures even higher than the estimated 2.7 million. Politically, the heat unleashed by Enoch Powell’s notorious speech of April 1968 allowed British politicians forever after to avoid having to defend their immigration policies, even when they were deeply unpopular with a large majority of constituents, or when objections were different to those of Powell or the circumstances in which he spoke.
Immigration: A ‘tool’ for cultural transformation?
British immigration policy underwent radical relaxation under Tony Blair’s government, largely under the guidance of his Minister of Asylum and Immigration, Barbara Roche. Roche oversaw the conversion of immigration into a tool for the acquisition of cultural ‘capital’. Even as mass migration vastly exceeded even the highest estimates, Roche’s oft repeated aim to ‘transform Britain’ seemed to require that all existing (or future) immigration restraints would be dismissed as ‘racist’ and that any attempt to debate immigration policy would create a ‘toxic’ atmosphere. One theory is that immigrants were being used as a sort of battering ram by Blair’s government in a deliberate manoeuvre to change the culture. This theory seems less far-fetched in light of Tony Blair’s more recent career. As head of his own “Tony Blair Faith Foundation” (now the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change), one of his organisation’s stated aims is “to ensure that where there is conflict with religious dimensions, there will be people of influence equipped to understand and engage with it. We provide opportunities for faith leaders to work alongside political and other social leaders.” One of Foundation’s teaching guides, ‘Essentials of Dialogue’, instructs the reader (under the theme of ‘respect’) that dialogue enables us to talk about culture and identity, but
“we recommend that it always emphasises faith and belief, because those two things can play a very positive role in our world, yet are almost always referred to in a negative way. Dialogue emphasises similarity and difference; finding the ways in which we are similar to other people is often easy but discovering the ways in which we are different gives us much more opportunity to learn. Diversity is something that we celebrate.” [my emphasis]
Under the Blair government, the public costs of mass migration were ‘analysed’ by government units staffed with pro-immigration people. This was spin masquerading as research. One way in which they re-framed the impact of immigration as an economic gain was to present recent immigrants from the European Economic Area (the EU, plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein) as the ‘average’ immigrants. In the press, emphasis was consistently focused on the approximately £22 billion that “recent migrants” had brought to the UK economy between 2001 and 2011, while the truth was that non-EEA migrants had taken out about £95 billion more in services than they had paid in taxes. The final report later corrected the media-friendly one and estimated that the actual cost of immigration was between £114 – £159 billion, but that didn’t make the news.
Multiculturalism: some fallacies
Murray also sheds light on a cluster of fallacies that have supported the multiculturalist agenda. First is the myth that somehow European societies are bland or boring places that need mass migration from other cultures in order to be improved. The normative subtext of unilateral “multiculturalism” is its assumption that other cultures do not need mass migration from other cultures in order to be improved, only ours does.
Another fallacy is that the best solution to cultural philistinism is not to travel to other parts of the world, but to insist that the rest of the world come to you. Furthermore, the idea that the value of another culture continues to increase as its numbers increase suggests that quantity is more important than quality – so that having fifteen Tandoori take-aways in a British seaside town is inherently better than having, say, three. Finally, if ‘diversity’ is good in and of itself, then it is reasonable to wonder why the current mass migration of immigrants to European countries and Britain disproportionately come from such a small number of countries.
What kind of integration?
Alongside the government’s ‘diversity’ agenda has appeared a radically new idea of ‘integration’ that presupposes we cannot be bound together by universal values. The idea of integration, as understood in international policy, has become a two-way process, by which the host nation must be expected to adapt to migrant society. This implies a gradual attenuation of liberal values. A Gallup poll survey conducted in 2009 in Britain found that exactly 0% of British Muslims interviewed (out of 500) thought that homosexuality was morally acceptable. Likewise, when northern Labour MP Ann Cryer addressed the issue of rape of underage girls in her own constituency, she was so viciously smeared as an ‘Islamophobe’ and a ‘racist’ that she needed to get police protection.
Positive chatter about migration is easy. It not only costs the speaker nothing but implies broad-mindedness and tolerance in his character. It’s hip. To raise any of the downsides has the opposite effect of insinuating that the speaker is xenophobic or racist. It is virtually a thought crime. If migrants commit actual crimes, even when the victims are other minorities the media fills its reports with euphemisms. Simultaneously, the only culture that cannot be celebrated positively is the one that has most embraced diversity in the first place – our own. British intellectuals say things about Britain that would be completely unacceptable to say about any other part of the world, such as the claim that Britain doesn’t really have a deep culture anyhow. The 2011 census found that many British boroughs did lack ‘diversity’ — not because they lacked immigrants but because there were not sufficient numbers of white British inhabitants to make them truly ‘diverse’.
Original sin and hereditary guilt
Guilt for the original sins – colonialism, slavery and the Holocaust – that both Europeans and Americans stand accused of having uniquely spread around the world – festers in Western souls. The result, says Murray, is that westerners have become intoxicated by a new orientalism. They alone must accept perpetual responsibility for the actions of their forbears. Never mind the fact that there were as many people at the Ugandan end of the slavery chain as there were at the American end. America has had black secretaries of state, black supreme court justices and a black President, but apparently no amount of progress is sufficient to atone for the guilt of past generations. This is not to suggest that no regret should be felt about past wrongs, but the historical stain of complicity has been passed down like a hereditary ‘original sin’ from one generation to another. Descendant-blaming is morally repugnant when it is aimed at, say Jews, for their complicity in Jesus’s crucifixion, but western descendants perpetually lacerate themselves for the behaviour of their ancestors. No government or authority figure has suggested that anyone else from other parts of the world should be held responsible for the hereditary crimes of their forbears. Europeans are expected to judge everyone else only by their highest moments or best achievements, as is evident in the constant references to Andalusia or the Islamic neo-Platonists. Only the nations of Europe and their descendants are assessed in light of their lowest moments and worst crimes, which is why it has become commonplace to hear talk about the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades brought up in any debate about religious extremism.
Many pro-Europe commentators have cited borders as the primary or sole cause of wars, but Murray points out that while borders sometimes cause conflicts, it does not follow that without borders there would be no conflicts. Before the wars of nation states in Europe, the continent was ravaged by wars of religion.
European culture in decline
Murray diagnoses European cultural decline partly as the outcome of two nineteenth century seismic blows: (1) the biblical criticism that swept through German universities, and (2) Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. If the European Enlightenment saw the West’s religious foundations replaced by trust in man and reason, then this too failed when it led the most sophisticated artistic culture in the world to do the most barbaric things. Following World War Two, some Europeans still clung to faith in communism, but this too fell away after the invasion of Hungary and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Murray claims that the first decade of the present century saw experiments with a ‘muscular liberalism’ that attempted a violent defence of liberal rights around the globe, notably Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. What Murray does not mention, however, is that the vast majority of left-wing liberals did not approve of these Western interventions and did not regard them as consistent with liberalism’s ideals or with human rights. Even when the American neocons’ rhetorical justifications for military interventions were couched in liberal rhetoric, most liberal intellectuals doubted whether the stated aims were anything more noble than economic profiteering. Liberals recoiled at the means by which these economic ends were achieved and saw them as a travesty of liberal values.
More importantly, however, than the attenuation of its Christian heritage, Murray cites European philosophers’ abandonment of their traditional role as ‘gadflies’ who ask tough questions and seek answers to pressing social questions. Decades of deconstruction and self-doubt have turned a once powerful and socially relevant discipline into an industry that rewards its practitioners for saying nothing as successfully as possible. The continent’s philosophers have become enthralled by how to avoid questions. No generality may be attempted and no specific uttered, lest someone should stumble back into the terrain of ideas. All socially relevant words must instantly be dissected, flagged and disputed. The aim of this game, says Murray, besides cordoning off ideas, philosophy and language, is to maintain a pretence of academic inquiry while making fruitful discussion impossible. This impounding and policing of all useful ideas persists, much to the satisfaction of its academic participants, and to the frustration or indifference of everyone else.
A shifting mood
Following every terrorist gun, knife, bomb, acid or vehicular attack on European soil, public attention abruptly shifts from the victims of the attack to the relationship between the tiny number of extremists who carry out such attacks and the rest of the Muslim population. The real victims are not the dead, but Muslims who might be tarred with the brush of extremism despite being ordinary, peaceful citizens. Yet Murray contrasts the media’s obsessive paternalistic concern for innocent Muslims with surveys of ordinary Muslims’ social attitudes. The data reveals that migrant communities from outside Europe have views on social liberalism that would terrify Europeans if those views came from within their own communities. A poll taken in Britain in 2006 following the publication of the Danish cartoons showed that 78% of British Muslims believe the publishers of the cartoons should be prosecuted and 68% agreed that anyone who insulted Islam should be prosecuted. It also revealed that almost a fifth of British Muslims respected Osama Bin Laden. Nine years later, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 27% of British Muslims claimed to have ‘some sympathy’ for the attackers, and nearly a quarter (24%) said violence against people who publish images of Mohammed can be justified. The BBC presented these statistics as good news, and ran the headline, Most British Muslims ‘Oppose Muhammed Cartoons Reprisals’.
The mood in Europe is shifting, says Murray, so that as Islam in society increases and public dislike towards it expands, the political class avoids addressing the thing to which the public objects, and instead clamps down on the objecting public. Missing from media coverage of ‘far right’ groups is the fact that in both Germany and the UK, many in the ranks of these movements view themselves as anti-fascists, and come from ethnic and sexual minorities. When it comes to anti-fascism in Western Europe, says Murray, the demand for fascists vastly outstrips the supply. It is politically useful to describe as ‘fascist’ people who are not fascists, just as it is useful to describe people as racist who are not. Unjust accusations of these evils carries no social or political price whatsoever for the accuser but tarnishes the reputation of the accused even when the charge is completely false.
Liberals themselves became unaware of the contradiction in wrapping themselves up in niche discussions of feminist and LGBT rights while continuing to argue for the importation of millions of people who object to the very premises of both movements. Suddenly those who believed in the self-evident ‘rights’ of women and homosexuals found themselves in the midst of even larger numbers of people who think such rights are fundamentally wrong.
Murray’s conservative sensibilities begin to show through towards the end of his book when he suggests that unless non-religious people are able to work with the Christian source from which their culture came, it is hard to see how confidence in Europe could ever be restored. Murray laments the depravity of Europe’s last non-religious dream, liberalism, but doesn’t distinguish between European modernity and the post-modern nihilism that replaced it, apparently seeing post-modernism as just a continuation of modern liberalism and Enlightenment, as though they were of a piece. This is where I think Murray’s book falters, despite its appropriate excoriation of western philosophy’s decline from critical thinking into the netherworld of critical theory. The choice is not necessarily between Christianity and liberal humanism, as he suggests. Rather the choice is between the spoiled heirs of liberal humanism who are too busy shopping and sending cute selfies to care what ‘Western values’ are, and actual defenders of liberal humanism.
Dystopian cultural malaise
Murray sees Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission (2015) as a prophetic societal diagnosis of the nihilistic state of contemporary Western consumer culture. Houellebecq’s dystopian fiction depicts a class of politicians so eager to be seen above all as “anti-racist” that they end up flattering and ultimately handing over their country to the worst and most swiftly growing racist movement of their era. The most realistic conceit of Houellebecq’s novel is in the political analysis of how this cultural handover to intolerant authoritarians could potentially happen: the only way to keep the notorious National Front from power is to unite behind the Islamist party. This is consistent with Murray’s observation, in his concluding chapter, that across Europe the progressive Muslims who have stood up for liberal values and free speech – Seyran Ates, Hamed Abdel-Samad, Maajid Nawaz, Kamel Daoud – face death threats and castigation by ultra-conservative Muslims (Salafi-Wahhabists), as well as by ‘polite’ Europeans. Meanwhile, Salafists who persecute these progressive Muslims and religious extremists who threaten them with murder need no police protection and bask in public approval for their ‘diversity’.
Douglas Murray’s book made me return to Hannah Arendt’s analyses of the events of her mid-twentieth century European milieu. Her writing serves both as a warning about present-day European and Israeli nationalism but also gives us reason to pause and take stock of the mythological peddling of ubiquitous ‘Islamophobia’ or blinkered demonisation of all critics of the authoritarian religious right as unambiguous ‘racists’. Arendt maintained that history’s worst crimes have been committed in the name of some kind of necessity. “Evil is not only conscientious”, Arendt observed, “but also sentimental.” She uniquely recognised that evil’s penetration into the real world does not come announced, riding on the clouds with fire and brimstone (or donning a wig and an orange spray tan while spewing obviously ignorant abuse at all good things). Our most hellish fantasies creep into reality not with the sensationalism of the sky falling but with the banality of “common sense” and the apparent necessity of “doing one’s duty.” What the Left political class apparently cannot entertain is the possibility that “Islamophobia”, rather than simply being the deep sicknesses rotting the ferment in which our liberal roots are planted, is a purposeful instrument of deception – the means by which our repulsion is animated and then re-directed towards seemingly ‘necessary’ alternatives.
For Arendt, totalitarian ideology succeeds precisely because it destroys the process of thinking. Luckily there are a few authors alive today who invite us to exercise the kind of scrupulous critical analysis that complex situations require. Douglas Murray is one.