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Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

September 11th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Edmund Burke, Meet Tariq Ramadan

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe:
Immigration, Islam, and the West
By Christopher Caldwell
Doubleday, 422 pages, $30
Although I find Caldwell’s analogy with revolution (the French) and the Burkean reaction to that to be problematic, his book is nonetheless of great interest, and joins a long list of books dealing with this, most of them ensared in a conservative mindset (in turn excoriated from the left) that confuses the issue. The citation of Burke makes me pessimistic, were I to read the book (or when!), that this conservative strain might be absent here.
Whatever the case, it is time for the liberal/left to find a stance to deal with this issue without the kneejerk submission to unlimited immigration that has characterized this spectrum for too long.

An intelligent and non-prejudicial critique of Islam is needed, sans the distracting hate wars seen in such incidents as the Danish cartoon incident (which nonetheless pinpointed the absolute need to maintain free speech).
And a new understanding of modernity and secularism is needed, one that is more robust than the reductionist scientism/Darwinism that has risen to overtake all challenges to religion.

The question should have been simple: (check out the eonic effect, and the place of liberalism in its emergentist pattern) the modern secular world, with its stupendous creative transition of the early modern has a far greater claim to be a kind of ‘Axial Age’ successor than the poorly constructed and overly imperialistic Islam.
We can with great fascination and respect study the great history of Islam, but we can also remind ourselves of the judgment of Rajneesh, an enlightened Buddha of the age (and a bit of a strange one at that) whose judgment of Islam was that it was simply ‘second rate’. Islams come and go, he said, as he attempted to examine the immense of the phenomenon of religion in antiquity. There Islam has no predominant or superior status. To say otherwise is to be a chauvinist with no respect for the immensity of traditional religion.

It is a kind of folly to fritter away the legacy of modernity for the sake of Sharia. If that point is not clear to secularists on the left, then our situation has passed into the realm of the bizarre and we can only lament the demise of a great moment of world history: the birth of secular modernity.

In June 2009, an incident took place at Conway Hall in London’s Red Lion Square, the hallowed venue of secular leftist gatherings since the 1930s. Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim preacher and leader of the Islamist organization al-Muhajiroun, was ejected after his followers attempted to segregate male and female members of the audience for a public debate. Choudary told the assembled media in the street outside: “This country is rife with social and economic problems and only Islam has the answer. Muslims are multiplying at a rate eight times faster than the kaffir. In a couple of generations this will be a Muslim country, inshallah. We will dominate this country, my brothers, and implement the beauty and perfection of Islam.” Al–Muhajiroun members greeted the speech with cheers and cries of “God is great” and “Sharia for the UK.” The crowd included Simon Keeler, the first white British Muslim convert convicted of inciting terrorism.

Such incidents are now commonplace not only in Britain but also across Europe. Yet the rise of European Islamism has occurred over only a few years’ time, without any of the Continent’s political elites even noticing what was happening. As Christopher Caldwell argues in his spirited tract Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, “Western Europe became a multi-ethnic society in a fit of absence of mind.” Now that the rest of the population has woken up to the change, many are angry. The result is a political upheaval that is still being played out.

The institutional structures of Europe are creaking because it is no longer possible to accommodate both the increasingly extravagant demands of the Islamist minority and the resentment of a no-longer-silent majority. The multicultural model, based on pure relativism, is widely regarded as bankrupt. But it is too late to prevent or reverse the demographic transformation of virtually every major city on the Continent.

What is striking is that nobody even bothers to challenge Choudary and other demagogues. Instead, Europeans roll their eyes and move on. But who will have the last laugh? Choudary’s prophecy may be outlandish, but it is an accurate description of the urban districts from which he and his like draw their support. It is certainly far less unreal than the cloud-cuckoo-land where European leaders have been living for the past generation.

Britain a Muslim country in a couple of decades? By 2050 a third of the population of Britain and most European countries will be immigrants. The proportion of Muslims may well be even higher because of birthrates and conversion. Sharia for the United Kingdom? England already has 85 functioning sharia courts, and the president of the UK’s new Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, has said that “there is no reason why principles of sharia law should not be used as the basis for mediation or other forms of dispute resolution” as long as the sanctions imposed comply with English law.

Does this transformation—demographic, political, social, legal, and religious—amount to a revolution? Caldwell believes that it does. Hence his Burkean title. But Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France had at its heart the conviction that the triumph of the revolutionary ideology was not inevitable—that the overthrow of the French monarchy could be made “the parent of settlement, and not the nursery of future revolutions.” Burke’s hopes for France and much of Continental Europe were to be disappointed, for the Jacobin Terror proved to be only the first of many totalitarian episodes over the next two centuries. But he was right about England and, indeed, America, whose revolution followed the pattern of 1688 rather than that of 1789, leading quickly to a settled form of government and society.

Caldwell’s revolution, on the other hand, does not look like the parent of a new settlement—unless it be the caliphate. He himself doubts whether Europe has the moral courage to win over its new immigrant populations in the contest for allegiance. He concludes on a pessimistic note: “For now, Islam is the stronger party in that contest, in an obvious demographic way and in a less obvious philosophical way. Words like ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ mean little when an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines. It is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

The key word here is relativistic. For the story that Caldwell sets out to tell is one of relativism applied across the board in every realm of public policy. Instead of helping the waves of immigrants who came to Europe to escape the ghetto and assimilate into the broader society, the new postwar welfare states enshrined in law the new doctrine of cultural relativism, rendering integration impossible. The universal declarations of human rights that were a legacy of the Holocaust ought to have created a new sense of the world and their place in it for these immigrants, who mostly came from countries where such rights did not exist. Instead, the language of human rights was turned against Israel in the name of antiracism, while the Muslim practitioners of wife-beating, forced marriage, polygamy, female mutilation, and terrorism were able to claim the protection afforded by the Left’s political correctness and anticolonialism. Any form of moral or cultural absolutism was taboo (though in practice an exception was made for Islam’s absolutism). “Europe was a place of aspiration for immigrants, and of deference and restraint for the native born,” writes Caldwell. And, as he explains, “any European reluctance to embrace Islamic immigration gets called -Islamophobia. So does any suggestion that immigrants or their children adapt to European ways.”

Tags: Booknotes · Science & Religion · secularism · The Eonic Effect

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