December 9, 2021

Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam

Book Author: Douglas Murray | Year of Publication: June 2017 | Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum | Book Review by: Côme Carpentier de Gourdon
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The book being reviewed here has had a big impact internationally. The author’s talent as a writer and reputation as an essayist and polemicist enhanced the appeal of the topic which is of concern not only to Europeans but to all those interested in the evolution of civilizations and in the impact of the demographic explosion and social transformations we are living through.

Since the seventies at least, if we recall the darkly prophetic novel by the French writer Jean Raspail ‘Le Camp des Saints’  (1973)  cited by Murray  the realization has grown that large scale immigration from poorer areas of the world by people of very different cultures has the potential to gradually annihilate the cultural identity of the European continent while undermining social stability and reducing its prosperity.  Murray highlights at length how the first warnings of a dystopian future of ethnic and religious internecine warfare  were ignored, rejected or reviled by politicians, social leaders and establishment intellectuals  who tagged the new Cassandras as racist bigots and eulogized the phenomenon of rapid mass migrations which they depicted as a factor of progress, enrichment and positive change despite the rising economic and human costs incurred by the host countries. The concept of multicultural, open and diverse societies in the Popperian sense was applauded by both liberal capitalists and the left, across the spectrum going from social democrats to anarchists. Religious factors were ignored as being outdated and irrelevant to secular and skeptically minded western polities. 

Douglas methodically retraces the permutations of the western reaction to mass immigration and the gesticulations and ploys of politicians to deny the problem, promise to tackle it and try to ignore it by looking the other way, sometimes all at the same time., while breaking their own countries’ laws.  Claiming  that  an ageing Europe needs a  larger and younger workforce is a mere excuse which Murray convincingly exposes.  He points out how centre-right statesmen and administrators were often as feckless, powerless or willfully blind as their leftist rivals when facing the threat posed by large numbers of mostly uneducated, often resentful newcomers with high expectations and no willingness to adapt to their new homelands whose mores they frequently reject. Indeed for some, the very concept of assimilation is deemed insulting to the cultures that the immigrants belong to, as President Erdogan once told a large audience of settlers of Turkish origin in Germany.

Murray retraces the shift that took place in the eighties and nineties from ethnic concerns to religious ones, giving rise to accusations of ‘islamophobia’  against those who worried that Islamic beliefs and lifestyles could not fit in the individualistic  free thinking European matrix with its focus on human rights and a common civil law formally independent of religious influence.  The author cannot be regarded as a far right sympathizer. However he acknowledges that a mere set of constitutional rules may not be sufficient to build and keep together heterogeneous societies. Can a nation survive absent patriotic values in its population or can it exist only as a rules-based market as some political philosophers and politicians argue? However even if a social contract is sufficient to keep a society functional, it inevitably requires almost all of its members to adhere to it.

Historical experience shows that  permissive and relativistic polities are not well equipped to resist the determined assaults of highly motivated religious communities convinced of carrying out a divine mandate. There is little doubt that religiously guided polities are not easily taken over and wiped out  by outside conquerors. On the other hand, nations based on the quest for satisfaction of individual  needs and desires are proving to  be easy targets for disruptive agents, especially when the latter are ready to die for their convictions. The author  goes through the record of Europeans, well known and obscure, who have been threatened, persecuted and murdered in the last three decades for expressing negative views about a particular foreign religion and he recalls how many eminent voices, whether of indigenous or foreign origin, either refused to condemn those violent crimes or even praised their authors for reacting to injustice and oppression. The book illustrates the paradox of liberal authorities rallying to support or at least find excuses for extremist actions or views which they abhor within their own communities of origin; all in the name of tolerance  of diversity suffused with historical  guilt for historical deeds, an awareness which as Murray remarks is limited to the native peoples of Europe and their American descendents. Nations on most other continents don’t express or even feel regret for past exactions.

There is an inextricable link between the currently fashionable ‘wokeness’ and the willingness to tolerate the violence displayed by outsiders who are by definition not deemed to be capable of racism.  Many of those who claim to fight for virtually unlimited individual rights turn out to support ‘community rights’ but only those of communities which are deemed oppressed. For example they are usually unwilling to condemn female circumcision or forced marriage.  Even terrorist crimes committed on European soil are explained away as the incomprehensible actions of isolated individuals with no relation to any collective radical takeover plan hatched by ruthless enemies. Douglas Murray shows that, in comparison, crimes committed against members of ethno-religious minorities by individual native citizens are putatively attributed to political parties and groups critical of mass immigration even when they have not advocated violent remedies. Similar double standards are often used in India by much of the ‘enlightened’ civil society and foreign observers for different communities.

The ideology of new-left wing liberalism pervades the attitude of militants for a borderless world in which anybody should be welcome to go anywhere and where Europe is a home for all humanity.  The author  has travelled to the fringes of the EU on Italian shores and on the Greek islands deluged by ‘boat people’. He notices the action of humanitarian organizations  which welcome all migrants as refugees who are in large part young men and teenagers (not to mention unaccompanied children) in search of economic opportunities and welfare support, if not (in more than a few cases) sent to carry out illegal trafficking or terrorist attacks on behalf of various extremist or criminal enterprises.

In theory hundreds of millions of underprivileged people from other continents could move in and demand asylum; the open door policy is unviable in the long run unless of course, as Murray fears, it leads to the slow motion suicide of Europe. Is the supposed multi-cultural utopia (meaning ‘nowhere’ in greek as he reminds us) not a cover for the prospect of Muslim dominance over guilt-ridden,  demoralized and fearful autocthonous citizens, paralysed by their reverence for ‘human rights’? The book draws to an end with a grim forecast for the western European continent and points out the culpable failings of the political leaders who did not and still don’t want to take stock of the looming catastrophy despite all the warning signals and the rising violence.

The merit of the book is to raise this and many other burning questions while illuminating the stark incoherence of the pro-(illegal) immigration discourse. Pretending that masses of people pouring in from many regions have no  beliefs, attitudes and ideologies of their own which may well clash with those of the host populations is ignoring human nature. It is bitterly ironical that many of the stalwart promoters of ‘open doors’ to migrants and  a ‘hybrid’ (‘metis’ in French) global society such as George Soros, belong to the Jewish community which is  most often targeted by  certain other religious groups. One effect of the socio-demographic change in major urban areas of Europe is the growing insecurity which ordinary Jews  experience and the choice many make to emigrate to Israel or to other parts of the world. Murray drives his readers to the conclusion that every nation or group of kindred countries needs an intrinsic civilisational  foundation to bind its components. A constitutional agreement may not suffice, absent loyalty to fundamental organic values inherited from the past, transcending particular religious practices but inspiring commonly held convictions. That is indeed the essence of genuine secularism, about which there is much confusion and debate in India too. 

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  • Wonderful review. The applicability of the questions raised in such books coming out of Europe to the Indian case is unquestionable. With every passing day, the new left-wing liberalism deepens its roots in academia, institutions of legislature and governance, and curries favours with the tyrants of the big tech corporations. Where lies the solution to these questions?

Côme Carpentier de Gourdon

Côme Carpentier de Gourdon is currently a consultant with India Foundation and is also the Convener of the Editorial Board of the WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNAL. He is an associate of the International Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IISES), Vienna, Austria. Côme Carpentier is an author of various books and several articles, essays and papers

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