In reading what will be remembered as one of the best, and most controversial, books of the year, Europe’s similarity to the Labour Party struck me.
People have flocked to both in recent years, in unprecedented numbers.
The party’s leader insisted sternly that there was no problem, and somehow despite such concern was duly returned to office following internal ballots. Eventually, as national disaster loomed, some took matters into their own hands, with at least a period of chaos the likely result.
Here the likeness runs out: Labour is a political party, a reformable membership organisation of a few hundred thousand. Europe is a continent of hundreds of millions of people, bound by all manner of national and international legislation.
Douglas Murray’s new book The Strange Death of Islam: Immigration, Identity, Islam doesn’t employ such a partisan comparison; he paints upon a greater canvas.
In prose as clear as celebrated Mediterranean waters, Murray sets out the evolution of centuries of Christian and Enlightenment thought that have led to our modern values of openness, rights and responsibilities.
Progressing through Darwin, two world wars, and post-colonial immigration to refill the continent’s factories, he posits Europe achieving a consumerism-laced first world guilt, spliced with existential weariness, political expediency, political correctness, and political cowardice.
For decades, populations were polled, and returned the same concerns about immigration; the same politicians continued to dismiss them in practice, if not always in public.
Tough talk on immigration and multiculturalism’s failures from Angela Merkel in 2010, and David Cameron in 2011, disintegrated a few years later during the migrant crisis in the case of the former, and for the latter his words proved much harder to deliver on than anticipated.
Murray travels across Europe, to reception centres on Mediterranean islands and coastlines, and writes with genuine sympathy of those he meets.
Overall, the majority of those he encounters in his researches are young men from Afghanistan; Bangladesh; Burma; Eritrea; Iran; Iraq; Nigeria; Pakistan; and Somalia. There are also those from Syria, but they are a minority.
The point Murray makes so well is that Europeans have deconstructed their culture, and its associated values, weighted by imperial remorse, and are not only unwilling or unable to impose it, but instead accept that others’ are somehow more valid and worthy of protection. Even the law of the land is negotiated down to a parallel system.
Ultimately, the rights of women, sexual and ethnic minorities, which European culture has established over centuries go unacknowledged, and, worse, are attacked.
Murray crystallises the matter within a clause:
…some of the major battles of the twentieth century over rights were having to be fought again in the twenty-first century because of a growing number of opponents.
Does Europe consider that these attitudes – espoused by millions – will be rinsed away by exposure to continental liberalism? This suggests a colonial, cultural superiority that modern liberals profess to despise, so surely not. What, then?
The stark closing pages set out means by which governments might have acted differently, supporting genuine refugees, and processing claims for asylum without overwhelming the system, had political leaders not made policy on the hoof.
This is a startling, extraordinary book, but it should not be so: the issues discussed are all around us, on television and in the news every day. It is this that informs the tragedy.
Murray’s bleak lyricism has no need for the clumsy metaphor that follows, to summarise the image his conclusion leaves us with of modern, liberal Europe.
The Hollywood movie Charlie Wilson’s War is about a US Congressman, played by Tom Hanks, who funnelled weapons to Afghanistan’s mujahideen to fight Soviet invaders in the 1980s. We know now that this proved fertile ground for a young Osama Bin Laden, and others.
In the film’s final scene, Wilson attends a ceremony some time later where his efforts are applauded. He smiles, faintly. The haunting in his eyes is unmistakeable.