“While Europe Slept,” by Bruce Bawer

While Europe Slept, by Bruce BawerWhile Europe Slept, by Bruce Bawer. DoubleDay, 2006. 256pp. hardcover $16.29 ISBN 0385514727

Bewildering Complexities of Integrating Muslims into Europe
Review by Manfred Wolf

A recent book, “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within,” dwells on the habitual looking away of liberal European elites from the problems posed by Muslim immigrants — a blindness and silence it regards as continuing to this day. The author Bruce Bawer claims that if Europe does not defend against its “Weimar Moment,” it will be destroyed from within. The Weimar Republic, it should be recalled, failed to take a stand against Hitler before he came to power.

But, as Bawer also notes, not only will the European Establishments have to come down hard on extremist behavior and even thought, they will also have to guarantee full equality to their newly minted citizens. For the one thing all European countries have in common is that they never really conceived of the immigrants and their descendants as being truly, really, genuinely Dutch or French or Danish or Swedish. That is a major difference with the US.

Immigrants will have to accept the reigning norms — but European host countries need to offer true acceptance and equality. If, in fact, both sides don’t change, all will indeed be lost.

Some have looked at Bawer as anti-Muslim, but this is not so: he simply makes the point that a viable country must have a dominant culture. In that regard, the US could serve as a model for European countries, and certainly the debate about immigration here, whatever its complications, is relatively straightforward compared to that raging in Europe, where complexities of policy, attitude toward outsiders and the nature of immigrants’ backgrounds dominate all discussions. During the last twenty years, I’ve lived in Europe for years at a time — and I continue to read the Dutch papers daily. I’m fascinated by the complexities of this new Europe.

During a teaching stint at the University of Helsinki in the early Nineties, I was at a dinner party where the inevitable subject of immigration came up. Finland had recently taken in two thousand Somalis and resisted admitting more. It discouraged immigration and has remained homogeneous to this day.

Sweden, on the other hand, was much easier about giving political asylum and had hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants already. Now it has more.

The academics around the table wished Finland would be more like Sweden in this regard. My comment that some day Finland might be spared many problems was treated with polite silence — as was a remark from the other extreme by another guest, that he wouldn’t mind a million or two Russians “who’d liven things up in Finland” (at that time, it was widely rumored that hungry Russians would soon swarm across Finnish borders).

Finland vs. Sweden is only one of many contrasts in the way European countries have handled immigration. These days, the usual contrast is between Sweden and Denmark. Denmark has taken a hard line with its Muslims, restricting further immigration in part by clamping down on marriage between resident Muslims and the spouse they might send for in the home country. Sweden, on the other hand, remains almost aggressively lenient.

Sharp differences about integration and assimilation of immigrant and minority populations into Europe continue to exist.

There is the French model of integration — dented somewhat by last year’s immigrant riots in the notorious ghetto-like suburbs — that everybody living in France should be French, period, while the British multicultural model attempts to avoid segregated suburban high-rises and encourages immigrants to retain their own culture. Of course, in practice the two models frequently overlap.

In fact, within France, many variations exist: Paris favors the “be French” model, while Marseilles — a Mediterranean city with vast experience of non-French residents — has gone in for a more multicultural system, less segregation, and greater flexibility in having Muslims play a significant role in the civic life of the city.

The Netherlands has tried both models, especially in housing. At certain times, urban planning produced ghettoization, at other times greater mingling. Despite many pronouncements neither has worked well. The last five years — after the rise and fall of populist politician Pim Fortuyn and the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh — have ended the silence and quieted politically correct platitudes, and the country has almost swung the other way, towards overt anger, pessimism and despair. Moderate native and Muslim Dutch voices are now often going unheard.

As if these complications weren’t enough, let it be noted that there are major differences between Muslim immigrant groups. Algerians in France, Moroccans in the Netherlands, Turks in Germany, Iraqis in Scandinavia may all be Muslim, but their cultural backgrounds differ. Add to that the hostility between minorities within minorities: recently the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported on a group of Syrian Christians in the Dutch town of Enschede who were collectively accused of hooliganism. As it turned out, an unsympathetic Turkish Dutch Muslim city councilman was the main complainant about what most townspeople saw as an exemplary subgroup.

Any number of Muslim immigrants function well as Dutch citizens, but the country’s attention appears focused on criminal Moroccan youth, especially in the big cities, and the potential for terrorism among seemingly assimilated but radicalized youngsters, often of school age.

In a country of sixteen million, over a million Muslims, mainly of Turkish and Moroccan descent, now dominate the debate. How best to integrate them? Do they even want to integrate? Can a large minority refuse to integrate?

In his meteoric career, the populist Pim Fortuyn proposed that no country could be truly multicultural without fragmenting. Pluralist, yes, multiculturalist, not really.

This may well contain the key to the present dilemma. Muslim groups, which see their culture as entirely the equal of the prevailing Dutch culture, may be on a collision course with the host country. Norms of free speech and the equality of women, the Dutch now say, are not negotiable. The dominant culture has to be respected and in some fashion submitted to by all the citizens. The fabled Dutch tolerance cannot yield to those who are intolerant of its major values.

Manfred Wolf is the editor of “Amsterdam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion.” He teaches literature and the history of ideas at the Fromm Institute, University of San Francisco.

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