Muslim Shark Alert!

Eliot Weinberger · Islamophobia

It's been a slow summer for shark attacks in Florida, so American cable TV news has had to content itself by filling its hours with the 'birther' movement, which is less organic than it sounds: the belief that Barack Obama was not born in the USA, and is therefore ineligible to serve as president. Despite some evidence to the contrary – such as a birth certificate validated by the Republican governor of Hawaii and its Department of Health, as well as birth announcements in two Honolulu newspapers – the birthers have managed, according to the latest poll, to convince a majority of Republicans that Obama is as foreign as his name, and part of some Kenyan (or something) conspiracy to turn the White House red.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is strangely preoccupied with a more metaphorical conjunction of sharks and foreign takeover: the scary Muslims now lurking by the canals and lakes of placid Old Europe. In the last week alone, Stephen Pollard's review of the 'unquestionably correct' Bruce Bawer (the subject of a previous blog) was followed by a tribute to Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West by daily reviewer Dwight Garner, which in turn led to a front-page review of the Caldwell book in the Sunday Book Review by Fouad Ajami, Dick Cheney's favorite Muslim. (Ajami was the one who predicted that the streets of Baghdad would 'erupt in joy' at the arrival of the American troops, and whose book on the Iraq war has the priceless title The Foreigner's Gift.)

Garner, normally a literary critic with eclectic interests, finds 'lucidity and intellectual grace and even wit' in Caldwell's 'well-researched, fervently argued and morally serious book'. As an example, he cites this dizzying sentence:

The Islamic world is an economic and intellectual basket case, the part of the potentially civilised world most left behind by progress.

It is difficult to know what Caldwell means by 'the part of the potentially civilised world'. Is the whole world either civilised or potentially civilised; or is the world divided in three: the civilised, the potentially civilised and the never-will-be-civilised? Whatever 'civilised' and 'progress' mean, the former is absurd (many Islamic nations are more developed than other countries); the latter carries colonial disdain to an extreme.

It is equally difficult to see how the phrase 'economic basket case' applies to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, unless it refers to their notoriously overflowing shopping baskets. As for the intellectual poverty of the 'Islamic world', one can only begin to make the basket case if one excludes the cafés and publishing houses of Cairo and Beirut and Karachi and Delhi, the Iranian cinema, the countless Muslim intellectuals in the West, the art scene in Dubai, and on and on. (A few months ago, in the space of two weeks, I visited the Tunis Book Fair, which was packed with around 100,000 visitors, and the similarly sized BookExpo in New York, whose aisles were largely empty.)

Garner uncritically repeats the claim that Muslims are ‘swamping Europe demographically' and multiplying like bunnies. A few minutes research would have revealed that there are two sets of population statistics: those of the Islamophobes and those of everyone else. Bruce Bawer states that 20 per cent of Switzerland is now Muslim; everyone else says it's 4 per cent. (No doubt he has mistaken yodelling for ululation.) The general consensus is that Muslims now make up merely 3.6 per cent of the population of Western Europe, and the fertility rate of European Muslims is a fraction of 1 per cent higher than that of Christians. Allowing that second and third and fourth generations of immigrants tend to be better educated and have higher incomes, and thus have less children, and that intermarriage is common, it doesn't seem likely there will be ever be a muzzein at the top of the Eiffel Tower, let alone, as the I-phobes warn, Sharia law in Denmark and Britain. But dull statistics, alas, cannot compete with an 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' scenario.

For his contribution, Fouad Ajami mainly gargles a few thousand words, without saying much of anything at all. He does, however, go on autopilot for the requisite references to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the Madrid bombings, the London bombings, the inevitable Danish cartoons, burqas on the streets of Paris, the buzzword 'Eurabia’ and that perennial bogeyman, the 'Islamofascist' Sayyid Qutb. What matters is not the content of the review, but its placement at the front of the Book Review.

Every summer, in the middle of shark fever, there's always some killjoy marine biologist who points out that sharks almost never kill anyone without provocation, and are generally getting a bum rap. So perhaps it's worth stating the obvious: the rhetoric and the specific fearmongering details of the Islamophobes are identical to those used against the Jews in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the United States against every large immigrant group – Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, Chinese – since the 1880s. Most of these dire warnings issued from scholars with impeccable credentials. It's a good habit nowadays to replace the words 'Muslim', 'Islam', 'radical Islam' etc. with the words 'the Jews'. Bawer's book, for example, then becomes: While Europe Slept: How the Jews Are Destroying the West from Within – a not unfamiliar sentiment in the 20th century.

And isn't it time we had a similar survey of the 'Christian world'? It could begin, like Caldwell, in 1492: the Inquisition! Instead of the London bombings, Oklahoma City; instead of a poor imitation, Sayyid Qutb, we could have the real thing, Hitler; instead of Theo van Gogh, the murder of Dr George Tiller last May; instead of a few wacko imams in storefront mosques, there's no end of much more visible television evangelists and Fox News pundits deranged by intolerance. And, of course, a wide geographical selection of current economic and intellectual backwaters with their paramilitary groups, gay-bashers, book-banners, misogynists, racists, anti-Semites, bomb-builders, child-molesting priests and science-deniers.

Moreover, it is rather well known that the Christian world has been dedicated to global domination, mass conversion and holy war against the infidels ever since their founder said:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

I am come to send fire on the earth... Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.

And instructed his followers:

He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.


  • 5 August 2009 at 6:59pm
    Mike Killingworth says:
    Just a small nit, if I may. At the end of para 5 EW speculates that the "melting pot" will work to the assimilation of second, third and fourth generation European Muslims.

    My next door neighbour but two is a Palestinian Arab who calls himself "David" (rather then Daoud). His daughter, born in the UK, has taken the niqab. It is a common story.

    Muslims in Europe, whether ethnically Arab or not, are well aware of what's happened to Jews on this continent (and in America). They see the assimilation of European Jews as a cautionary tale - even a warning from Heaven.

  • 5 August 2009 at 11:04pm
    Phil Edwards says:
    Fair point, but I wonder (anticipatorily) about his daughter's daughters. I suspect the assimilation/anti-assimilation ball only bounces so many times.

  • 1 September 2009 at 9:32pm
    Muhammad Idrees Ahmad says:
    The American Conservative -- which usually publishes decent articles on foreign policy even though its utterly reactionary on domestic politics -- got Rod Liddle to review Caldwell's book, and unsurprisingly, he praises it to the roof. More troubling however is the overly generous review it got from Perry Anderson. Scott McConnell of the TAC recently took to the otherwise excellent MondoWeiss to write his encomium. To his credit the editor invited a response from us, which you can find here.