‘The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam’ by Douglas Murray
Hardcover: 352 pages, Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum (4 May 2017), Language: English. £18.99. Available at Amazon.
Douglas Murray is not known for shying away from controversial subjects, or for keeping quiet on matters that need the bright light of public discourse shone on them, whether people want that light shone or not.
He has been a vocal critic of radical Islam and Islamist terrorism for over a decade now, and has always spoken with great lucidity and coherence on a range of very difficult subjects that won’t be made
any easier to face by ignoring. To watch him debate on the subject of whether Islam has anything to do with terrorism for instance is to watch a verbal heavyweight often crush the opposition with skillful rhetoric and salient facts that just will not go away, much to his opponents’ chagrin.
Douglas Murray’s latest book is a bringing together of the themes he’s been thinking, writing and talking about for years now, and as a result the argument presented within this extremely eloquent piece of rapid fire literary slaying of sacred cows is a pleasure to read, even as someone who doesn’t agree with everything he has to say. Given that he opens with ‘Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide. Whether European people choose to go along with this is, naturally, another matter’ one can tell that he is as usual pulling no punches.
Murray starts with the (still) thorny subject of mass migration. Not only of the sudden upsurge we in Europe witnessed in 2015, but stretching back to the post-war years. Told mainly from a British perspective, but also including elements from the continent, it is a tale of good intentions gone seriously awry, with a mix of naivety and colonial paternalism on display in the halls of power. As he demonstrates, the attitude to this issue in the early years was basically ‘oh well, we don’t think anyone will want to come here so we won’t put any plans in place in case they do, because even if they do it’ll be in such small numbers and anyway they won’t want to stay’. It was in this fit of absent mindedness combined with a very real need for labour to rebuild Britain and Europe post-war that the first wave of mass migration occurred. There was then the predictable concern showed by the publics of Europe about the size, scale and speed of immigration, which led to some controls in Britain but little if any in Europe.
The immigration continued in Europe for the rest of the 20th and into the 21st century, while trending downwards in the UK – not without opprobrium being heaped on those who sounded the alarm over the effects like Ray Honeyford – until 1997 when Labour opened the taps. As Murray demonstrates, the numbers that came in under New Labour were unprecedented; in the 17th century 50,000 Huguenots came to Britain, fleeing persecution in France. From 1997 onwards that was 1 month’s worth of immigration. There was then the situation with the new Eastern European members of the EU whose citizens were given free movement to Britain in 2004, 7 years earlier than other EU countries.
Again, as Murray ably shows, the government wildly underestimated the numbers that would come and saw hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens moving to the UK. Again, this had happened with a kind of absent mindedness that would be hilarious in a political comedy sketch but is rather less so when displayed by one’s government. The fact that the mass immigration that we have seen over the last 60 years, and the way it will transform Europe demographically, means that the lack of forethought and planning and lack of serious discussion about what it might mean for all of us, both immigrant and ‘native’ European alike, amounts to an almost criminal dereliction of duty on the part of our political and cultural leaders.
Murray’s thesis is that not only are these numbers coming into Britain and Europe unprecedented, but that it happened at the worst time in our continent’s history. His main argument is that just at the point when we needed it most, we had lost, and have yet to regain, our sense of who we are. This is where his argument takes on a clarity and depth that is quite moving to those who have the eyes to see and the ears to listen. He argues convincingly that we have lost the connection with our past and our identity; whether through shame, willful lack of interest or civilizational lethargy. Integrating the new arrivals would have been difficult enough given the wide diverse nature of the different parts of the world that they came from, with the attendant difference in culture that came with this movement of people, but with our societies in the states of existential doubt they’re in, the task is almost impossible.
Murray further reinforces this bleak picture of who we’ve become by saying that because we’ve become so unmoored from who we were, who we thought we used to be, we don’t even feel that it is right for us to talk in these terms, if at all. Much better to avoid discussing what we do about the integration vs multiculturalism situation, and call anyone who attempts such a discussion a racist. Much better to drown ourselves in shallow pursuits than to face the fact that all of our foundational theological belief structures have been ripped apart and have crumbled beneath our feet as a result of textual scrutiny and scientific inquiry, and that philosophy has not been able to replace that in any satisfactory way. No, better to re-write history and insist that our culture is the worst ever produced in history. As Chantal Delsol argues, we are like Icarus having fallen burnt after trying reach the sun of utopian ideologies in trying to replace the gaping loss at our core. The only problem is, we’re still alive. Nietzsche had it right; God is dead, and there will never be enough water to wash the blood away.
Murray is arguably correct in saying that while there is no denying that there is plenty to be ashamed of in our past, is it really the case that Europe’s civilisation is the worst mankind has ever produced? I suppose that next to some sort of idealised utopia (that has no chance of existing on earth) it is an unmitigated disaster, a hell-scape, but compared to what else is on offer in our present time, and certainly compared to what else was on offer in other periods of history in other places, it is, I would submit, one of the triumphs of human ingenuity, particularly in its creation of and its emphasis on the sanctity of the individual endowed with certain inalienable rights. Having performed this piece of malign casuistry our past and who we are, nothing is left but to wallow in sentimental masochistic self-loathing that gives us a high of self-blaming victimhood and allows us to live a life of meaninglessness and total lack of responsibility, either to those dead, to those living, or those yet to be born.
Murray devotes a whole chapter in the ‘identity’ section of the book to the idea that Europe is experiencing an ingrained sense of civilisation lethargy. He poignantly describes looking at the map on the back of the plane seat in front of him of an area of Germany that showed a triangle of Nuremburg, Regensburg and Bayreuth, and feeling a sense of lethargy wash over him at the crushing weight of history that those names represented, multiplied throughout the continent. One might say that our continent is saturated in our history, and that we cannot bear the burden of it, either the good or the bad. Mostly the bad, as the good has been subsumed within the minds of those who care to learn of our past by the unbearable shame they feel at our past. Having lost our religion of and faith in Christianity, we turned to philosophy, and then to art, and one by one they all proved insufficient as substitutes for the theological bedrock of our culture, and each loss was more keenly felt than the last, further enfeebling us with each further tearing wide of the hole at the centre of our very sense of cultural being.
It was at this point that I myself grew tired; tired not of Murray’s sense of realistic pessimism which is warranted in many respects, but of the whispers of defeatism on display in this chapter. I’m afraid that even though the situation he is describing in his chapter on civilizational tiredness may be true for many people, to act like there is nothing else to be done than to submit to the guilt and the weight of history, as many in Britain and Europe are doing, strikes me as a betrayal of the very culture and values that Europe and Britain created. Murray is the rare exception to this rule as shown by his spirited defence of what western civilisation is and why it should be celebrated with the proper degree of self-awareness, but even he admitted to feeling the sense of being weary of history and tired of life.
I’m afraid that for me the lassitude that has gripped the continent is simply not good enough. I know what has happened on our continent in our history, with the wars and the genocides and the conquests and the religious persecution. I also know what happened in the rest of the world, and find that much of what happened here in our history is not only no worse (with the horrific exception of the Holocaust) than what those other places witnessed, but in many respects was far surpassed by the cultural, social, political, and philosophical achievements that our continent saw. I’m not willing to let the positive side of that legacy slide into that long good night quite yet.
I’d say that there is much to be celebrated, learnt from, enjoyed and preserved for future generations, all the while retaining the caution that we should not allow ourselves to fall into arrogant self-congratulation. That’ll be one of the central challenges for those who wish to preserve and spread the knowledge and wisdom of our forebears in the years ahead; balancing the need for cultural and civilizational self-reflection with the need to avoid letting it slip into self-flagellation and self-abnegation.
Murray’s final subject in the triple-shot subheading of doom in the book’s title is ‘Islam’. This is the most controversial aspect of the book that Murray spends most of his time talking about in other forums and in other forms of discourse. Murray demonstrates that the disastrous focus on multiculturalism and our lack of courage or will to discuss important issues has meant that huge social issues that we thought long gone from the continent have once again arisen and been allowed to fester. Attacks on freedom of speech that some find offensive to Islam and often carried through by Islamist terrorists have resulted in Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, the attacks on the publishers of the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the killing of Theo Van Gogh, the fire-bombing of Charlie Hebdo and the slaughter of that magazine’s staff 4 years later in 2015. Murray argues that this has all created an unspoken blasphemy law that is enforced by people’s understandable wish not to end up shot, stabbed, beheaded, blown up, run over, or hiding under armed guard for the rest of their lives.
Added to this there are also issues with growing anti-Semitism, homophobic attitudes, attitudes towards social values like women’s rights and support for Sharia law that are indeed troubling. Another cause for concern that Murray raises is the fact that the most notable religious killing in recent years was an intra-Muslim one, with an Ahmadiyyah Muslim Glaswegian shopkeeper stabbed to death by another Muslim for the crime of being a heretic. There is also the link between Islam and terrorism, and the spike in rapes related to the spike in migration in 2015 into places like Sweden and Germany that precious few up to now have been willing to admit to, much less talk about.
Murray demonstrates that all of this means that because of our unwillingness to face the facts and deal honestly with the truth, we leave what Maajid Nawaz calls the ‘minorities within the minorities’ subject to persecution within their communities, as it would be racist or culturally insensitive to support them; the fact that this kind of sentiment usually comes from extremely privileged white upper-middle class ‘liberals’ shows a stunning self-absorption and an astounding level of narcissistic condescension towards these people the claim to speak for and protect. The attitude appears to be ‘well, it’s your culture so we couldn’t possibly impose our values because that would be oppression and neo-colonialism and would involve value judgements that we aren’t willing to make’. In other words, people with brown skin have their own values and culture while those with white skin have theirs, and it would be racist to hold everyone to the same standard as that would erase the brown skinned person’s culture, so they can’t be allowed to share in Western values and culture.
Now, this attitude, based in rank cultural relativism and showing an infantilisation of those of a different skin colour that is beyond belief is of course deeply bigoted. If the regressives who actually came out with this kind of twisted garbage actually practiced a bit of self reflection then they’d be sickened by what they would see, particularly given their sense of moral relativism strips people like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi-Ali of potential allies, leaving them with few defenders against those who wish them real harm.
All of this, Murray believes, proves a much greater challenge to deal with now than any time before because of our loss of will and sense of identity and the confidence that sense of self-realisation instils. This is why his pessimism is so compelling, because it carries the feeling of truth delivered with the force of prophecy based on facts. The 2015 migrant crisis was a particularly notable spike in a trend that has been going on for years.
It is in these parts of the book that Murray’s prose is at its most affecting, as he describes the events he witnessed and people he met personally as he travelled to the Mediterranean island entry points into Europe to see what was happening on the ground. The personal stories he recounts are often extremely moving and reveal the central dilemma at the heart of the book and at the heart of the semi-but-not-quite discussion Europe is fumbling its way through concerning the migration situation today; we want to help these people, but must we help all of them? Do we all have a duty to all of them? Do we have a duty therefore to the whole world? What about the people who are already here and have been for hundreds of years, do we have a duty to them too? What kind of society are we creating by allowing so many people to come in so fast? What do we do about it? Do we stand by our values? Do we know what they are? Do we care?
Murray closes with two chapters: ‘What Might Have Been’ and ‘What Will Be’. The first gives examples of the kind of practical steps Angela Merkel might have taken to avoid the situation Germany and the rest of Europe is now in as a result of the 2015 migrant crisis. Even if their effect was more limited than hoped it would have been better than nothing. The second of these chapters is what Murray believes is the more likely outcome; Europe sliding perhaps gently, perhaps not, further down the slope towards civilizational negation and dissolution.
While his case may be overly pessimistic in places, and his rhetoric may strike some of a more liberal bent as overly alarmist or negative, they will have a hard time poking holes in the reality of the situation he describes. This is a book for our times, and fully does justice to the socio-political and cultural earthquake it describes.
If we discuss the questions that Murray raises in an honest and open way, obviously while being as inclusive as possible but keeping in mind the need to discuss uncomfortable subjects even if they cause offence, then we could maybe nudge the course of this ocean liner we call European society just enough to avoid complete disaster, for everyone concerned, both immigrant and native alike.
If we don’t, and we continue down the path we are, then the future is indeed looking bleak for everyone, no matter their colour, creed, ethnicity or faith. In the end, free speech and the battle of ideas is the only way this thing some still call Western civilisation can still be salvaged.
I for one hope that this is what Murray’s book can go some way to achieving.