Last month I started reading Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within (Doubleday, 2006). Before I finished I learned it had been nominated in the criticism category for the National Book Critics Circle Award. On February 8, the The New York Times reported that Elliott Weinberger, previous finalist for the award, denounced Bawer, accusing him of "racism as criticism." Meanwhile, the president of the Circle's board, John Freeman, wrote on the organization's blog, "I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer's 'While Europe Slept'...It's [sic] hyperventilated rethoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia."
Having now finished reading it, I must agree with Freeman's sentiments about While Europe Slept. If Bawer does win in the "criticism" category when awards are announced on March 8, it will bring shame upon the Circle.
Writer and critic Bawer is gay, an avowed liberal who moved from New York to Amsterdam in 1998 because of its more tolerant atmosphere. He now lives in Oslo. While Europe Slept is a full-out critique of what Bawer considers Europe's complacency with regard to the radical Islamist threat, by comparison with the vigorous and resolute response taken by the US since 9/11. But while Bawer is critical of Europe, his views with regard to Islam are in fact symptomatic of a widespread, and growing, European tendency. Whereas hostility and racism toward Muslim immigrants were previously the property of the extreme right, such views have become increasingly mainstream. For instance, take the fulminations of Oriana Fallaci in books like The Force of Reason, or Polly Toynbee's columns in the Guardian. Whereas in the US, Islamophobic rhetoric tends to be the province of right-wing commentators and, especially, conservative evangelists, in Europe Islamophobia is more frequently articulated from within the terms of liberal discourse.
Bawer rehearses a number of the alarms about the threats posed by Muslims in Europe that are common currency on the right. First, the demographic threat, the nightmare that Muslims are about to swamp Europe. Bawer quotes British historian Niall Ferguson, who wrote in 2004, "a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonize a senescent Europe to the north and west." Now, Bawer claims, nearly the whole of Europe is within their [the Islamists'] grasp" (231). Second, the failure of Muslims to integrate into European society, their insistence on separation, rejection, ghettoization and inter-marriage (20, 209). Third, the threat of violence and crime posed by young Muslims resident in Europe. Bawer cites the example of the city of Malmö in Sweden, whose population is 40 percent "non-Swedish" (meaning non-white Swedish), where the incidence of rape is five or six times that of nearby Copenhagen, child rapes have doubled in a decade, and teenagers were torching schools (205). Brawer piles on example after example, such as the June 2005 incidents, where 500 Muslim teenagers were involved in mass muggings on strand of beach near Lisbon (211). Fourth, Muslims in Europe are resistant to adopting "European values." Even those who might oppose the terroristic methods of radical Islam are "hamstrung by the belief that loyalty to the umma...overrode any civic obligations to their kaffir (infidel) neighbors," and so they are loathe to criticize extremist Islamists (3, 229). Moreover, "many" immigrant communities are "led by fundamentalist Muslims who looked forward to the establishment in Europe of a caliphate government according to sharia law (3)." Fifth, the immigrants bring their "tribal customs" with them, such as FGM (female genital mutilation), honor killings, payment of blood money and so on (18, 22, 211).
Let me address these scare-mongering arguments briefly. (1) The notion that the eleven or so million Muslims in Europe, who constitute 3 percent of the EU's population, are likely to become the majority any time soon is ludicrous. (2) Muslim failure to integrate and Muslim ghettoization are in large part the consequence of policies of the state and local governments, as well as fear of racist attacks, rather than active decisions of Muslim communities and individuals. "Ghettoization" is more imposed than freely chosen. (3) The violence and crime that are endemic in lower-class, "immigrant" ghettos, are the products of poor education and infrastructure, lack of opportunity and high unemployment. Bawer objects to such explanations, and cites as evidence Theodore Dalrymple's claim that young Muslims in the French cités are not poor but typically have cell phones and cars (Bawer adds that young Muslims all over Europe drive BMW convertibles) (110). Cell phones, yes, but it is well-known that France's banlieusard rioters of November 2005 torched some 9,000 cars -- because they can't afford them. Bawer elsewhere does acknowledge that "in Europe, generally speaking, only the most undesirable employment is available for people with foreign-sounding names of foreign-looking faces (72)." As for the mass muggings near Lisbon, I've seen no evidence that the bands of muggers were composed entirely, or even mainly, of Muslims. (4) As for refusal of "European values," Jocelyne Cesari's book When Islam and Democracy Meet (2004) argues persuasively that Muslims in Europe have, among other things, adopted the very "secular" notion of religion as individual choice. Many European Muslims have criticized Muslim extremism, such as the Islamic Commission of Spain, which issued a fatwa declaring Usama Bin Laden an apostate. No Muslim community in Europe is led by fundamentalists who want to reestablish the caliphate -- this position is held by a small minority, not by community leaders. (5) Most Muslims in Europe originate from countries where FGM ("female cutting" is a less incendiary term) is not practiced. Reports do suggest a rise in the rate of honor killings in the last few years, but this Boston Globe report sees this as an effect of Muslim Europeans' feelings of embattlement and isolation rather than as an imported "tribal custom."
Overall, Bawer's argument proceeds through distortion of fact, selective use of evidence, taking minority trends as representative of the whole community, and blaming the victim. While Europe Slept presents a picture of (white) Europeans intimidated and bloodied by violent Muslim youth, when in fact it is European Muslims who are most at risk, from racist attacks by extreme-right militants and the police, and increased racial profilings and community repression since 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings.
Where Bawer's argument connects with "liberal" discourse is in its concern with women's and gay rights. Bawer asserts that "some estimates suggest that 90 percent of European Muslim wives are physically abused" (59), and he is concerned that non-Muslim European are threatened by Muslim violence, particularly rape (55). But it is Muslim homophobia that really exercises him, as someone who left the US because of Christian fundamentalist intolerance for gays, only to find conditions were worse in Europe. "I wasn't fond of the hypocritical conservative-Christian line about hating the sin and loving the sinner," Bawer writes, "but it was preferable to the forthright fundamentalist Muslim view that homosexuals merited death" (33). And he quotes approvingly the statements of Pim Fortuyn, Holland's charismatic anti-immigrant and populist politician, assassinated in 2002: "What...would happen to same-sex marriage when fundamentalist Muslims gained enough power to eradicate it? Islamic countries not only prohibit gay marriage: they execute people for sodomy" (164-165). Bawer concludes the book by stating that Muslim intolerance is making life more dangerous for gays in Holland, and that this is prompting a desire among many Dutch to emigrate.
Certainly, women's and gay rights must be defended. What I want to underscore here, however, is the ways in which Bawer deploys stereotypes of Muslim intolerance of women's and gay rights to argue for a crackdown on Muslim immigrants (and citizens) and immigration writ large. Western discourse about defending women from sexist Muslim men, of course, has a long history, whereas the defense of gay rights against fundamentalist Muslims represents the embrace of a relatively new Western "tolerant" value. According to a report in the New York Times last October, "So strong is the fear that Dutch values of tolerance are under siege that the government last winter introduced a primer on those values for prospective newcomers to Dutch life: A DVD briefly showing topless women and two men kissing."
Increasingly, centrists and liberals across Europe are embracing the view that Muslim religious and cultural values are simply too conservative and fundamentalist, that they are incompatible with the "tolerant" European values that have taken hold since the 1960s and 1970s. Immigration, therefore, should be strictly limited or cut off altogether, and Muslims in Europe should be forced to "integrate."
Let's hope that the National Book Critics Circle has the good sense not to honor a book that propagates such arguments.