Bawer: Hi Jamie, thanks for having me.
FP: I just finished your book. It was a fascinating and powerful read. I know the answer to this question, but let’s help our readers get acquainted with you. Tell us why you ended up writing this book.
Bawer: In 1998 I moved from New York, where I’m from, to Amsterdam. I loved the Netherlands – its tolerance, its secularism, its heritage of freedom and learning and culture. But in early 1999, living in a largely Muslim area called the Oud West, I saw another side of the Netherlands, and of Europe, that I hadn’t seen before, or even been particularly aware of. The Oud West seemed less a neighborhood than an enclave – a piece of another society that had been dropped down into the city and that lived apart from it and its values. Just to walk from downtown Amsterdam into the Oud West was to experience a staggering contrast.
I soon came to realize that Amsterdam wasn’t unique – virtually every major city in Europe had Muslim enclaves like this one. The people outside of them were living in a democracy, but the people in them were living in a theocracy, ruled by imams and elders who preached contempt for the host society and its values. They were against secular law, against pluralism, against freedom of speech and religion, against sexual equality. Husbands believed it was their sacred right to beat and rape their wives. Parents practiced honor killings and female genital mutilation. Unemployment and crime rates were through the roof.
Most remarkable of all, nobody was saying or doing anything about any of this. European politicians took a hands-off attitude. Journalists sang the praises of multicultural society. With very few exceptions, nobody in a position of authority seemed willing to stand up for basic democratic values.
FP: You were at one time, I think it would be safe to say, a man of the Left. But you grew quite critical of leftwing European attitudes toward the US, Israel and capitalism. Could you give us an insight into your intellectual journey in this context?
Bawer: I’ve always thought of myself as a more or less classic Cold War liberal. But never New Left. The New Left always appalled me, and I’ve always been strongly anti-Communist. Yes, I’ve changed political alliances more than once over the years – not because I’ve changed positions, but because the labels started meaning different things.
This business of labels is maddening. In Stealing Jesus I criticized Christian fundamentalism and liberals loved it; in While Europe Slept, I criticize Islamic fundamentalism, which is by any measure a lot worse than Christian fundamentalism, and some of the same people who loved Stealing Jesus are appalled and think I’ve totally changed my politics, when in fact I’m being totally consistent. Anyway, as I explain in While Europe Slept, I moved to Europe in 1998, not long after Stealing Jesus came out, I looked forward to living in what I thought was a secular society. What I found, however, was a society governed according to what I gradually came to recognize as another kind of fundamentalism – namely, big-government, welfare-state social democracy.
European social democracy was rigid, doctrinaire, controlling. Social democrats ran politics, the media, and the academy, and they worked together to propagandize against their system’s #1 competition in the world – namely, American-style liberal democracy. The anti-Americanism I encountered every single day in the European media floored me. The American media had given me a very flattering picture of today’s Western Europe. But reading European papers and watching European TV news and talking to individual Europeans, I got a picture of America I hardly recognized. They depicted a capitalistic nightmare straight out of Upton Sinclair, a country where education and health care were only for the rich and where there was no such thing as unemployment insurance or retirement benefits.
The hostility to America was ubiquitous, and reflexive. Ditto the hostility to Israel, which Europeans have been taught by their elite to see almost exclusively as America’s 51st state, an oppressor of Palestinians and an illegal occupier of Arab and Muslim lands. I had been in many ways a critic of America, but in Europe I increasingly came to appreciate its virtues – and repeatedly found myself in social situations where I was obliged to defend it against people who regurgitated inane anti-American clichés that they’d been fed since infancy.
FP: Tell us about European attitudes toward immigration/immigrants in comparison to American attitudes.
Bawer: For decades, Western Europe has been admitting huge numbers of immigrants for decades, most of them Muslims. But the way they’ve handled them has been disastrous. The European elite hates America so much that instead of recognizing the U.S. as a model of how to integrate newcomers, they rejected the American approach entirely. They chose to view immigrants as members of groups rather than as individuals, as dependent children rather than adults who are potentially self-sufficient and responsible, and as exotic alien creatures who should remain exotic rather than as Europeans in the making. When I was first living in Norway, politicians and journalists were in the habit of congratulating Muslims for having turned Norway into a “colorful society” – a “fargerik felleskap.” Nobody seemed to realize how condescending this was, or how at odds it was with Martin Luther King’s dream of a colorblind society. I was also shocked to hear people refer to immigrants’ European-born children as “second-generation immigrants.” And their children were “third-generation immigrants.” This summed up an incredibly dramatic difference in the ways Americans and Europeans thought about immigrants. My father’s parents were Polish, but never in my life had it occurred to me to think of myself as a third-generation immigrant or of my father as a second-generation immigrant. The idea was ludicrous. We were Americans, period.
America encourages immigrants to go to work, learn the language, and become full members of society; Europe encourages immigrants to live apart and maintain their cultures and lifestyles and values without adjusting in the slightest to their new environment. This is called multiculturalism. And it’s been a disaster. In America, immigrants tend to make the switch to English relatively quickly; by contrast, an incredible number of European children (and even grandchildren) of immigrants are barely able to speak the language of the country in which they were born. Immigrants to the U.S. are also far more likely into enter the work force than immigrants in Europe, and are better paid.
In Europe, the elite prefers its minorities unintegrated, and the supposed reason is that it respects differences. But the real reason is a profound discomfort with the idea of “them” becoming “us.” Anyone can become an American; but an immigrant to Norway or the Netherlands will never really be thought of by anyone as Norwegian or Dutch.
In Norway there’s a comedienne named Shabana Rehman whose parents brought her to Norway from Pakistan when she was a baby. On her website, she writes: “I speak strikingly good Norwegian. But most native Norwegians I meet wish that it was a little broken.” I’ve seen this attitude. Americans are delighted to hear immigrants speaking English. By contrast, many Norwegians are uncomfortable when they hear a Pakistani speaking Norwegian. One thing I still find remarkable in Norway is the frequency with which people use the expression “Like barn leker best.” It’s a very common expression and it means something like “Children play best with other children who are like themselves.” I’ve heard it being said a thousand times by people who think of themselves as devout multiculturalists.
The most successful immigrant group in the history of the world is American Jews. Why? Because they integrated enthusiastically into the mainstream of American society. They rejected the ghetto and embraced American pluralism. In Europe, this same eagerness to belong, to contribute, and to thrive – and not remain segregated and ghettoized – led to the Jews’ near-extermination. It seems to me that part of the reason why anti-Semitism is so widespread in Europe while Islam is often treated with kid gloves is that the European elite has a reflexive contempt for a group that blends in and a reflexive respect for a group that holds itself proudly apart and resists assimilation. That’s a formula for disaster.
FP: Muslim immigration to Europe has meant higher crime and the perpetration of honor killing, female genital mutilation, and forced marriages on European soil. Yet many Europeans remain morally indignant about something America has supposedly done to them or something horrible that it supposedly represents. And they remain silent on what radical Muslims are perpetrating on their soil. This is a bit strange, no?
Bawer: It’s very strange. I never get used to it. It’s kind of schizophrenic, actually. On one level there’s an enthusiasm for America. America is sexy, exciting. Europeans love American TV, American pop music. They wear Yankee caps and t-shirts with Old Glory on them. If you’re out someplace for the evening and somebody hears you’re an American, they want to talk to you and hear about your life. It’s thrilling for them. But the very same people will then turn around and tell you how horrible your country is – everybody in America is overweight, nobody has health insurance, they’re all idiots, and so forth. This is what they’ve been taught in school and heard in the media. Weirdly, it’s their very enthusiasm for America, I think, that feeds their eagerness to believe this nonsense. They’re so in awe of America, so drawn to it, that they need to believe that there’s something horrible at the heart of it in order to be content with their own lives in their own societies.
Besides, buying into the idea that America is the #1 problem in the world – the #1 threat to world peace and so on – is a good way of distracting themselves from the genuine problems facing their own countries. After all, in Europe, there’s a lot of pressure not to address those problems. To criticize any aspect of immigrant communities or immigration policies is to risk being called a racist. In Norway, there’s been a rash of cold-blooded murders by rejected asylum seekers, who, after being rejected, incredible as it sounds, are simply allowed to roam free in the streets of Oslo. Recently, one of them walked into the downtown Oslo office of somebody I knew, a wonderful doctor, and stabbed him to death with a huge knife he’d brought with him. On the day it happened, a mutual friend of ours, who was despondent and in shock, said, “Something needs to be done about these asylum seekers.” And as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he added, “Oh, I shouldn’t say that, it sounds racist.” He hadn’t said anything racist. But this is how people have been trained to think. It’s paralyzing. So it is that the frustration and anger over the crisis in their own societies is deflected to a safe target – America. You can say anything you want about Americans and nobody will call you a racist.
FP: What is your perspective on what we could call European dhimmitude and the reflexive European appeasement mentality?
Bawer: Americans and Europeans both learned a lesson from World War II – but we learned different lessons. America learned that evil should never be appeased. If Britain and France had not caved in to Hitler at Munich, the war and the Holocaust might never have happened. Europeans, however, have been taught that the lesson of WWII is the evil of war, pure and simple. War should be avoided at all costs. Dialogue is always better than armed conflict. This mentality feeds anti-Americanism – instead of admiring America’s willingness to defend its freedoms in war, which after all is what made possible the liberation of Western Europe from the Nazis – duh! – Europeans see Americans as people who simply love to make war. We’re primitive, bloodthirsty warmongers. They see themselves, by contrast, as the preachers and guardians of a new, more noble and sophisticated era of peace. And they’ll make any compromise in order to preserve that peace.
European Muslim leaders know this. And they’ve manipulated it brilliantly. European politicians have become classic dhimmis, giving in to Muslim demands and being careful to avoid giving any offense whatsoever in order to maintain social harmony. The result, of course, is that Muslim leaders just get more and more demanding, and more and more easily offended.
Of all the heads of government in Europe, the only real exception to this rule is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, who in response to the uproar over the Muhammed cartoons stood up valiantly for freedom of speech. In Norway, by contrast, the editor of the first publication to reprint the cartoons ended up being pressured by the Norwegian government to apologize, which he did, abjectly, at a press conference in a government office building in the presence of the largest group of imams ever brought together in Norway. It was a deeply disturbing episode. But it came and went, and afterwards everybody seemed eager to sweep it under the rug, to pretend that it hadn’t happened or that it wasn’t really as weird and disturbing and disgusting as it was.
Dhimmitude is bursting out all over. Last year in Britain, the House of Commons voted for a bill that would have punished offensive speech about somebody else’s religion – it took the House of Lords to put the kibosh on it. In Norway, such a law was actually passed late last year. It’s now a crime in Norway to insult somebody else’s religion. Under this law, the burden of proof is on the accused, and the punishment is imprisonment. This is chilling. And it’s only the beginning.
FP: What do you think the cartoon controversy signified? What does it portend? What does the case of Denmark teach us?
Bawer: What happened in the cartoon controversy was that Danish Muslim leaders thought they could get lots of Muslims out into the streets making noise and making threats, and thereby force the Danish government to punish Jyllands-Posten editors and cartoonists in order to quiet things down. This would have put a chill on freedom of speech and advanced Islamist goals in Europe by a giant step. What they didn’t count on was Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The case of Denmark teaches us that there are people in Europe who see what’s going on and are deeply disturbed and angry about it – who love their countries and want to preserve their democracies. The people in Denmark who feel this way are lucky because they have a leader who agrees with them and who’s not afraid to say so and to act accordingly. It was very cheering during the cartoon controversy to see in the polls that Fogh Rasmussen’s posture on all this enjoyed the support of a huge majority of the Danish people. Even in the face of a boycott of Danish companies in the Muslim world, most Danes felt: “Okay, let’s take an economic hit, it’s worth it. We’re standing up for principle.” The lesson of this is that Europe needs principled leaders who believe fiercely in secular pluralistic democracy and who aren’t afraid to offend democracy’s enemies.
What’s dismaying is that Denmark has taken a lot of heat from journalists and politicians elsewhere in Europe. Denmark stood up for democracy, and it’s being attacked for being culturally insensitive, anti-Muslim, racist. Some Danes are very upset about this. They worry that their country’s image has been tarnished. They don’t seem to grasp that the people criticizing their prime minister are dhimmis, and they’re criticizing him for not being a dhimmi.
It’s also dismaying that as time goes by, the fortitude of some Danes seems to be ebbing. Apparently, they’re increasingly willing to make compromises for “peace.” Something similar also appears to be going on in the Netherlands, where recent polls revealed a surprising hostility toward Ayaan Hirsi Ali – whose only crime has been standing up for the freedom of the people who despise her. Europe needs a few Churchills to keep the people from back down – to remind them on a regular basis how much they have to be grateful for and how much they have to lose if they don’t stand up for it.
FP: Is there any hope for reform in Europe?
Bawer: We have to hope. Some days I’m more optimistic than others. Sometimes, alas, it seems as if the elite appeasers are so firmly in control of the reins of government, and the masses of people are so used to being passive and letting the elite call the shots, that it’s hard to imagine all of this working itself out in a positive way. All that’s certain is that the Muslim minorities are growing in numbers and in self-confidence and in power – and that many Europeans are upset about this, and frustrated with official inaction. There’s already been a noticeable movement toward right-wing, anti-immigration parties, some of which are cheering oases of pro-American and pro-freedom sentiment, and some of which are disturbingly racist and fascist. If European governments don’t stop being dhimmis and appeasers, there’ll be more and more movement in the direction of such parties. A Europe torn between nativist fascism and Islamofascism is a grim prospect, all too reminiscent of the situation in Europe in the 1930s. Some days it feels avoidable. Other days it feels inevitable.
FP: Bruce Bawer, thank you for joining us.
Bawer: Thank you, Jamie.
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