“Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide. Whether the European people choose to go along with this is naturally, another matter.”
Thus begins Douglas Murray’s recent and controversial bestseller: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.
The British writer and polemicist is known for his strong views, and has devoted much of the last decade to writing about issues relating to terrorism, immigration and assimilation.
This book represents a culmination of his efforts to raise awareness of the problems which Europe is facing, and draws upon his experiences travelling across Europe to examine the core issues from the banlieues of Paris to the refugee camps of Lampedusa.
Murray does not hold back in stating what he believes will occur should major changes to the policies of European governments not be made soon.
“By the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive, Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home,” he warns.
The author points to two key causes of the present discord: the mass influx of newcomers over previous decades, and just as importantly, the fact that over “the same time Europe has lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.”
This combination of the practical and the philosophical is crucial to this book, and the degree to which Murray successfully ties them together is testament to his skill as a writer, and his profundity as a thinker.
Mass immigration and the effects which this process has had is first examined, and Murray carefully explains the transformation which has occurred in several European societies since World War Two.
In Britain, large-scale immigration from the former colonies began to pick up in the mid-20th century, while a similar process in France saw many people relocating to the country which they had just broken free of. In Germany, the Turkish gastarbeiter arrived, with most Germans assuming that they would eventually depart, something which has not happened.
The process of immigration was greatly accelerated in Britain during the New Labour era, in which restrictions were eased for all immigrants, and when the door was opened to residents of all EU member states, an even more dramatic migration process commenced, one which was without precedent in British history.
Interestingly, and importantly, the level of immigration which occurred was far, far larger than what was expected by New Labour. Even more interestingly, Murray describes how figures who had predicted smaller changes than those which actually took place were at the time excoriated for their alleged scare mongering.
The hyperbolic warnings of Enoch Powell in particular, resulted in policy makers and commentators displaying a great deal of reticence about discussing the issues which immigration presented.
The extent to which the Blair/Brown governments got immigration wrong, Murray argues, lends credence to the view that it was part of “deliberate policy of societal transformation: a culture way being waged against the British people using immigrants as some kind of battering ram.”
As the author examines different countries’ experiences in this respect, it becomes clear that one recurring factor leads to great controversy: Islam.
Tens of millions of Muslims now live in Western European countries which have no previous experience of coping with such diversity, and Murray examines how this process has played out in different contexts.
At the core of his argument is the belief that the presence of these new communities brings with it a direct challenge to the liberalism of modern Europe.
The reaction to the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988 was to Murray a turning point in recent history. The book was burned during public demonstrations in the United Kingdom, a sign that the nation’s one million Muslims had a fundamentally different attitude to free expression than that of their neighbours. Mass immigration to Britain has since seen that same population treble.
Since The Satanic Verses came out, the publication of images of Muhammad have seen a Danish cartoonist go into hiding, a Dutch film-maker has been murdered in public and the editorial staff of a French satirical magazine has been butchered in their office.
A message that criticism of the Islamic religion is forbidden has been broadcasted clearly and bloodily, and most worrying of all, many European political leaders have been slow to condemn the illiberalism within their midst, while being vocal in the denunciation of the growing populist movements which have been gaining ground across Europe.
Murray believes that Chancellor Merkel’s ham-fisted response to the refugee crisis has merely exacerbated the existing problems, and that the tensions within European societies had been growing long before we became inured to terrorist attacks.
Indeed, the fact that Merkel had acknowledged that multiculturalism had “failed utterly” as far back as 2010 – and that she was joined in this opinion by mainstream leaders such as President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron – makes her rash decision to open Germany to seemingly unlimited immigration in 2015 seem all the more inexplicable.
The failure of Merkel to convince other European leaders of the merits of such an approach, and the visceral opposition of Eastern and Central European leaders to the idea, likely stems from the massive public opposition to mass Muslim immigration.
Politicians across Europe are eager to play this down, but public sentiment can – and already has been – gauged.
Earlier this year, the Chatham House think tank asked 10,000 Europeans across 10 EU states if ‘All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped.’
55% of those surveyed said yes to a Trump-style ban, and in no country did more than 32% of people oppose the idea.
Given the public’s views, why do the elites continue to persevere with large-scale immigration? Murray believes that the answer to this partly lies in how Europe as a continent has lost touch with its “foundational story.” Weighed down with guilt and plagued with self-doubt, Europe no longer has the confidence to assert its own values and identity.
Christianity, together with Greco-Roman and Enlightenment thought, forged the Europe of old. However, scientific advances and biblical criticism in previous centuries contributed to a collapse in Christian belief and practise in the old continent.
This has left a hole in Europe’s identity which has not been filled according to Murray, even though “the post-war culture of human rights that insists upon itself” does represent “an attempt to implement a secular version of the Christian conscience.”
The attempt to substitute a 2,000 year religious and cultural tradition with a vague, ephemeral and ever-shifting language of ‘human rights’ has not been successful, and what’s more it has been compromised by the arrival of vast numbers of people with radically different opinions on everything from the role of women in society to the treatment of gay people.
The continent’s political class is unable to decide what it stands for (Murray references the refusal of Europe’s political leaders to include a reference to Christianity in its proposed Constitution as an example), with the result that it becomes clear to many that ‘Europe’ now stands for nothing.
However, this does not mean that the search for meaning does not continue. It is simply the case that modern Europe provides no satisfactory answer, and therein lies the problem.
“Nothing in modern European culture applies itself to offering an answer” to this quest, Murray says. “Nothing says, ‘Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfil you too.’ Instead a voice at best says, ‘Find your meaning where you will.’ At worst the nihilist’s creed can be heard: ‘Yours is a meaningless existence in a meaningless existence in a meaningless universe.’”
An atheist from a broadly secular country, Douglas Murray is a rather curious cultural Cassandra. He diagnoses the cause of Europe’s general listlessness in part as being a failure to appreciate the religious and cultural heritage which has been bestowed upon us by our forefathers, and believes that a renewed respect for this tradition could offer some hope for the future.
“For my own part I cannot help feeling that much of the future of Europe will be decided on what our attitude is towards the church buildings and other great cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst,” he concludes. “Around the questions of whether we hate them, ignore them, engage with them or revere them, a huge amount will depend.”
It is rare to find a book which so comprehensively and compellingly examines the core issues facing a society – and civilisation – that a reader can feel certain in their view that it will be discussed and reflected upon for decades to come.
The Strange Death of Europe is one such work.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Burkean Journal.