Islam at the Gates
Are Muslim immigrants to blame for their isolation from European society? Or is Europe?
Early on the morning of September 29, 2005, hundreds of would-be refugees seeking new lives in the prosperous nations of Western Europe made a desperate–and fatal–dash for a high-security reception center in the Spanish-held North African enclave of Ceuta. A European possession since the fifteenth century, Ceuta, along with its sister city, Melilla, 200 miles away, had taken on a new identity in recent years: the gateway to economic opportunity for the destitute masses of Central and West Africa. Tightly guarded reception centers for political asylum seekers, surrounded by coiled razor wire, have become the goal in a dangerous game of cat and mouse between the would-be migrants and the authorities.
Matters came to a head on that September morning following two weeks of orchestrated assaults, and bloody dispersals, of refugees attempting to storm the refugee centers using ladders, stones, and clubs. That day, with three companies of Spanish soldiers and Moroccan border guards on high alert, four migrants were shot dead as they tried to rush the fence surrounding the Ceuta center. One week later, Moroccan soldiers shot dead six more people taking part in a 400-man assault on the refugee processing compound at Melilla.
As journalist Christopher Caldwell asserts in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, the violence at Ceuta and Melilla augured a new and more aggressive phase in the long-running attempt by the have-nots to get into the lands of the haves. But it also reflected the inevitable consequences, he writes, of a flawed European immigration policy that took root in the 1970s, when countries such as Denmark, France, England, and Germany opened their floodgates to migrant workers from Eastern Europe and, later, their even poorer brethren in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
The search for low-cost workers to rescue moribund industries and take jobs that no Western Europeans wanted, as well as the desire for new population groups to contribute to the tax base and strengthen the underpinnings of the European welfare state, gave rise to such phenomena as Germany’s Gastarbeiter program. A misconceived attempt to fill a temporary labor shortage, it brought tens of thousands of Turks to Germany on short-term contracts but contained loopholes that allowed them to settle permanently in the country. Eventually, Caldwell notes, European policymakers, faced with increasing evidence that the economic benefits brought to host countries by these immigrant laborers were chimerical, began to search for new rationales to justify the now-unstoppable flow across their borders. (Caldwell points out, among a wealth of startling statistics, that the number of foreign residents in Germany rose from 3 million to 7.5 million between 1971 and 2000, but the number of employed foreigners stayed the same at 2 million.) “The main [excuse] was the duty to offer asylum to those threatened by violence, poverty or political persecution,” he writes.
But this new approach, as exemplified by the Ceuta and Melilla incidents, created its own recipe for confusion. “Europeans in general could not figure out whether these immigrants were desperate wards, diligent workingmen, or ruthless invaders, and lacked the imagination to admit that they could be all of those things or none,” Caldwell writes:
What Europe needed under the circumstances was a moral code that would give answers about what it owed these people. It does not have one. A vague idea that Europe needs labor coexists with a lack of curiosity about whether migrants are indeed coming to work; a vague idea that migrants need to be cared for as refugees makes it seem impolite to count the cost of assuming responsibility for the world’s poor. To roll out the welcome mat for all these people would be nuts; to turn them away would be racist. Unable to muster the will for either a heartfelt welcome or for earnest self-defense, they hope the world will mistake their paralysis for hospitality.
To wit: a vast, rejectionist Islamic population, isolated from and hostile to the countries that extended it the welcome mat. The result of this muddled thinking, argues Caldwell, has been a phenomenon that has undermined, and now threatens to destroy, European society.
An American columnist for The Financial Times and a contributing editor to The New York Times Magazine, Caldwell is the latest in a long line of academics and journalists, from Samuel Huntington to Oriana Fallaci, to sound the alarm about this supposed fifth column of radical Islamicists preparing to rip apart European culture from within. It is a provocative thesis, and Caldwell, a beautiful writer and a brilliant polemicist, knows how to couch his arguments in measured language and deliberative tones. He argues that Europe’s lack of confidence in its own culture, its knee-jerk political correctness, its collective shame over the Holocaust and centuries of colonial exploitation, and fascination for the virility of the Third World “other” have caused its leaders to stand by passively while a Trojan Horse wheels itself into the continent.
Caldwell largely avoids the incendiary tone of, for instance, Fallaci’s The Rage and the Pride, her 2001 best-selling screed about Islam, in which she offered the view that “there is something about Arab men that is disgusting to women of good taste.” But while Caldwell has plenty of insightful things to say about European immigration policy, and about the ongoing debate within European societies about how best integrate Muslim foreigners, his beguilingly argued polemic is also deeply flawed. It seduces its readers into a sense of outrage, even as it offers a distorted and highly inflammatory view of Islamic culture.
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