While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within
By Bruce Bawer
(Doubleday, $23.95, 247 pp.)
Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, Too
By Claire Berlinski
(Crown Forum, $25.95, 271 pp.)
In some of the most decadent liberal areas of Western Europe, where tolerance is considered the greatest (and often, alas, the only) virtue, non-Muslim women wear a hijab when they go out to avoid harassment by aggressive young Muslim men. In the suburbs of major cities of Old Europe that have large and expanding Muslim populations, such as Amsterdam and Paris, honor killings, forced marriages and spousal abuse are on the rise.
Such trends are at least a decade old. But for the European media and political elites, the symbol of dangerous cultural changes is not a crescent but Golden Arches. That's right -- McDonald's, although anything else that's quintessentially American will do.
In Europe's supremely politically correct climate, Christianity has all but disappeared, but it is still fashionable to bash practitioners, particularly fundamentalists. On the other hand, it is considered racist and culturally oppressive to negatively talk about anything that is even peripherally related to
Muslim immigration. Some countries, including the Netherlands and Norway, are even passing laws to restrict such speech.
Interestingly, two writers from vastly different backgrounds - Bruce Bawer, a conservative homosexual who moved to Europe to escape what he considered the stifling influence of fundamentalist Christianity in America, and Claire Berlinski, a secular Jewish female academic - come to the same conclusion in their strikingly similar books about Europe's decadence and failure to stand up for its historical culture.
In the introduction to The Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, Too, Berlinski baldly asserts that even though she is "a secular Jew who is delighted never to have faced The Inquisition," she believes the primary reason for Europe's "hopelessness and the void" is "the death of Christianity" on the western half of the continent.
This, she states, is why Europe has been susceptible to the dark appeals of everything from fascism and communism to anarchism and radical Islam in recent decades. This loss of faith, accelerated by World War I, was also one of the factors that made the slaughter of World War II possible, she writes.
That Bawer comes to essentially the same conclusion is even more startling, and his path to writing While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, is nearly as interesting as his reporting.
Bawer had spent a decade decrying what he saw as the dominance of Christian fundamentalism in public discourse and wrote two books on the subject. He eventually moved to Amsterdam to "marry" his Norwegian partner.
Soon, however, Bawer found out that the famed Dutch "tolerance" (which Berlinski cleverly labels "Self-Extinguishing Tolerance") really means they tolerate anything -- including radical Islamism -- except Americans and capitalism. In fact, Dutch toleration includes the funding of radical mosques, forcing citizens to accept Islamic customs and condemning anyone who objects to the huge numbers of immigrants or dares to mention the Muslims' own intolerances.
As Bawer points out dryly, there is no comparison between Jerry Falwell "not wanting me to marry" and the fastest-growing - though increasingly politically favored - part of the population of a continent that thinks he should suffer death by stoning.
Bawer's experiences reminded me of Keith Richburg, a black American reporter who thought that when he was assigned to Africa it would be a spiritual reawakening of his roots but returned to write Out of America after finding out that he was not a hyphenated American after all. Richburg decided he was glad to be an American – no matter how it came to be. Similarly, jazz great Wynton Marsallis tells black jazz musicians that if they think there is a better place to be a person of any color than America, they haven't been out much.
Bawer and Berlinski's books have a similarly personal writing style. Each is not merely an observer or a chronicler, but a participant who voices not only opinions but also feelings and experiences. Despite the fact that the books are stylistically and philosophically akin to one another, however, the authors attack the subject matter in very different ways.
While Berlinski travels the continent and writes in almost free form about things that interest her, Bawer takes a systematic look at Old Europe and radical Islam, breaking his book into three main sections: 1, "Before 9-11: Europe in Denial," 2, "9-11 and After: Blaming Americans and Jews, and 3, "Europe's Weimar Moment: Liberal Resistance and Its Prospects." Of the two books, Bawer's is by far the most complete.
Bawer's subtitle may summarize what readers can expect from the book, but his thesis actually goes deeper. In many ways, Old Europe is already culturally destroyed. After the trauma of two world wars, Western Europe decided that its culture is not worth saving, Bawer writes. Anti-Americanism is not a philosophy that fills the void. Islam fills the vacuum more completely.
The ways in which family unification rights are exploited in much of the European Union to bring whole clans of people from Muslim countries are detailed by Bawer, who also points out that the authorities, by allowing such a rule even in case of forced marriage, are in the name of "toleration" participating in the enslavement of another generation of Muslim women.
Berlinski, on the other hand, is less concerned about how the Continent's crisis came to be and far more interested in the cultural results. Readers of White Teeth, Zadie Smith's bestseller about life and love among immigrants in London, will be fascinated by the way in which Berlinsky compares the frothy novel to the darker truth of the characters it was based on (one of whom she was in love with). But the reaction of the uninitiated may be, "That's interesting, but is it really worth 50 pages?"
Similarly, Berlinski's point that anti-globalist activist Jose Bove is merely the latest in a long line of nihilistic anarchist cult figures who have enthralled large crowds of Europeans going back to a mad hermit who appeared in 560 A.D. is a provocative one, but she stretches her analogy over 36 pages and falls a little too in love with her thesis.
However, her examination of why the French port of Marseille works and how the police department and city administration have avoided the unrest and segregation that have plagued Paris and much of the rest of Old Europe is brilliant reporting and should be required reading for mayors and police chiefs throughout Europe.
Similarly, Berlinsky does a remarkable job of getting young people to open up to her about the secret negative reaction among white European youth to overwhelming Muslim immigration, and a music culture, particularly in Germany, that contains an all too familiar mix of nationalism and socialism.
There are certainly warnings for America in these books, but their net effect is to make one grateful that we have problems that are less poisonous than those that plague Europe. Illegals primarily from Mexico may not speak English but at least they speak the same cultural language that we do. Not so with the Muslims of Europe. And as Bawer points out, there are important differences between the Muslims who immigrate to America and those who immigrate to Europe. Because of proximity and right to enter laws, he says, Europe tends to get the type of immigrant who can't afford to come to America, while Muslims who enter the U.S. tend to be technologically astute and far more able to cope with modernity.
Furthermore, America's dynamic social structure is far more likely to encourage assimilation despite group attempts to discourage it and a group rights mentality among the left that rewards segregation. Despite all this, as Bawer points out, immigrants to the U.S. are encouraged to think of themselves as Americans, while few in the Netherlands or France would blanch at the idea of calling their recently arrived neighbors from North Africa Dutchmen or Frenchmen--even after several generations.
After painting a dark picture of inexorable cultural change and decay, and surrender in the face of the Madrid bombings - not to mention the assassination andextreme marginalization of public figures who dare to speak out such as Pim Fortuyn, Theo Van Gogh, and Oriana Fallici - both authors plead with Americans not to say, as Berlinsky puts it, "To Hell with Europe."
The authors point to small indications that there may be a silent majority in Europe who can be appealed to - Fortuyn, after all, probably would have been the Prime Minister of the Netherlands had he not been shot - but Bawer also shows the rigid class structures in Europe and the stranglehold the elites have on government.
In the end, both authors say the stakes are too high for Americans to say that Europe deserves whatever it gets and just let it happen. However, attempts to find rays of hope are the most tentative and least convincing pages in both books.
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