A Masterly Look At Europe
Why Douglas Murray's new book is a must-read.
“Europe is committing suicide,” writes Douglas Murray in the first sentence of his erudite, dispiriting, and indispensable new book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. In words that I agree with but that put the matter in a way so stark that they even made me catch my breath, Murray predicts that “by the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place the world we had to call home.” This cataclysm, in Murray’s view, has two causes: mass immigration and Europeans’ loss of faith in European “beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.” Europeans feel guilty about their past; they’re “jaded,” weighted down by an “existential tiredness,” a feeling that their corner of the world “has run out of steam” and that their culture, for which they have insufficient regard, might just as well be replaced by another.
Murray (a prolific author, debater, and commentator who, at the age of 37, is perhaps Britain’s most eloquent critic of Islam and mass immigration) starts with his own country – namely with Conservative MP Enoch Powell, one of the most brilliant and accomplished men of his time, who in 1968 gave an extraordinary prescient oration, the so-called “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he warned of the long-term results of UK immigration policy. Instead of prompting the immigration controls that 75% of his countrymen wanted even back then, the speech ended Powell’s career and made his name synonymous with hatred. Three out of four members of the general public were with him, but to the elite he was Hitler – and his instant official disgrace made it impossible, during the ensuing decades, to have anything remotely resembling an honest public debate on immigration. The Muslims kept pouring in, and though most Brits disapproved, they kept their heads down, shrugging silently. What else could they do? They knew that if they spoke up, they’d get the Powell treatment.
Meanwhile, slightly different versions of the same tragedy (or farce?) were being played out across northwestern Europe. Everywhere, the natives were lied to by their politicians and media: the scale of immigration, they were told, was far lower than widely believed; their country had always been “a nation of immigrants”; immigrants represented a net economic asset; crime statistics were inflated; and, naturally, Islam was a religion of peace. Those who criticized immigration – because they saw their culture disappearing, their secular democracy challenged, their taxes going to support indolent, criminal aliens, and their own access to housing and schools cut off by policies that favored foreigners – were called racists and nationalists, were accused of being fixated on skin color, and were ridiculed for failing to have a sophisticated enough appreciation of the value of cultural diversity.
If Britain had Powell’s speech, France had “a strange novel,” Le Camp des Saints (1973), in which Jean Raspail envisioned a rapid conquest of western Europe by shiploads of Third Worlders crossing the Mediterranean. Just as Merkel triggered the latest immigrant tsumani by setting out a welcome mat, in Raspail’s book the invasion is set off by an ill-advised invitation by the Belgian government. Murray calls Le Camp des Saints “deeply unpleasant” in its depiction of the immigrant hordes (I concur), but although it was almost universally dismissed as racist, it predicted with “uncomfortable precision” Europe’s response to today’s alien influx – from the dithering politicians to the naively magnanimous churchmen. (The main thing Raspail got wrong were the numbers: he imagined a million people invading Europe; the real figure has been much higher.)
Murray recalls other authors: the Dutchmen Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, who, demonized for criticizing mass Islamic immigration, ended up slain; the late Oriana Fallaci, whose cry of outrage, The Rage and the Pride (2002), sold millions. (Full disclosure: Murray, a longtime friend, is kind, too, to my own 2006 opus While Europe Slept.) How long ago all this seems! Fortuyn and Fallaci gained innumerable admirers. But what difference did any of it make? At certain moments all those years ago, some form of salvation seemed just around the corner. Yet the elites retained their power and kept banging away at the lies. And things just got worse.
Not just worse – crazier. When terrorist acts occurred, they were treated as one-offs, unrelated to immigration or Islam. British police covered up mass rapes of English girls by Muslim men for fear of being called racist. Rape victims kept mum for fear of inflicting visa problems upon their assailants, or, more generally, for fear of contributing to “Islamophobia.” Courts protected brutal Muslim criminals, some of them illegal aliens, from expulsion for fear they’d face trouble in their homelands – never mind the trouble they’d already caused to any number of European natives. While preachers of sharia Jew-killing were tolerated (if not presented with awards for being exemplary community leaders and “bridge builders”), critics of those preachers were put on trial. Europeans were told repeatedly that their nations’ imperial histories obliged them to shelter descendants of their former colonial subjects; but, as Murray notes, no one ever talked this way about the Turks’ own Ottoman Empire. And when Eastern European leaders kept out Muslims – and thereby kept violent crime, welfare costs, and other horrors that were becoming increasingly familiar in Western Europe – EU honchos railed at them to open their borders and share in the nightmare.
Although the word Islam figures in Murray’s subtitle, he devotes less attention to the religion itself less than he does to Europe’s response to it. Islam also gets less space here than Christianity – or, more specifically, Europe’s loss of Christian belief and identity. This focus makes for some of the book’s most original and fascinating sections, in which Murray (an Oxonian, by the way) explores the impact of Darwin and of the nineteenth-century Biblical “higher criticism” that led to the loss of faith limned in, for example, Matthew Arnold’s 1867 poem “Dover Beach.” It was to overcome this loss that the twentieth-century totalitarianisms were concocted. And once they’d done their massive mischief, and been expensively quashed, what remained? A spiritual void.
Murray’s extensive treatment of all this is wise, sensitive, and deeply engaging. He laments the glib professional atheists’ dismissal of Christianity, a faith, he points out, from which most of their own secular values spring, and sympathetically cites the view that one need not believe in every last tenet of this or that denomination to call oneself a Christian – and that such self-identification might at least render one better able to identify with one’s own cultural heritage, to embrace without irony a real sense of meaning, and, not least, to have a hill to stand on in the battle against Islam.
Even as Murray investigates the existential guilt and ennui that enable Western Europeans to buckle under to Islam, he puzzles over the fact that these phenomena are mostly absent in the former Iron Curtain countries. Under Communism, Eastern Europeans retained the “tragic sense of life” that many Western Europeans had long since lost; later, freed from Soviet despotism, they joined the EU only to find themselves being ordered around again – this time, being commanded to open their borders to what they, if not their Western European counterparts, recognized quite clearly as tyranny (though in a form different from the tyranny they had lived under). To these EU diktats they said no, in thunder. Murray ponders at some length, and with no little eloquence, the possible reasons why Western and Eastern Europeans differ so dramatically in this regard. My own sense is that Eastern Europe’s experience with totalitarian oppression was so recent (and so long) that it is still able to discover real meaning in the word freedom – a word that educated Western Europeans have been taught for decades now to pronounce with a sneer.
Murray, then, covers a lot of turf, always with knowledge and insight. But there is so much more in this book that I haven’t had the space to mention, all of it valuable and relevant. There are visits to Lesbos and Lampedusa, where fleets of asylum-seekers are landing like GIs at Normandy. There are outrageous quotes, such as the one from former Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who a couple of years ago actually told his people, in a televised speech, that they were themselves uninteresting and that the nation handed down by their forebears for generation after generation belonged more properly to the masses who were currently pouring in from the Muslim world. Any self-respecting people would have been outraged and – well, would have done to Reinfeldt what the British elite did to Enoch Powell. But no: the Swedes just nodded in acceptance. Their betters had been telling them this sort of thing for so long that they were used to it.
Quite rightly, Murray singles out the French novelist Michel Houllebecq’s recent novel Submission for its recognition of “the depth and sweep of the questions now facing Western Europe.” Then there’s this: “Today, if you walk through a gallery like Tate Modern in London the only thing more striking than the lack of technical skill is the lack of ambition. The bolder works may claim to tell us about death, suffering, cruelty or pain, but few have anything actually to say about these subjects other than pointing to the fact that they exist. Certainly they provide no answers to the problem they present.” These sentences aren’t just a critique (and, incidentally, a thoroughly correct one) of postmodern art; they reflect a cogent understanding of the connection between the postmodern mentality and Europe’s submission to Islam.
The “world of high culture,” Murray postulates, is very much “a part of the wider European crime scene” – the crime, of course, being the breathtakingly tragic readiness of millions of supposedly responsible adults to betray their country and culture, their antecedents and their posterity, to an alien and minatory invader. More than any other book with which I am familiar, The Strange Death of Europe provides a rich, comprehensive, and haunting portrait of a continent in extremis and an astute, thoroughly credible diagnosis of the social, psychological, and cultural afflictions that have led it to this hour of crisis. It is written with a palpable love for European history and values – and for the European people – and with less animus towards Islam, let alone towards Muslim individuals, than towards the craven European elites who (shaped by infelicitous historical forces) have, unforgivably, opened the city gates to let in the Trojan horse.