In Other Words

Eurabian Follies

The shoddy and just plain wrong genre that refuses to die. 

By 2050, Europe will be unrecognizable. Instead of romantic cafes, Paris's Boulevard Saint-Germain will be lined with halal butcheries and hookah bars; the street signs in Berlin will be written in Turkish. School-children from Oslo to Naples will read Quranic verses in class, and women will be veiled.

At least, that's what the authors of the strange new genre of "Eurabia" literature want you to believe. Not all books of this alarmist Europe-is-dying category, which received its most intellectually hefty treatment yet with the recent release of Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, offer such dire and colorful predictions. But they all make the case that low fertility rates among natives, massive immigration from Muslim countries, and the fateful encounter between an assertive Islamic culture and a self-effacing European one will lead to a Europe devoid of all Western identity.

Despite their Europe-focused content, these books are a largely North American phenomenon. Bat Ye'or (or Gisèle Littman), an Egyptian-born British author, wrote one of the first of the genre in 2005, with Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, which argued that political subservience to a Muslim agenda was turning Europe into an appendage of the Arab world. But most of her recent followers, including Caldwell, the jocular and hyperbolic Mark Steyn, the shallow Bruce Thornton, the more serious Walter Laqueur, and the high-pitched Claire Berlinski and Bruce Bawer, write from the other side of the Atlantic.

It's not that Europeans don't produce books in the same vein. Consider Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci's The Rage and the Pride, a rabid attack on Muslim immigrants, or British columnist Melanie Phillips's Londonistan, castigating the British left for handing over the country to the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, there is no real European version of the Eurabia panic, and the books that do exist tend to be country-specific, and part of a fringe far right. They do not dominate the market, while works by a range of serious scholars, including Italian sociologist Stefano Allievi's work on European Muslims, German cultural anthropologist Werner Schiffauer's studies of political Islam among Turkish immigrants, British sociologist Tariq Modood's Multicultural Politics, and French political scientist Olivier Roy's Globalized Islam, have offered important, data-driven analyses that undermine the facile dichotomies of the Eurabia myth.

But in the United States, the Eurabia books continue to proliferate even today, close to a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which triggered the genre. Part of the explanation lies in the post-9/11 narrative of America besieged by militant Islam -- a clash of civilizations in which Europe is the front line, threatened by internal subversion. "If Europe is unable to assimilate its immigrants, if Europe is a breeding ground for anti-Americanism and Islamic radicalism -- and it is -- this is our problem," Berlinski warns in Menace in Europe (2006). "The threat of the radical Islamists taking over Europe is every bit as great to the United States as was the threat of the Nazis taking over Europe in the 1940s," Tony Blankley writes in The West's Last Chance (2005). "We cannot afford to lose Europe."

In this sense, many of these books offer a variation on the conservative Cold War vision of Europe as vulnerable to the spread of communism -- only now, Muslims have replaced Soviets and Euro-communists as the enemies. The continuity in clichés with the Europhobic literature of the 1970s and 1980s is striking: In both periods Europe is described with terms like appeasing, impotent, asexual, feminine, post-nationalistic, irreligious, apologetic, self-loathing, naive, decadent, and so forth.

Clichés are not the only reason why the foundations of the Eurabia literature are shaky. By relying chiefly on anecdotes rather than data, these books misrepresent the complex evolving picture of Islam in Europe. They also eliminate social and economic conditions, including discrimination, from the picture. "There is considerably more phobia vis-à-vis Westerners and things Western than Islamophobia," Laqueur opines in The Last Days of Europe (2007). Leaving out poverty and racism (which, pace Laqueur, is a daily problem for Europe's nonwhites, Muslim or not), the Eurabia writers overemphasize culture and religion in explaining tensions and lay the blame solely on Muslims.

After the 2005 riots in French banlieues, for example, independent studies pointed to the same factors: police violence, discrimination, unemployment, and a large youth population in the housing projects where the trouble erupted. But the Eurabia authors weren't impressed. Immigrants don't have much to complain about, they claim, so the riots were all about jihad, or, as Caldwell suggests in his recent book, "the Arab cause." "Even if they did not believe in Islam, they believed in Team Islam," he writes.

This is not, of course, to suggest that things are going well. The bleak vignettes and shocking tales about social tensions and violence linked to Islamism, like the killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, are indeed part of the picture. But the paradox of this genre is that it dwells on the heated controversies and tensions taking place in Europe while at the same time claiming that Europeans are in denial of their problems. And the emphasis on the anecdotal tends to obscure the fact that, from the fight over minarets in Switzerland to the debate over headscarves in France, current tensions are part of a normal and democratic process of adjustment, not the first signs of an impending catastrophe.

Beyond all the sloppy anecdotal evidence, the Eurabia literature relies on two major false assumptions. The first is demographic. The literature holds that Europe will be Islamic at the end of the century "at the very latest," with Muslim majorities in some European countries "in the foreseeable future," in the words of Bernard Lewis in his 2007 pamphlet, "Europe and Islam." That's because "native populations are aging and fading and being supplanted remorselessly by a young Muslim demographic," Steyn explains in America Alone (2006). "Europe will be semi-Islamic in its politico-cultural character within a generation."

If these books insist so much on the future, it is because current figures are unimpressive. According to the higher range of estimates by the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), there are already as many as 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5 percent of the population. The percentage is even lower for the 27-country European Union as a whole. The future will certainly see an increase, but it's hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities). For one thing, as the same NIC study indicates and demographers agree, fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally -- meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.

Finally, though the Eurabia books describe Europe as committing "slow motion suicide" (Thornton in Decline and Fall), reality begs to differ -- and increasingly so. According to demographers, in 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.

But isn't the uptick due to Muslims? Although migrant women, some of them Muslim, have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country's average, they contribute substantially to the total number of births, typically 10 to 20 percent in high immigration countries. That is the origin of Mark Steyn's overblown claim that Mohammed is "the most popular baby boy's name in much of the Western world." But it doesn't mean Europe will end up Islamicized.

Caldwell makes a point of highlighting the second and most crucial false assumption of this literature. The British cover of his book asks, "Can Europe be the same with different people in it?" For most of these authors, Muslims are "different people," and Muslim identity is incompatible with anything else -- an assumption they share with Islamists.

But to large majorities of Europe's Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.

More generally, average European Muslims worry first and foremost about bread-and-butter issues, and to the extent that they are religious, they want to be able to practice religion freely and in decent conditions, not to impose the caliphate. As a 2006 pan-European Pew Research Center study makes clear, "Muslims in Europe worry about their future, but their concern is more economic than religious or cultural," and though there are tensions, these are mostly due to racism, not some grandiose clash of cultures.

The most likely scenario for the next few decades -- increasing integration of Muslims accompanied by continued cultural tensions, occasional terrorist bombings, and differentiated outcomes in various countries -- is a conceptual impossibility for most Eurabia authors because for them Muslims can't really become Europeans. It is, however, already the reality. Maybe it is time they take notice.


In Other Words

The Pope and the Chancellor

What does their running battle tell us about the future of European politics?

In 2005, two unlikely Germans were elected to office, and a defining cultural rift was thrown wide open. First, Germany's ranking Roman Catholic cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, the former Hitler Youth recruit from Bavaria turned archconservative theologian, became Pope Benedict XVI. Six months later, Germany elected as its chancellor Angela Merkel, a childless and twice-married Protestant from East Germany bent on updating her country and her hidebound Christian Democratic party. Over the ensuing years, the pope and the chancellor have worked in almost constant opposition to one another, though the struggle, at least until recently, remained behind the scenes. Their battle may well decide whether conservatives have a future at all in the new Europe-and if so, what kind.

Merkel and Benedict share, if awkwardly, a political base: the big-tented Christian Democratic Union born after World War II. The philosophy of West Germany's premier postwar conservative, Konrad Adenauer, was not to dwell on the Nazi past, but rather to plow forward with economic recovery and integration into the Western alliance -- all the while respecting the staunch conservatism of Chancellor Adenauer's own Catholic Rhineland.

In Catholic-dominated West Germany, the church had enormous influence on state policies regarding abortion, sex education, and gender roles, as summed up by the Christian Democrat dictum for women: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). Legal equality between men and women didn't make it into the law books until 1958. As late as 1967, only a handful of the Christian Democrats' MPs were women. Even after the Berlin Wall came down and Helmut Kohl took over reunited Germany, the Christian Democrats remained a male-dominated, socially traditional party that envisioned the nuclear family as the basis for a God-fearing nation-state. In short, it was the very definition of European Christian democracy.

By the time Merkel arrived on the national political scene, however, this conservatism was as out of date as the Cold War that had preserved it. Since taking over the Christian Democrats in 2000, Merkel has proceeded to dramatically reconfigure German politics, an overhaul that has important lessons for conservatives across Europe and one that is recounted in fascinating detail in German journalist Mariam Lau's new portrait of Merkel, Die Letzte Volkspartei: Angela Merkel und die Modernisierung der CDU ("The Last People's Party: Angela Merkel and the Modernization of the Christian Democratic Union"). "Even though the official party program still stipulates the state's protection of marriage and family," Lau writes, "in light of societal reality (and a party leadership) in which there are ever more divorcés, childless people, singles, and homosexuals, the party quite suddenly discovered a breathtaking aptitude for open-minded coexistence."

"Merkelism," as Lau calls it, stands for a bold pragmatism on issues ranging from Islam to climate change. When the Christian Democrat old guard picked Merkel as party leader, it thought she would open Germany's last bastion of stodginess to a new generation of conservatives. But, Lau argues, the standard-bearers got more than they bargained for. Merkel and her energetic former family minister, mother of seven Ursula von der Leyen, radically overhauled the model of the German family. Her new "conservative feminism" (though, Lau notes, Merkel spurns "the f-word") can be summed up as Kinder, Kirche, Karriere. Today there is room for unmarried couples, single mothers, childless relationships, and even gay pairs in the new German family -- and in Germany's conservative movement.

Conservative Catholics have not suffered Merkel's cultural revolution gladly, turning to the German-born Pope Benedict as defender of everything they see Merkel as discarding. If her 2005 election suggested the willingness of German conservatives to open their party to new voters, his papacy represents a throwback version of the old Europe, to a time when Christian democracy, Adenauer-style, ruled unchallenged.

Indeed, Benedict's ascension to the papacy was largely treated as a triumph of German conservatism. "We're Pope!" trumpeted the mass circulation Bild-Zeitung in a famous banner headline, setting the tone for the rest of the German press. Ratzinger's past record-the intellectual purges, the anti-Vatican II stands, the retrograde ideas on women-went largely unmentioned. The media oozed with excitement, in particular Die Welt, the flagship daily of the powerful, right-wing Axel Springer publisher, which also owns Bild-Zeitung. When Ratzinger was named pope, Die Welt's Vatican correspondent, Paul Badde, agreed that Benedict had been "chosen by God." Even Merkel, who couldn't have appreciated Ratzinger's 2004 suggestion that women should guide their actions by Genesis 3:16, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you," stayed tactfully quiet to avoid offending the Catholics within her party.

It took the Holocaust to make the divide between Merkel's Germany and Benedict's Germany public. In early 2009, Benedict announced the rehabilitation of the breakaway St. Pius X sect, which included an English bishop, Richard Williamson, who had publicly denied the extent of the Holocaust as recently as 2008. In Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime, Benedict's move backfired, arousing a bona fide protest movement.

The editorial page of Bild-Zeitung signaled that the pope's free ride was over: "The pope has made a serious mistake. That he is a German pope makes the matter especially bad." And Merkel took Benedict to task in uncharacteristically pointed language. "This should not be allowed to pass without consequences," she said.

Alan Posener, a prominent, independent-minded columnist for Die Welt known for his strong Zionism, had decided to write a critical book about Benedict in 2008, but found no takers for the idea; German publishers wouldn't touch it. After the Pius sect controversy broke, however, everything changed. In February 2009, Posener was skiing in the Austrian Alps when his agent called to say that offers from publishers were streaming in.

In Benedict's Crusade, Posener, a lapsed Anglican, argues that Benedict's activist agenda is a brand of fundamentalism that has more in common with Islamist radicalism than it does with any kind of contemporary Christian democracy. Posener doesn't explicitly mention Merkel (he is a fan), but the subtext of his exposé is the elemental rift between Benedict and mainstream German Christians, like Merkel and her supporters: The "Benedictine turn," as Posener calls it, includes "rolling back the Enlightenment, curtailing democracy, breaking with scientific thought, and ending women's emancipation and sexual freedom." Benedict's goal, claims Posener, is explicitly political: to transform Europe back into a Catholic continent. Implicitly, this also means changing everything about Merkel's Germany.

Reactions to Posener's book have made clear that, even in the age of Merkel, allegiance to the German pope runs deep. Posener's publisher, the German heavyweight Ullstein Verlag, had planned to kick off its publicity campaign with a public debate in Cologne, a center of Rhineland Catholicism. But no venues would host it. Similarly, bookstores rejected Ullstein's request to hold readings, and many have even refused to stock the book.

As the tiff reached its height, Merkel found herself facing a strong political rebuke in the 2009 general elections; though she was returned to office, her party had its worst showing in 60 years, with Catholics staying away in especially large numbers in what analysts surmised was, in part, pique over her criticisms of Benedict. "The Christian Democratic Union is still very much a Catholic party," one of Merkel's political allies concluded after the results.

With the gulf between the pope's Germany and the chancellor's Germany widening, Merkel may risk falling in. Merkel's challenge is still to bridge the gap, proving that a modern conservative party can integrate all of Germany's conservatives, from the center to the far right. If she succeeds, Merkelism, if not Merkel herself, will be Germany's future.