‘While Europe Slept’ a must-read book on Islam and the West

While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within” by Bruce Bawer; Doubleday ($23.95)

If the ongoing “Battle of Khartoon” (let’s give it some historical resonance) proves anything, it’s that many otherwise well-educated Westerners remain illiterate about Islam.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the editors of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper didn’t understand when they published their visual bombshells that some strains of Islam (but not all) oppose depiction of Muhammad. Consider that just one gap in knowledge that new books like Bruce Bawer’s “While Europe Slept” help close.

Indeed, thanks to Voltaire, the Enlightenment, and American freedom of expression, spring lists from prestigious publishers abound with scholarly tomes packed with information on Islam. Look, for instance, at Alan Jamieson’s “Faith and Sword: A Short History of Christian-Muslim Conflict” (University of Chicago Press), or Efraim Karsh’s “Islamic Imperialism: A History” (Yale).

Such studies follow scores of volumes over the last few years that offer context for the current fury over Muhammad’s cartoon portrayal as a source of terror. Read, for instance, “Muhammad in Europe” (NYU Press, 2001) by Minou Reeves, an Iranian scholar who examines traditional European images of Muhammad as a xenophobic warrior and argues that they misjudge him.

Bruce Bawer’s “While Europe Slept,” published this month, provides an extraordinarily timely and incisive complement to such works. His topic is far fresher, one rarely explained to Americans because of our shrinking coverage of Europe: the astounding growth of Muslim communities there over the last 30 years, and how they interact with traditionally Christian societies.

Bawer, a gay, neoconservative American literary critic from New York who has lived in Amsterdam (now more than half non-Dutch) and, since 1997, in Oslo, energetically reports here what happens between the terrorist incidents that prod mainstream American media to brief coverage: the everyday tensions of a Europe that, for the first time in many centuries, must face substantial Islamic populations and ambitions.

In Bawer’s view, Western Europe is becoming a “house divided against itself.” On the one hand, the educated European elite maintains an unshakable “belief in peace and reconciliation through dialogue,” a faith (their only remaining faith) that every issue can be resolved without violence.

On the other hand, Europe’s unassimilated Muslim communities are led in many cases, Bawer contends, by “fundamentalist Muslims” who seek “the establishment in Europe of a caliphate government according to sharia law.” Such leaders, often imams and elders, see “Islamist terrorists as allies in a global jihad, or holy war, dedicated to that goal.”

According to Bawer, liberals in Europe, even more than their American counterparts, want to believe that most Muslim immigrants share Western middle-class goals: a safe place to live, opportunities for their children, and the like. That accounts, Bawer argues, for the odd mix in their attitudes to Muslims: joy in the “multiculturalism” that makes their previously homogeneous societies more “colorful,” and a nativist desire to keep Muslims in their place as exotica.

Bawer asserts that the reality — confirmed for him by the resistance of European Muslims to assimilation, and the marked presence in their communities of honor killings, homophobia, polygamy, marital rape, forced marriage, and intolerance of democracy and pluralism — is that European Muslim leaders, with demographics on their side, still harbor the millennial hope of taking power in Europe, and see the European attitude as both weak and hostile. It is “political correctness,” Bawer writes, that has “gotten Europe into its current mess.”

Accept his analysis or not, Bawer and his details startle, since American tourists rarely visit the Muslim communities that now ring many European cities, and American journalists rarely cover them. Apart from the heinous killings by angry Muslims of prominent Europeans such as Dutch professor and politician Pim Fortuyn (after publication of his book “Against the Islamicization of Our Culture”) and Dutch artist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who dared to question Islamic brutalization of women, Bawer describes a landscape of dysfunction.

Seventy percent of the inmates in French prisons, Bawer reports, are Muslim. Four out of five residents at Oslo’s main women’s shelter are non-Norwegian women seeking protection from male family members. In Denmark, “Muslims make up 5 percent of the population but receive 40 percent of welfare outlays.” Ninety-four percent of asylum seekers who come to Norway arrive with no identification, a well-known subterfuge around Europe that virtually ensures asylum on humanitarian grounds.

Bawer’s book also highlights the ironies of current global politics and immigration. Radical Islamists, for instance, focus their fury on the United States even though it, unlike Europe, experienced little antagonism with Islam until the creation of Israel, and in fact most resembles the traditional Islamic “umma” (universal Muslim community), in the generosity with which it welcomes foreign residents (though it differs in offering equality rather than second-class “dhimmi” citizenship).

Similarly, while Islamists explode with fury at the very idea that non-Muslims should occupy or live in Islamic countries, Bawer observes and amply documents that many employ every legal and illegal stratagem imaginable under the doctrine of “family reunification” to bring more relatives into their European countries. They then insist they have a right to be there and apply for the seemingly endless forms of European welfare: “unemployment benefits, relief payments, child benefits, disability, cash support, and rent allowance.”

Bawer apportions blame for the “mess” he sees. Muslim immigrants insist on Islam’s traditionally imperialist principles, which presume that no Muslim properly lives under the sovereignty of a non-Muslim state. Europeans maintain a “romantic view of Muslim immigrants” as “colorful” unfortunates worthy of assistance, but steadfastly resist their entry into elite professions and neighborhoods. Bawer beautifully capsulizes this European mind-set as “millions in aid, but not a penny in salary.”

Ultimately, his book, like the cartoon controversy, raises profound challenges to standard ideas of democracy, authority and free expression.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Knight Ridder Newspapers, via the Times Leader, USA
Feb. 25, 2006 Book Review
Carlin Romano
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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday February 25, 2006.
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