Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam (Bloomsbury, 2017) is an intelligent, stimulating and important book. It really is about the “strange death” of a continent: a “strange death” because it is an extinction not by termination but rather by subversion and break up (although Murray himself may have been alluding to Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England and the many books which have echoed that title). This book is not some cheap attempt to cash in on a controversial topic, it plumbs this topic in depth.
The depth is displayed in Murray’s insight, even more than in the range and quality of his research and comment (impressive as these are). Perhaps the most profound comment in what is an insightful and truth-telling book, is this: “We look like a people who have lost the desire to inspire because we have nothing to inspire anyone with” (263).
The book is organised with an introduction (“Europe is committing suicide”) and nineteen chapters. Chapter 1, “The Beginning,” documents the changes under way in British society as the proportion of two overlapping groups, immigrants and Muslims, increases. Murray notes that the public had been against high rates of immigration, but the politicians ignored them. Even a doomsayer such as Enoch Powell had actually understated the extent to which immigration would occur and the changes it would make, yet he had been dismissed as mad. Immigration to the UK was an issue which was never the subject of full and frank discussion: the governing classes took it as a fait accompli.
Chapter 2, “How we Got Hooked on Immigration,” he examines the springs of the modern waves of immigration, which are different in the case of Continental Europe (with its “guest-workers”) and the UK, which had ruled a global empire and now accepted the members of its former “Commonwealth.” An integral part of the story is how those who queried the migration levels were treated with derision when they were not ignored. “The Excuses we Told ourselves” is the third chapter, and treats of the various pretexts offered for what was a set policy: that immigration makes our society more diverse, delivers the young work force which will care for the aging population, and has financial benefits. Together with that, immigration was represented as an inevitable result of globalisation.
The actual recent history of immigration and the routes it has taken into Europe is the subject of chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 6 deals with “Multiculturalism,” and the concomitant loss of a core culture with the appearance of large ghettos – “ a result which exceeded even the gloomiest prophecies of the critics of multiculturalism. “They Are here” is the title of chapter 7, which takes the history from the acknowledged failure of multiculturalism to the swell in immigration of the last seven years. The early signs that this failure would lead to disaster are explored in chapter 8 and 9.
Chapter 10, “The Tyranny of Guilt,” shows how these warning signs were ignored in the turmoil caused by the publication of the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, but also deals with the phenomenon of cultural guilt in the West, and how it is absent in the East, despite the lack of any moral superiority one might possess. It is rather disturbing in its portrayal of the internalisation within certain segments of Western culture of an anti-Western sentiment, and within some Europeans of an anti-European feeling. There is something very telling here. The guilt which drives Americans to travel to the Middle East to apologise to Yasser Arafat for the Crusades (174-175) is delusional, and I feel, fuelled by a curious blend of self-love and self-hatred. The hatred element is clear, but there is also a bizarre self-love which sees one as morally superior to one’s forefathers. It is a dual identification, with the evil past and with the virtuous present; and in each case it is an identification to the point of pathology.
The failure of any intelligent or consistent policy of repatriation is treated in chapter 11. In Chapter 12, Murray shows how Europe has tried to adjust by partly through education of the immigrants, but increasingly by changing itself and the behaviour of its people to accommodate the more confident culture of the immigrants. The “Tiredness” of chapter 13 is the exhaustion of spirit which European man is living through, a problem which afflicts Western more than Eastern Europe, which is more realistic and less under the influence of nihilist and relativist ideology. Chapters 14 and 15 paint a vivid and disturbing picture of what is happening in Europe as a result of this wave of immigration.
The tour de force, in my judgment, is chapter 16, titled: “The Feeling that the Story Has Run out.” One of its more chilling insights comes when Murray is discussing the reasons young people have given him for converting to Islam. Why Islam, he asks, why not Christianity; and the answer is blindingly obvious to all but the wilfully blind: “… most branches of European Christianity have lost the confidence to proselytise or even believe their own message. For the Church of Sweden, the Church of England, the German Lutheran Church and many other branches of European Christianity, the message of the religion has become a form of left-wing politics, diversity action and social welfare projects” (264, my italics).
Chapter 17 prognosticates that the Europe we know is dying. The thesis of chapter 18, “What Might Have Been” says that it did not need to be like that, and chapter 19 shows how the situation might be ameliorated, and how critical this is.
Murray’s contention is that the undiscriminating opening of Europe’s borders to the recent tide is itself a function of the problems which have beset the European soul, and then, the European mind, and finally, European politics.
Anyone who after reading this book thinks that Murray is blaming Europe’s woes on migration, or even on specifically Islamic migration, is wilfully deceiving themselves.
Murray has conducted some excellent research, a fact which the critiques pass over. For example, he cites Sarah Spencer of Oxford’s view that “the traditional concept of nationality may be downgraded to the level of pure symbolism” and that “We are a diverse society of overlapping identities and are not bound, nor can we be bound, by universal values or single loyalties. If we are bound together it must be through the mutual enjoyment of rights and responsibilities” (52). But how can rights and responsibilities be mutually enjoyed if we do not significantly share the same values? Our values and loyalties do not need to be identical, but if what we hold in common is not more important than the differences, we will never agree about our rights and responsibilities.
Some of the facts referred to here were doubtless available somewhere in the ether, but I had not heard of them (e.g. the Cameroonian Muslim captain who threw the Christians overboard from his boat heading for Spain, 75). One of the more shocking stories, retailed to Murray at first hand, discloses the evil at work in the world: a man was repeatedly raped (sic) by the Taliban who told him that he “no longer had a god” but themselves, and he had to poison the 600 to 700 children at a school, to dissuade the parents from sending their children there to learn (90).
A disturbing aspect of the story Murray tells is the deliberate misrepresentation of data to paint a picture of migration to the UK as being good for the economy (42-44). But, as Murray notes, the very idea that migrants contribute more to the economy of their new hosts than they draw upon it, has to be surprising. In fact, it is impossible to believe that migrants who arrive in boats with no money, reliant on charity just to live, can be net contributors to any economy. Unfortunately, we live in an age where research is used to purportedly prove the incredible (e.g. that “11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.”) Whether the definition of key terms is absurdly broad, or the figures are from unrepresentative samples, or it just plain mendacity, I do not know, but I simply do not believe it. Murray’s book shows how little trust we can place in the “experts” our governments and research institutions are using (see also his treatment of how they treat secondary symptoms rather than dealing with the true cause of the ills the countries they are governing suffer, 241).
Equally significant is the tendency, the dishonest tendency (especially prevalent on the left wing, but really a human fault), to treat the denial of claims of victimisation as evidence of ongoing denial, if not of something worse, such as racism (164). This is a point Murray makes in treating of our own Australia. I will note in passing, my dismay at the recent rise of an anti-Australia Day sentiment. It is right to define Australia Day by reference to what is best in our national traditions (and I judge what is best by the standards of the Gospel), and that will mean continually questioning what we are doing and whether we could not do better. But to disparage Australia Day because of its historical relationship to European settlement of Australia is wrong-headed and sometimes even malicious. It would be wiser to retain the observance on 26 January and to use it to promote coherent and shared standards of the highest order, showing that we can take what is good from our history and rise above what is not.
Values do not need to be rigidly and uniformly observed: but we are living in an age which is “downstream” of our Christian endowment (261-262), and is fragmenting into a congeries of tribes with inconsistent and even inimical values. As that becomes worse, it seems to me inevitable that society will continue to fall apart, with more distrust, hatred and violence.
Murray notes that although (academic) philosophy is a rarefied activity, yet the ideas of that few do, with time, have a huge effect on society (216). He understands that the attempt to make of culture the sort of moral influence which religion had been is fated to failure: “… culture on its own cannot make anyone either happy or good” (214); although I do think that religious culture can provide all the necessary preconditions and materials.
Murray is also correct, I would say, to say that those people obsessed with opposing fascism have to “produce” the fascism they oppose, as it were, by projecting it onto people who are not fascist in any meaningful sense of the word: “the demand for fascists vastly outstrips the actual supply” (242). This is an important insight: if something in me believes that I am being unfairly treated, and is attached to the sense of self-righteous grievance which comes with this, then that something in me will make me find unfair treatment, even in places where it is absent.
This book has been a significant event in my intellectual life of the last ten years: it has helped me to see that there is alive in the world, and even in the Church, a form of activism which, even if it espouses Christianity does not in fact believe the faith, but rather works with the implicit confidence that destroying what they hate is the necessary and even perhaps the sufficient condition for the appearance of what they do like. Yes, the Church and our “Western” society are under siege from enemies without, but they are also being attacked by enemies from within, who are happy to destroy while they delude themselves that this is a first stage in the new birth.
Douglas Murray is correct: we feel that meaning is missing, yet we cannot be forced into faith (266-267), even if our culture is “running on empty” (268). Yet if the importance of the Christian faith is recognised, it will be investigated, even perhaps sympathetically examined. Its evangelists will be helped rather than hindered, and its culture can start to permeate Western society once more. The yeast, in other words, can yet work in the dough. It will take time, it will take wisdom, and it will take grace. But it must be attempted. Not only is there no alternative, but the charity of Christ urges us.
I would say that our politicians mistakenly thought that religion does not matter to anyone, for the simple reason that it does not matter to them. And so they allowed waves of immigration of people with a religion and religious culture which, in its Salafi forms, are inimical to our own. Note that I say “Salafi.” This is a school of Sunni, not Shia Islam. In addition, certain strains of Sunni Islam, especially the mystic (not the political) Sufi schools, are benevolent and even positive influences in our society. But even the Salafi might not be the problem they are if it found us firmly adhering to and promoting our faith, and its values and culture.
Joseph Azize, 6 October 2017