“Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.” “Islam is a religion of peace.” These are invariably among the first statements we hear from European politicians following yet another jihadist attack in Western Europe.
Leaving aside the deeply contestable theological and historical claims underlying such statements, they underscore something else that, in the view of Douglas Murray, author of The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Islam, Identity, is slowly draining the life out of Europe. And that something else is a will—verging on the pathological—on many Europeans’ part to deny reality: realities about Islamic belief and practice, facts about Muslim immigration, and truths about European culture and history.
This habit of what I will call “living in untruth,” Murray contends, is facilitating political decisions by many Europeans that, taken together, reflect a type of civilizational despair. European culture—by which Murray means the heritage of Jewish and Christian faith, Greece and Rome, and the various Enlightenments—is being emptied out by two developments about which many of those most responsible for Europe’s future are doing precisely nothing.
Mass Migration Matters
The first development, Murray states, is the mass movement of non-European peoples into the European landmass. This began as a post-1945 response to labor shortages. European governments thought that the Turkish and North African guest workers would eventually go home. But they didn’t. Why, after all, would they have voluntarily returned to the economic stagnation and political repression prevailing in their homelands?
Since then, there has been a steady movement of migrants into Europe, the vast majority from Muslim countries. Most are not refugees in the sense that they are fleeing war, persecution, famine, etc. They are economic migrants and mostly single young men. More recently, it’s become apparent that some of these economic migrants are keen to access the largesse of European welfare states—at the very moment when these systems’ economic shortcomings are increasingly obvious.
Another feature of this migration is the way in which it has brought non-European cultures en masse into Europe. Whether we like it or not, this has confirmed some facts that many prefer to ignore: that Pakistani culture is not French culture, Iraqis are not Swedes, and Danes and Germans will always have more in common with each other culturally than with Algerians.
Yes, we are all human beings, graced with reason and free will. But human cultures are different because they reflect different histories, beliefs, priorities, and ways of expressing such commitments. That is why a culture whose predominant religious influence is Shi’ite Islam looks and is very different from one in which Protestant Christianity prevailed.
These differences help explain why not all of a culture’s beliefs, customs, and institutions are compatible with those of other cultures. Islam’s theological inability to distinguish between a temporal realm and a spiritual realm contrasts, for example, with the ways in which Christian-influenced societies have always recognized this distinction.
This has direct implications for Islam’s understanding of law and religion. As the European Court of Human Rights observed in two landmark 2002 and 2003 judgments, “sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere . . . have no place in it.” The Court also stated that political Islam has no qualms about using the method “known as takiyye, which consist[s] in hiding its beliefs until it had obtained [its] goal:” i.e., “replacing the existing legal order with sharia.”
Such facts about some Islamic beliefs and some political Muslims’ modus operandi may be irksome. Yet they remain true, and they have profound implications for Western political orders.
At some point, Murray holds, the sheer numbers of Muslim migrants to Europe will have visible cultural and political effects, as anyone who has been to Manchester or les banlieues of Marseilles already knows. A society in which more and more people adhere at some level to Muslim beliefs or customs is going to appear—and be—quite different from one in which Judaism, Christianity, and the various Enlightenments are, if vaguely, the primary reference points.
If, however, Europeans were proud of Europe’s civilizational achievements and unashamed of its specific philosophical and religious roots, I suspect Muslim migration would be less of a problem. Such Europeans wouldn’t hesitate to inform Muslim migrants that: (1) activities that might be acceptable in downtown Islamabad have no place in the world forged by Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome; and (2) European states have no intention of playing down their own roots, let alone changing their legal systems, to accommodate Muslim expectations.
Such language, however, is rarely articulated by Western European leaders. Instead, you have a Dutch Justice Minister saying in 2006 that if Muslims wanted to implement sharia by democratic means, they were free to do so. Two years later, an Archbishop of Canterbury stated that incorporating aspects of sharia into British law was “inevitable.” Neither, it seemed, had any conception of sharia’s incompatibility with the broad Western legal tradition or what sharia would mean for freedoms that, in the past, the Dutch and English peoples did much to secure.
The Wages of Self-Hatred
The issue of confidence—or, rather, the lack of it—in the value of Europe’s achievements brings us to the second potentially fatal development underscored by Murray: the loss of “faith in Europe’s beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.”
Several generations of post-war Europe’s cultural shapers, Murray argues, have generally interpreted European history from the perspective of its low points. No society can do that for an extended period of time without severely damaging its belief in itself.
To be sure, European history is not all sweetness and light: the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, the Gulags, Communist and National Socialist state terrorism, religious wars and persecutions, and many other horrors readily come to mind. Murray’s point, however, is that many contemporary Europeans focus almost exclusively on such negatives, to the point of self-loathing.
This translates into efforts to diminish European culture to whatever offends no one, thus stripping the sense of what it means to be European of substantive content. Hence, it is now an article of faith among many Europeans, Murray holds, that anyone can come to Europe and “be European.” Why? Because “to be European” has been reduced, in Murray’s words, to “‘respect,’ ‘tolerance’ and (most self-abnegating of all) ‘diversity.’”
Europe’s immigration woes have exposed such cultural minimalism’s corrosive effects on many Europeans’ ability to address real evil in their midst. Murray assembles, for instance, a long and depressing dossier of instances in which European officials have tried to avoid investigating crimes committed by migrants, ranging from vicious anti-Semitic acts to the sexual abuse of women, young girls, and boys. In other cases, they have sought to prevent knowledge of such crimes from becoming public and pressured the victims to keep quiet.
The reason given for such decisions is that identifying the assailants would encourage intolerance and xenophobia. The everyday safety of women and children must, apparently, take a backseat to such concerns.
Plainly, Europe’s experience of Muslim migration indicates that reducing Europe’s distinctiveness to a mantra of respect-tolerance-diversity is extracting a huge cost in terms of public order and confidence in the police and justice system. Yet even this, Murray indicates, hasn’t proved enough to force most European politicians to stop dwelling in untruth. They are more likely to label anyone—including some brave Muslims—who criticizes the present status quo as “Islamophobic,” thereby implying that anyone questioning immigration policy, the behavior of Muslim migrants, or Islam itself suffers from a mental illness.
Toward the end of his book, Murray ponders whether Europe’s Christian churches could provide the type of cultural ballast desperately needed by the continent. Many secular-minded Western Europeans, Murray notes, may not believe in Christianity’s specific theological claims. Yet they’re conscious, if dimly, that a Europe cut off from these roots is in a sense no longer European. Murray gives Benedict XVI great credit for seeking to engage seriously with this type of European non-believer.
At the same time, it’s seriously questionable whether large swaths of European Christianity have anything to contribute to staving off the problems identified by Murray. In Western Europe you occasionally find tough-minded Catholic bishops or Protestant theologians who possess the requisite intellectual hardware and moral courage to speak clearly and honesty about these challenges. It’s also true that in much of Eastern Europe, Christian life is generally more robust and Christians are far less naïve about the effects of mass Muslim migration.
Unfortunately, liberal Christianity still reigns in much of Western Europe, and it mirrors all of its secular liberal counterparts’ incoherence and rampant self-doubt. As Murray writes, “For the Church of Sweden, the Church of England, the German Lutheran Church and many other branches of Christianity, the message of the religion has become a form of left-wing politics, diversity action, and social welfare projects.” Much of German Catholicism has essentially collapsed into a tax-funded secular-leaning NGO, content to function as the welfare state’s vaguely religious arm while proclaiming a gospel of non-judgmentalism (except, of course, with regard to ecological issues).
Put simply, these Christians have lost their faith just as surely as many secular-minded Europeans seemingly regard Europe as “over.” No one should be surprised that many European Christian leaders are neck-deep in the same unreality as are secular European politicians. In the face of brutal acts of terrorism, they utter the same sentimental humanitarian banalities, sometimes word-for-word.
There’s no lack of Europeans who agree with Murray’s analysis. The real difficulty, he concludes, is the unwillingness of many of Europe’s leaders—political, economic, and religious—to confront the deeper issues of culture and purpose raised by mass Muslim migration. Too many Europeans, he says, are “prisoners of the past and the present.” They simply drift along, reassuring everyone that everything will be okay as long as respect, tolerance, diversity, and who-am-I-to-judge-ism prevail.
I wish that Murray were wrong. Alas, I am fairly certain he is right. And the loss will not just be Europe’s. It will be the West’s as a whole.
Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute.