Chris Caldwell Sees Muslim Bogeymen. Again.

Your outlook, your disposition, even your very life, can be measured not just by your family or your labor but also by the company you keep. Are you friendly, welcoming, and engaging? Or are you churlish, dismissive, and antagonistic? Look at your closest associates; they provide a mirror, an index, yes, a barometer of your social ease or lack of ease with others.

The same dictum can be applied to books reviewed. If you want to see a world that is troubled yet hopeful, engaged with problems but determined to address them, you pick analyses that suggest we live in challenging times where tough choices have to be made (but also can be made) that lead to a better, brighter future. Or you can select those nuanced screeds that remain screeds—decrying the present, presaging a dark future and ultimately an apocalyptic defeat for the forces of order, peace, and advance of the collective good.

In “Europe’s Other Crisis,” his recent review-essay in The New Republic, there is no doubt which outlook or which set of books defines Christopher Caldwell. He sees Islam as the catalyst of evil, Muslims as the monsters of religious zealotry, and Western Europe as the victim of unwelcome, and too numerous, non-Christian immigrants.

Caldwell’s outlook had already been defined by his most recent book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Doubleday, 2009). In a review here on RD I noted that:

It is cultural values, the immigrant challenge to them, and above all, the Islamic offense to European norms and values that augurs the greatest change, the ‘revolution’ that is sweeping Europe and sweeping aside its noble past. Caldwell lauds demagoguery against Islam and Muslims. Those who are lampooned for xenophobia, he suggests, should instead be praised. Not content to extol Enoch Powell and Marie Le Pen for their ‘insight,’ Caldwell excoriates Dutch, British, and Scandinavian parliamentarians but especially [the recently defeated] President Sarkozy of France for their concessions to ‘diversity.’

So one should not be surprised to learn that the two books he chose to review are Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation by Robert S. Leiken (Oxford University Press, 2011) and After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent by Walter Laqueur (Thomas Dunne Books, 2012).

Caldwell finds much to praise in both these books because their authors reflect his own obsession with Europe’s Muslim ‘problem.’ Pervading his review and his outlook is nostalgia for an imagined past now lost to these non-European others. In writing of the nonagenarian Laqueur he declares, without a trace of irony (emphases mine):

At heart Laqueur is a liberal. He is not saying that a young man of, say, Sri Lankan descent cannot be just as good an Englishman as Churchill. He is saying only that when people of unambiguously foreign cultures make up majorities in many European cities, and where a kind of unwritten constitution has developed across two generations to permit them to abstain from the national culture that existed before their arrival, it becomes wrong to speak of Europe’s “national” cultures as if they are unchanged. The twenty-first-century metropolises to which migrants flock can be dynamic, rich, sophisticated, and interesting. But Amsterdam’s culture is no longer the “culture of Rembrandt,” and London’s culture has more in common with that of Los Angeles or Dallas than it does with that of the city that braved the Blitz.

In bold are the phrases which exude this notion that a glorious Europe has been, or is soon to be, destroyed. Such myopia about the problems of the past and dystopia about the wreckage of the future pervades Caldwell’s analysis. He uses both authors to shore up his own fixation on what he diagnoses as “the grim fact that no Western European country—not one—has managed even a marginally successful integration of its Muslim immigrants, despite half a century of vast treasury outlays, wholesale constitutional re-workings, and indefatigable excuse-making.” (Again, emphasis is mine.)

Instead of rehearsing and so backhandedly crediting some of Caldwell’s tired and factless obiter dicta, I would assert that his review would have portrayed, or at least begun to see, a different reality had he chosen different books. He has overlooked a gem, perhaps because its light shines in a direction and with an intensity that his brooding darkness would not countenance. It would alter his premise, challenge his argument, and maybe even belie his conclusions.

What and where is this new ray of hope for a Muslim minoritarian Europe of the 21st century? It comes from European governments. They, in cooperation with their Muslim citizens, have begun the task of educating a new, more diverse and non-traditional citizenry. Among the patient observers trying to assess that effort is Jonathan Laurence, not just a professor but also a policy analyst with Brookings Institution.

Like Leiken he too has spent much of the past decade thinking about Europe’s newest and growing minorities, though instead of framing his argument as “Europe’s Angry Muslims,” his new book is titled The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration (Princeton University Press, 2012). Laurence traces what Caldwell denies ever could, or might already, exist: the largely unnoticed ways in which European governments have integrated both Muslims and Muslim organizations into public life. It is a two-stage, bi-directional process. It depends on the embassies of majority Muslim countries from which the new immigrants come. They must organize the building of mosques, the training of imams and other requirements of Muslim public ritual.

They do this not out of altruism but because they are concerned with maintaining their own ties to their former countrymen. But the European host countries also are invested in a positive Muslim future, and they play a different, complementary role in cultivating a liberal Muslim citizenry: they try to widen the circle of their Muslim interlocutors, including the moderate Islamist groups (whom Leiken, but not Caldwell, thinks should be approached).

Laurence’s research is every bit as thorough as Leiken’s, but he focuses on an element that Leiken deemphasizes: a decisive new template for state-mosque relations called Islam councils. It is European governments that have created Islam councils, whether in France, Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, or Belgium. These councils, still in their infancy, have helped a new generation of Muslims feel that they can, and should, be both Muslim and European. The Islam councils attract, engage and sustain a robust Muslim leadership that argues within its ranks but also with the larger society that Islam and Europe must craft a shared destiny.

If there is to be a common future, there must be room for European Muslims to at once be empowered citizens and faithful believers. These leaders disavow the acts of terrorism from their own members, but they also challenge the disdain of baiting demagogues from their host countries. They hold out hope that in this century we might yet see the next chapter of a heterogeneous and vernacular cosmopolitanism benefitting all its stakeholders. Christopher Caldwell may not welcome them, but the world will be the better for their success and his failure.