Controversial Lessons for America From Europe’s Immigrant Wave
Douglas Murray has long voiced his concern about the growing influence of Muslim culture on the West. The associate editor of Britain’s Spectator, a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, and the founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion — a think tank on radical Islam — has built an international reputation for his opposition to the demographic changes of the West, and the threats to its traditions. In his latest book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (Bloomsbury, 2017), he writes about all of these subjects as they relate to the current crisis of migration from the Middle East.
It is a controversial book, particularly for Americans and Jews, but one that also makes important arguments against the multiculturalist ideal. This ideal, which once led much of domestic policy across Europe and the United States, has proven not only a failure, but a threat to the values and national security of Western civilization.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism recently spoke with Murray about his book and the concerns that drove him to write it.
Abigail R. Esman: As an American, a Jew, and an immigrant myself to the Netherlands, there are aspects of your arguments against immigration and asylum that are troublesome to me. I come from a country where we are all immigrants, or our parents or grandparents were likely immigrants. You talk, for instance, of families where “neither parent speaks English as a first language,” yet my husband is Australian and I am American — and neither of us speaks Dutch as a first language. So naturally, I come at these arguments with some concern. Are you saying, basically, close the borders?
Douglas K . Murray: It’s only for me to diagnose what’s happening — to see the truth about what is going on. Policy makers will make their own decisions. I have obviously broad views on it, which is that I think you can’t continue at the rate we have now, and I think you have to be choosy about the people you bring in. But you are right, and there are two groups of people who have had trouble with some of the basic things in this book: one is people of Jewish background, and others who come from nations of immigrants, like America. But Britain isn’t a nation of immigrants — we have been a static society with all the benefits and ills that this brings. And I think it is dishonest to say it is the same thing. I realize people who are predominantly Jewish have a particular sensitivity to it, but I think that that’s a particular issue. And why do we say one migration is just like the other? It’s like saying because two vehicles went down the same road, they are the same vehicle.
ARE: How is it different?
DKM: In the UK, when Jewish migration happened more than a century ago, the main thing was integration — integration into the society, wanting desperately to be part of British society. Why do synagogues in the UK have a portrait of the queen? And after services, they often sing the British national anthem. It’s very moving. It’s an effort to demonstrate ‘this is what we are and this is what we want to be.’ You’d be hard pressed to find a mosque with a picture of the queen who sing the anthem.
ARE: That element of integration is crucial, I agree. In America, in fact, immigrants in the past and often even today are eager to give their children Anglicized names: “Michael,” not “Moishe,” “Henry,” not “Heinrich.” Yet you do not see the name changes in Muslims these days. Why do you think that is?
DKM: Because there is less of a feeling to integrate. They want to stay with the country they’ve left but not deal with its economics. Some people find it flattering — that people want to move to your country — they say, “Well, it shows what a wonderful place we are.” No, it shows that your economics work better.
ARE: You also write about Muslim enclaves in Europe where “the women all wear some form of head covering and life goes on much as it would if the people were in Turkey or Morocco.” How is that different than, say, Chinese neighborhoods, or Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in America and say, Belgium, where women wear wigs and men have peyas, or sidelocks?
DKM: The example of Chinatown-like places is a good comparison. These are places that are mini-Chinas — they are enjoyed and liked by people because they are a different place. Well, if people want to have a mini-Bangladesh, that’s one vision of a society. It’s not the vision we were sold in Europe. It was not meant to be the case that portions of our cities were meant to become totally different places. In the 1950s, the British and other European authorities said that we had to bring people into our countries and we’d get a benefit in labor. But if they had said that the downside is that large portions of the area would be unrecognizable to their inhabitants, there would have been an outcry.
And the issue of them being different from Hasidic communities — you’re right, they are similar. You can go to Stamford Hill in North London and see most of the men in hats and so on, and that’s because that’s an enclave that wants to keep to itself. That raises questions: one, people don’t mind that, for several reasons — one is the recognition that Orthodox men don’t cause troubles. We don’t have cases of Orthodox men going out and cutting off people’s heads. If four Jewish men from Stamford Hill had blown up buses some years back, there would be concern about these enclaves.
And also, those enclaves are not growing. If it was the case that these enclaves were becoming areas where all the city was hat-wearing Orthodox Jews, then people would say wait, what is that? You can applaud that or abhor it, but it’s important to mention.it.
ARE: In the Netherlands, which has some of the toughest immigration policies in the world, people from certain countries are required to take “citizenship” courses before they can even enter Dutch borders. They have to learn the language, they have to learn about Dutch values — and that no, you can’t throw stones at Jews and gay people, and that gay marriage is legal and women wear short dresses. Would you recommend other countries take on the Dutch policy of citizenship courses?
DKM: I make this point in the book. You say that we could have done more and better, but the fundamental thing is that none of it was ever expected in the first place. No one ever thought that we would be in the situation we are now in. We didn’t expect them to stay. That’s a very big misunderstanding. Why would you ask people to become Dutch citizens if you expect them to go home in five years? Why, if you only expect them to stay in Britain for only 10 years? But then we realized they would stay and then we said, “we have to let them practice their own culture.” But for us to have acted as you suggest we would have had to know [at the time].
So yes, I think it’s a bare minimum for Europe to have the Dutch policy, even at this very late stage. I’m of the inclination that this is too little too late, but I wish everyone luck with it.
ARE: What about Yazidi women, Syrian Christians?
DKM: Again, it comes down to the Jewish question — because people think that every refugee is like a Jew from Nazi Germany. But if you were to think of a group that was facing an attempt to wipe them off the face of the earth, then yes, you’d have the Yazidis. But there are people on all sides of the Syrian civil war, which are a minority of people coming to Europe — these are people fleeing sectarian conflict, but none of them are fleeing an effort to wipe them out as a people. So the lazy view — and it is quite often pushed by Jewish groups, which I think is a mistake — is to suggest that it is similar to Nazi Germany. And I wish more care were taken in this.
ARE: Is [your policy], in your mind, a way of stopping radical Islam? Because so many of the radicalized Muslims are actually converts. How would it help?
DKM: We know that people who convert to anything tend to be fundamentalist. But the important thing is, if you were pliable to be converted, available to be converted, then it raises the question of what kind of Islam do we have in these countries? If it were people finding Sufism, rather than hardcore Salafism, maybe it would be different. I have a friend who is a Muslim, who was on a trip some years ago. [He] told me the story of introducing a Muslim woman to one of the senior clerics at Al-Azhar, and she wouldn’t shake his hand. He asked her why not. She said, “Because I’m Muslim.” So he asked her how long she’d been a Muslim, and she said “Six years.” He said, “I’ve been a Muslim for eight decades.” And then he turned and said to his friend in Arabic, “What kind of Muslims are you making in Britain?”
ARE: One thing that the American Muslim community seems to have over its European brethren is its successful integration into society. Yet at the same time, some of the worst of the radicals are in fact American-born. We have people like Linda Sarsour, who wears the mantle of feminism, but who is really a Trojan horse for the Islamists. She has said things like, “Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community. It is not to assimilate and lease any other people in authority.” What are the dangers of that kind of message?
DKM: I once spent an evening with Linda Sarsour. She is a very unpleasant, very radical girl. Filled with hate. I was the one having to defend America to Americans in an American audience against an American opponent. What she told that night was all lies, which you would tell either because you are dumb, which she isn’t, or because you want to spread propaganda, which she does.
I just think she is of a type. There are various sides to the issue that are important. There’s an “us” question and a “them” question. The “them” question is, what do people like that believe, what are they doing and how vile are they? But in a way, the “us” question is bigger. Why do we let them do this? What is wrong with America at this time in its history that an obvious demagogue like her can end up leading a feminist march [the 2017 Women’s March]? That’s an illness of America. She’s just a symptom of that.
ARE: And similarly, the Rushdie affair was effective in quashing further expression and criticism related to Islam. And [the] Charlie Hebdo [attack] took that to an extreme. We haven’t had anything that severe, but there were the South Park threats and the attempted attack on the Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. You blame European politicians and media for failing to recognize that those who were shouting “fire” were in fact the arsonists.
This seems to be a global challenge — that any criticism or critique of Islam gets shouted down as inherently bigoted. In the US, the Southern Poverty Law Center places Maajid Nawaz on a list of “anti-Muslim extremists” for criticizing some tenets of the faith and advocating modernization and reform. In Europe, the facts are very pessimism-causing. At the same time, though, there was certainly support for Charlie Hebdo, though you seem to deny it in your book, after the shootings. What’s the proper response to that form of a heckler’s veto?
DKM: I agree with the point. The only ways to reject the assassin’s veto is for civil society to be stronger on the question, for governments to ensure that people deemed to have ‘blasphemed’ are protected (as in the case of Rushdie) and that those who incite violence against them (such as Cat Stevens during the Rushdie affair) are the ones who find themselves on the receiving end of prosecutions. That and — obviously — ensuring that blasphemy laws aren’t allowed in through the back door via new ‘hate speech’ laws and the like.
ARE: In the chapter on multiculturalism, you describe interest groups that “were thrown up that claimed to represent and speak for all manner of identity groups. … “To keep the money flowing, they make the problems facing their community appear worse than they really are.” Is that a universal behavior for [these] interest groups? We certainly see that in the US with CAIR and ISNA.
DKM: Every group is vulnerable to that. With every human rights achievement, there are always some people left on the barricades. And the ones who linger on the barricades linger on without any home to go to. And you get these people who are stranded after it’s over and they have to hustle as if everything was as bad as it once was. Sometimes they are telling the truth; sometimes they wave a warning flag, but for the moment it seems –particularly in America — [that] every group is claiming that this is basically 1938. It’s a tendency of every commune or group that wants awareness raised.
But it’s true, it’s especially prevalent of Muslim groups because if you keep claiming that you are the victim, then you never have to sort out your own house. And the groups that come to Europe and America, they never have to get their house in order if they spend all their time claiming they are victims of genocide and persecution and so on. And this is a familiar story.
ARE: So what would be your lesson, then, for America, especially in a book which clearly is about Europe?
DKM: Well, it is about Europe, certainly, but it’s connected to the debate America is now beginning to have. The first is to be careful with immigration. We’ve all had the same misunderstanding, the same thought that our societies are vast, immovable, unchanging things to which you could keep bringing people of every imaginable stripe and the results will always be the same. And I think that is just not the case, depending on the people who are in them. So we must take care with what kind of immigration we encourage, and at what pace, and that is something America should be thinking of, as everyone else should.
But America will have a harder time with this, because everyone in America has this vulnerability we don’t have in Europe, which is that [you] are all migrants. And you have the sense of ‘who am I to keep anyone out?’
ARE: I don’t think that’s the American view. I think it’s more that we all became part of this fabric, and we expect that the new immigrants will, too. But not all of them do.
DM: The whole thing actually seems to be unraveling, more than in Europe. In Europe, we don’t like to think in terms of racial terms. But all anyone in America talks about is race.
ARE: I don’t think so….
DKM: Maybe; but your vision of original sin in America seems to have become all so overwhelming. Your leading cultural figures, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, have this image of America born in terrible sin. The Atlantic‘s front cover recently was all about slavery. You would get the impression that slavery only ended about 12 months ago. You are going over and over this in America — this endless sense of original sin. You are discussing reparations for slavery in 2017. You’d be hard-pressed to find publications in the UK calling for reparations to our past. Find me a mainstream publication that runs such a thing in Europe, even of WWII reparations.
So it’s symptomatic of something badly wrong at the structure of the public discussion.
ARE: Which suggests that we should do what?
DKM: What you have to listen out for is very straightforward: are the people raising such issues raising them because they want America to improve, or because they want America to end? I think this is a very central issue. Are you speaking as a critic, or as an enemy of the society in question? If you think the society can do no good, then you are speaking as an enemy. If you think there are things that have been done, that are wrong, that should be righted, campaign for them, speak out for them. Sometimes if you’re lucky you can get a posthumous rectification. But it sounds to me like a lot of this talk is from people who hate America. They don’t want to improve it. They want to end it.
So the lesson is — be careful about immigration. Be choosy. And another is a pretty straightforward one which is to work on the people who are there not to fall into the victim narratives of their special interest groups. And to focus on the “we.” I’ve always felt more optimistic for America in this regard, for the same reason I feel more optimistic than others do about France: because I think there is a very specific identity there, which it is possible to become a part of. I think it’s something other Western European countries, have not accomplished in the same way. So basically to strengthen their own identity.
ARE: Do you consider yourself a pessimist?
DKM: I think [that] in Europe, the facts are very pessimism-causing. I think it would be a strange person who would look at 12,000 people landing in Lampedusa, all young men, all without jobs, all without futures, and think, ‘That’s going to go really well. These are going to be just like the Jews of Vienna. These are going to be the receptacles of our culture.” I don’t see it happening.
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of “Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West“ (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Follow her at @radicalstates.