Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray

Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018 paperback edition, 371pp

Summer reading #1

I read this on the beaches of Costa Balanca. We holidayed in Alicante, the Spanish coastal resort. The city is dominated by Santa B├írbara Castle, a formidable hilltop fortification. It is so called because on Saint Barbara's day, 4 December 1248, the castle was captured from the Moors by Castilian forces led by Alfonso of Castile. It wasn't until 1492 that the final Moorish stronghold on the Iberian peninsula fell. Today the Muslims are back, not by conquest, but immigration. Muslims form a sizable minority of around 2 million people in modern day Spain. From what I could see relations between the Spanish population and their Muslim neighbours are peaceable. But Spain has not been altogether free from Islamic terrorism. Most recently in 2017 14 people were killed and hundreds maimed when a 22 year old Moroccan drove a van into crowds milling along La Rambas, Barcelona. 

Another victor over the Moors is buried in Saint Denis Basilica Cathedral, Paris. At the Battle of Tours in 732 Frankish leader, Charles 'The Hammer' Martel defeated the armies of the Umayyad Caliphate. Martel is credited with preventing the wholesale Islamisation of Europe. These days the Saint Denis district of Paris is a Muslim majority area. The Jewish population has halved. Armed guards are posted at the Cathedral doors to protect the clergy working inside. In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, northwest of Paris, an 85-year-old parish priest, Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit while leading Mass by terrorists shouting "Allahu akbar!" 

In The Strange Death of Europe Douglas Murray (@DouglasKMurray) tells the story of how we got ourselves into this position. "Bridges, not walls" was the slogan deployed by advocates of mass immigration such as Tony Blair and Angela Merkel. Europe should be open to the world. Yes, for the benefit of people fleeing the sword, famine and pestilence, but also for the good of Europe itself. Why be old, stale and pale? We need an influx of young workers whose taxes will fund caring for our ageing population. We need multicultural diversity to mix things up a bit. Think of the extra culinary choices, the 'world music', the mind-broadening conversations.

Foreigner suspicious locals might resent it, but Europe's got it coming. We once exercised colonial rule over faraway lands, enslaved people and the like. Now it's payback time. Some payback. Rather than being of economic benefit, immigrants are often low skilled and require welfare support, social housing and intensive healthcare provision. Mass immigration has irreversibly changed the character of some communities, without the original inhabitants of those communities ever being asked if they wanted change. Indigenous Londoners now find themselves in a minority in their own city. 

Radicalised Muslims have brought mayhem and murder to European streets. In the UK Asian Muslim gangs have been locked up for grooming and sexually abusing disadvantaged white girls. In Germany and Sweden the arrival of large numbers of immigrants has coincided with an uptick in the number of rapes and sexual assaults on women. But, as Murray acidly puts it, "if there is a bit more beheading and sexual assault than there used to be in Europe, then  at least we also benefit from a much wider range of cuisines." (p. 57).

Now I'm sure most people see the value of at least some immigration in terms of filling job vacancies and cultural enrichment. The UK has benefited from an influx of peoples from former colonies and beyond. Immigrants often work hard and take every advantage of living in a developed country that offers opportunity for all. The trouble with mass immigration is the difficulty in integrating large numbers of newcomers so that they embrace the culture of the host country, rather than expecting the culture to adapt to suit them. That is complicated further in Europe where society is in a state of flux, having lost its Christian moorings. It is mass immigration and its effect on European identity that Douglas Murray has in his sights in this disturbing work.

Angela Merkel was a leading architect of European mass immigration. In August 2015 she announced there would be 'no limit' on the number of migrants Germany received.  Her open door immigration policy impacted the whole of Europe and had unintended effects. More pressure was heaped on hard-up Greece and Italy as thousands boarded unsuitable boats to land on European shores and then make their way on foot to more welcoming countries such as Germany and Sweden. Douglas Murray details how the small Italian island of Lampedusa was suddenly overwhelmed by vast numbers of immigrants. The number of arrivals expected in Germany in 2015 was upped to 800,000, four times the number taken in one year earlier.

Eastern European countries hastily threw up border fences to keep the waves of immigrants out. Little was done to check exactly who was arriving in Europe, or to ensure that those who came claimed asylum in the first country in which they arrived. The boarderless Schengen Area made traversing across the continent all too easy. The November 2015 terror attacks in Paris exposed the ease with which people with ill intent could exploit the open boarders approach espoused by Merkel and other European leaders. 

Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait hardened their hearts at the plight of refugees fleeing from war zones and famine in Syria and North Africa. Muslims from poorer countries could not be expected to integrate with their more well-heeled fellow religionists. Political leaders from Eastern Europe did not want their Christian cultural traditions undermined by the arrival of large numbers of migrants. The attitude of politicians and people from Western Europe was somewhat different, warped as it was by a sense of guilt over past colonial misdeeds. As Murray somewhat sardonically puts it, "Contemporary Europeans may not be the only people in the world to feel that they have been born into original sin, but they certainly appear to suffer from the worst case of it." (p. 162). 

That is one of the reasons why Merkel and others opened the door to mass migration. They wished to atone for past imperial transgressions. Murray cites a case of a white European woman who apologised to an immigrant who brutally raped her and was therefore deported from Germany. As he points out, Europeans are not unique in having aspects of their history of which they might be rightly ashamed, "any student of history much conclude that every community, race and group of humans is not only capable of doing terrible things, but has managed to do such things" (p. 171). Only Western Europeans (and Australians) seem driven to try and expunge their guilt by means of grovelling apologies for historical crimes and masochistic acceptance of whatever pains may be thrust upon them at the hands of violent attackers. We've got it coming.

Murray identifies the decline of Christianity in Europe as a key factor in the continent's crumbling sense of identity. Liberal scholarship helped undermine confidence in the Bible, as did Darwin's theory of evolution. Nothing has been found to replace the faith that shaped Europe for thousands of years. Europeans no longer believe in Adam's origin sin and the fallenness of all humanity,  only their own collective guilt. They no longer have a Christ to atone for their sins, hence the misguided attempts at self-atonement.The author laments the emptiness of much of what passes for secular culture, which he finds either trite and superficial, or parasitic on its Christian heritage.

Guilt is a powerful, yet flawed motivator for action and has badly skewed the European response to the immigration crisis. Mercy towards "the stranger, the fatherless and the widow" needs to be balanced by a just concern for one's own family and people. Little thought was given to the effect of mass immigration on European society and values, or ensuring that our own people were not needlessly put in harm's way. The answer to what Murray calls 'the tyranny of guilt' that is crippling European society is the very thing that its people seem to have rejected, Christianity. A strong sense of guilt-inducing moral responsibility is a lingering legacy of the faith. But Christianity also tells of Jesus who died that sinners might be forgiven through faith in him; "if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed", John 8:36. 

The Christian faith may prove more resilient than Murray admits. He has little time for Evangelical Christianity, but Evangelical Churches in Europe are growing, albeit at a slow rate. Globally-speaking Evangelical Christianity is flourishing, especially in China, South America, Africa, and even in Muslim majority lands like Iran. The tide of the 'Sea or Faith' may yet turn, even in Europe. Witness the transforming effect of the Reformation and movements such as the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century. It was the Evangelical Revival that spawned the abolition of slavery associated with William Wilberforce and many other great social reforms of the period. In the UK today churches in areas with large immigrant communities are reporting an increasing number of people from Muslim backgrounds converting to Christianity. Murray's prescription for cultural renewal; Cathedrals and Shakespeare certainly won't cut it. A return to Europe's Christian foundations offers hope. 

Murray is not anti-immigrant, it needs to be said. He appreciates the way in which migrants have been welcomed by native Europeans. He acknowledges that the majority of incoming people are peaceable, even if their views are sometimes worryingly hardline. He is not unmoved by the plight of thousands fleeing conflict and poverty for a better life in Europe. Murray offers practical suggestions for dealing with the immigration crisis such as setting up safe refugee camps in Syria and North Africa. It is certainly more cost effective to supply tents for camps in Syria than Sweden with its frozen winters. Far easier too for refugees to return home once it is safe for them to do so when they are cared for in locally-based camps. People are less likely to risk their lives crossing the sea in rubber dinghies if they know they will be cared for nearer to home. To its credit the UK government has poured millions into creating and maintaining secure and well-provisioned refugee camps. 

None the less, Murray argues that the mass immigration policies pursued by New Labour, Angela Merkel and others were badly misguided and could prove culturally ruinous for Europe. Politicians and the media have tried to shut down public discussion of the negative aspects of large scale immigration. Reports of mass sexual assaults on women at a New Year's Eve party in Stockholm by Muslim young men were suppressed. Similarly with child grooming gangs in Rotherham and Oxford. The authorities were slow to act for fear of whipping up anti Muslim sentiment. There is a growing disconnect between the views of ordinary Europeans and their political masters on the effects of mass migration. Shutting down debate and hushing up legitimate concerns won't help matters (see Murray on The truth about hate speech). Politicians urgently need to give attention to ensuring immigrant groups are properly integrated under the rule of law.

Integration may prove difficult. One of the hopes entertained by advocates of large scale immigration was that newcomers would help innately conservative natives become a little more liberal and cosmopolitan in their attitudes. But what if a large proportion of migrants are even more socially conservative than your typical European or Brit? Witness the protests over LGBT education in schools in cities like Birmingham where there are large Muslim communities. Birmingham was also the scene of the 'Trojan Horse' scandal involving an attempted takeover of state schools by Muslim governors. Their strategy was to try and Islamise education rather than welcoming the Westernisation of their children. The government responded by renewing its drive to promote 'British Values'. But it was successive governments who encouraged people with scant regard for our values to settle here en masse in the first place. That's why 'honour killings' and FGM are now issues that need addressing in 21st century Britain. Not to mention an increase in Antisemitism. Immigrant communities tend to have a higher birth rate than the native population. Integrating people who want to maintain their distinct identity and cultural norms could therefore prove even more challenging in the years ahead. Murray worries that mass migration may end up destroying what made Europe such an attractive place to live in the first place.  

The author's Jerimiad makes for challenging reading. Some may not like the case he presents, but the facts he marshals cannot easily be gainsaid. In an Afterword Murray brings his account up to date and reflects on the 2017 London Bridge and Manchester Arena terror attacks. Europe's political elite wanted "bridges, not walls", but as I witnessed last weekend, the bridges of London now have walls to stop pedestrians being run over by terrorists. Douglas Murray explains how we got ourselves into this position. He isn't quite so good on explaining how we're going to get out of it.

Not exactly a fun holiday read, admittedly. But who said holidays should be all ice cream and sticks of rock? One August Bank Holiday Monday I took a volume of poetry by R. S. Thomas to the beach. 

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