Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (Douglas Murray)
Few things can hijack a conversation quicker than saying the words “Islam” and “Immigration” in the same sentence. The subject of radical Islam and what it does to its host society is something that had been causing alarm bells to sound even before 9/11. If anything, said alarms have become louder in a post-Trump world.
Europe is living through a tumultuous time. A veritable tidal wave of refugees wash up on its shores in numbers that boggle the mind. This isn’t exactly news, nor is it particularly surprising. What is, however, is that Europe’s immigration policy may be akin to signing its own death warrant. The very first words of the book might be easy to dismiss as alarmist. “Europe is committing suicide”, the author says. But to dismiss it offhand would be doing Mr. Murray a disservice.
“The Strange Death of Europe” is about immigration. It’s about the insidious perversion of its culture by Islam, radical or otherwise. It’s about identity and the myth of multiculturalism. All of this is a given. But it is also about much, much more. This is not an easy book to read. But it is certainly one of the most important ones on the subject. Mainly because the lessons here go far beyond the issue of migrants and the effect they have on the host society’s culture.
Murray is no stranger to controversy. Having courted the ire of multitudes with his earlier works. Regardless of which side of the debate one takes, there is no doubting his credentials. Or the fact that this is a well-researched book. It can be data heavy in parts and most of the numbers took me by surprise.
The gist of the book can be stated thusly: Europe’s immigration policy has been flawed for decades. This is something that it’s native population has understood for a long time. Politicians however, continue to ignore the danger signs. With the influx of refugees from the Middle East, the situation is quickly reaching boiling point. Resentment towards migrants has risen to a level where the idea of the political pendulum swinging far and away to the right is all but inevitable.
This is going to sound strange coming from a brown-skinned Indian belonging to a nation that is responsible for sending across thousands of such migrants each year but here goes: Immigration is a problem. One that is plunging Europe, the author would argue, headlong into a crisis. And after reading Murray’s work, I must concur with that assessment.
This is not to say that I agree with the book in its entirety.
My first critique would be how Murray trivializes the echoes of Europe’s colonial past. The thinly veiled defense of Christopher Columbus is particularly hard to stomach. The West needs to acknowledge that it’s very social fabric and insurances were built, in no small part, by the brutal subjugation of countless millions. It’s cultural advances, the very foundation of its society sits upon the bedrock of genocide. Those are facts. To pooh-pooh this as something that was in the past and need not be brought up again, is weak at best. And to say something on the lines of, “but the Turks and Mongols did it too”, is hardly a defense. Especially when considering the fact that there are millions alive today that can give first hand account of Europe’s colonial brutality. My own grandmother happens to be one of them. We are hardly talking ancient history here.
Notice I said, “acknowledge”, and not, “apologize”. This is a point that bears further elucidation. Some nations have done enough to acknowledge their past transgressions. Germany is the perfect example. It does not shy away from teaching its young about the darkest aspects of its history. School children are taken on trips to concentration camps to bear witness to their nations shame. It speaks to the strength of German character that this is taken as necessary. Not many countries have the nerve to do such a thing, my own included. But the same moral fortitude can hardly be attributed to the whole of Europe.
Britain for example, might find it easy to placate the worst of extremist fundamentalism that has taken root in its society. Yet it finds the notion of teaching its students about the rapacity of its former empire hard to do. This is flabbergasting. The idea of reparations might be infeasible, there is no way to put a monetary value to genocide after all. But an acknowledgement of its wrongs would go a long way to stymie the whole “Britain had it coming” part of the immigration debate. Symbolic gestures can sometimes go a long way towards healing old wounds. If spewing poisonous platitudes in order to placate ISIS supporters on home soil is politically expedient, is the idea of saying, “Yes, it was terrible and it happened” to a former colony so bloody hard? Acknowledge the crime. Teach your people about it. And then perhaps you can stop feeling so guilty about it all the damn time. As a person living in one such former colony, I fail to see how this misplaced feeling of guilt serves anyone except the regressive left and the extremists they insist on sheltering.
This brings me to my second complaint. Blaming the radical elements within Europe to a cultural conflict that is centuries long is one thing, especially when it primarily revolves around the touchy subject of Islam vs Christianity (vs everything else really). This will certainly brook no argument from me. But to completely ignore how the West’s foreign policy continues to fan this eternal fire is tremendously short sighted. That fact that not even token lip service was paid to this essential piece of the puzzle was surprising.
It is directly due to colonialism and present day neocon-lead globalization that most of Africa and Southeast Asia is a mess. Many of the cultural/religious differences in former colonies were not even a problem till Europeans reached their shores. Though it is patently absurd to keep blaming history for today’s faults, or to absolve former colonies of their own post-independence corruption, to deny the cause is to deny the effect. This is self-defeating to say the least.
Another thing that makes me a tad skeptical is the glaring lack of references. I mentioned earlier that this is a data heavy book. That wouldn’t be a problem if the author had references in place for said data. In the absence of this, the reader is left with nothing but Murray’s credentials to put faith in. Hardly ideal. (I should mention here that I speak for the audio version of the book. Perhaps the print/e-book versions do not suffer from this omission).
Even so, my reservations notwithstanding, the author makes compelling arguments. And as such, my complaints about the book do not serve to dilute the core message within its pages.
Murray also opened my mind to other potential reasons for Europe’s strange obsession with immigration.
“Civilizational tiredness”, Murray calls it. The idea is new to me and I must confess to finding it fascinating. I won’t delve into this too much for fear of spoiling it but, opening my mind to that notion alone was, to me atleast, well worth the price of admission.
The argument is that Europe’s swing towards secularism and eventually atheism has left it feeling spiritually drained. This is especially odd when Murray himself identifies as being atheist. Even so, his fear is that bereft of any meaning in its materialistic existence, society finds itself as overly nihilistic (as evidenced by modern European art). And radical religion is all too happy to take advantage of this. More so when the society in question already has fissures along racial and religious lines.
In other words: there is a Christ-shaped hole in the European soul that Mohammed is happy to fill. I’m not sure if I buy it but, if nothing else, it does serve as food for thought. There might be something here but it will take a lot of discussions with my European friends to see if the idea has any merit.
My own experience with atheism was quite the opposite. I find the idea of being free of religion very liberating. What little trepidation I had in shedding the cocoon of faith, was easily replaced by curiosity and gratitude. And though my thoughts can on occasion be nihilistic, there is no discounting the comfort that I derive from existentialism.
There are many reasons as to why I think that a return to Christianity or its “values” (how one would divorce the positives of modern day Christendom from its brutal past is another matter entirely) might only worsen things.
The author makes no bones about how Europe feels overly guilty about its colonial past. Confusing guilt with virtue strikes me as a quintessentially Christian indulgence. Could it be that the Christian religion’s obsession with guilt exacerbates the problem? And if so, wouldn’t atheism be a better answer? Surely, stubbornly clinging to an archaic construct to combat a barbaric one can only be self defeating in the long run?
Not to mention this could easily worsen the idea of identity politics. Sorry, but I daresay that the well has been poisoned enough.
To his credit, Murray does say that nihilism on the individual level may be fine, but when it defines the very character of an entire society, it becomes fertile ground for extremism. Again, I find this unconvincing. It can happen I suppose, but countering this is just a matter of providing the right mental tools. That would be better than falling back on an archaic belief structure that at the very least, carries with it the risk of radicalization of a different kind.
Perhaps if Europe is to remain as free and progressive as it deserves, it would do better to shed the last vestiges of its archaic beliefs. Kant and Voltaire would serve better in this regard that either Christ or Mohammed. But, I could be wrong.
Murray’s attempt at squaring this circle seems more like wistful longing than an actual solution. Maybe none exists, which is disturbing to say the least. Nonetheless, the introduction of philosophy and art in a book about immigration, is a welcome addition, even if I found myself intellectually blindsided in places.
The most damning argument against Europe’s current policy is how often gross violations of law are either seen as “community issues” or “cultural differences” merely because it is now politically convenient/correct to do so. How this is even a “debate” is beyond me. The constitution needs to be sacrosanct. Anyone disagreeing with that has no business hiding under the protection it provides. Cultural difference is not a shield to protect one from the ignorance of law, much less basic human decency. It is tempting to use my “former refugee” card here but the simple fact is this: Some things are just plain wrong.
It is shocking to see how politicians have, essentially, chosen to disenfranchise their native constituents even while they are, for the moment at least, the majority. Common sense, economics and the very tenets of right and wrong were and continue to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.
There is no denying that this crisis is essentially a demon of Europe’s own making. But the consequences of its immigration policy undoubtedly hold serious ramifications for the whole world. Either way, the first line of action in any rescue attempt would be to stem the tide. And to then take a long hard look in the mirror.
Anyone that has traveled to Europe lately and has really “mingled” with its people would be able to sense their pent up frustration.
It stands to reason that this frustration is eventually going to give way to unbridled rage. To expect anything else is, frankly, absurd. In this light, the rise of nationalist and even neo-nazi parties makes perfect, albeit, chilling sense. One does not have to go too far back to know how that turned out the last time.
Europe is walking the razor’s edge and when it inevitably slips, it is likely that the world will bleed with it.
Read this book.
PS: A note on the audio version: Robert Davies does a great job with its narration. I did find the pace a tad slow for my liking, but bumping it up to about 1.25x the standard speed was perfect. To the best of my knowledge, there is no difference in content between the audio and text versions (except perhaps the lack of references that I alluded to in the review). You can get the Audiobook here. The print/e-book versions can be purchased here.