Sunday, February 27, 2005

[Commentary] Islamization of Europe

David Pryce-Jones, the British political analyst, is a senior
editor of National Review and the author of, among other
books, The Closed Circle and The Strange Death of the
Soviet Empire. An earlier version of the present essay was delivered
at a conference at Boston University in October.
Only a few years ago, mass-murder attacks on
the West in the name of Islam, like those of
September 11, would have seemed like a thriller
writer’s fantasy. Nor would anyone have imagined
that a bombing by Islamists could swing a general
election in a European country, that a Dutch
movie-maker might be shot dead on the street for a
film about the abuse of women in Islam, or that one
might find oneself watching, on television, the beheading
of Western hostages by men crying out Allahu
Akhbar! over their savage deeds. Pakistan now
has a nuclear bomb, and this weapon is widely described
as an Islamic bomb. To judge by their pronouncements,
the Islamist leaders of Iran can hardly
wait to perfect and use their derivative of it.
At present, it is not clear whether the religious/
ideological rage that is the motive force behind these
developments has any limits, whether it may yet succeed
in mobilizing truly huge numbers of Muslim
masses, or whether it can be deflected or crushed.
What is clear is that a phenomenon that at first
looked like a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand has
lashed up into a crisis with global implications.
Does this crisis amount to a “clash of civilizations”?
Many people reject that notion as too sweeping or
downright misleading. Yet whether or not it applies
to, say, the situation in Iraq, or to the war on terror,
the phrase has much to recommend it as a description
of what is going on inside Europe today. As Yves
Charles Zarka, a French philosopher and analyst, has
written: “there is taking place in France a central
phase of the more general and mutually conflicting
encounter between the West and Islam, which only
someone completely blind or of radical bad faith, or
possibly of disconcerting naiveté, could fail to recognize.”
In the opinion of Bassam Tibi, an academic
of Syrian origins who lives in Germany, Europeans
are facing a stark alternative: “Either Islam gets Europeanized,
or Europe gets Islamized.” Going still
farther, the eminent historian Bernard Lewis has
speculated that the clash may well be over by the end
of this century, at which time, if present demographic
trends continue, Europe itself will be Muslim.
Today’s situation has been a very long time—centuries—
in the making. For much of that time, of
course, the encounter between Muslims and the
West remained stacked in favor of the latter, both
militarily and culturally. Which is not to say that Europeans
of an earlier age were blind to the danger
posed to Western civilization by a resurgent Islam.
One watchful observer was Winston Churchill, who
wrote about Islam—or Mohammedanism as it was
then called—in The River War (1899):
No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.
Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is
The Islamization of Europe?
David Pryce-Jones

a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already
spread throughout Central Africa, raising
fearless warriors at every step, and were it
not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong
arms of science . . . the civilization of modern
Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient
Hilaire Belloc had similar premonitions 30 years
later in The Great Heresies (1938):
Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam
return and with it the menace of an armed
Muhammadan world which will shake the dominion
of Europeans—still nominally Christian—
and reappear again as the prime enemy of
our civilization? . . . Since we have here a very
great religion, physically paralyzed, but morally
intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable
To these early observers, nevertheless, it did seem
that Western cultural and military superiority could
be counted on to prevail, at least for the foreseeable
future. (Belloc is better remembered for his boast,
“We have got the Gatling gun, and they have not.”)
And prevail it did throughout a good part of the 20th
century. In the last decades, however, another historical
process has been at work drastically revising the
calculus of power.
Contemporary Islamism might be summed
up as the effort to redress and reverse the
long-ago defeat of Muslim power by European (i.e.,
Christian) civilization. Toward that end, it has followed
two separate courses of action: adopting the
forms of nationalism that have appeared to many
Muslims to contain the secret of Western supremacy,
or promoting Islam itself as the one force capable
of uniting Muslims everywhere and hence
ensuring their renewed power and dominance. In
the hands of today’s Islamists, and with the complicity
of Europe itself, these two approaches have
proved mutually reinforcing.
In Europe, the world wars of the last century finally
undid and discredited the idea of the sovereign
nation-state, the engine of the continent’s preeminence
and self-confidence. In place of this tried and
tested political arrangement, now suddenly seen as
outmoded and dysfunctional, institutions like the European
Union and the United Nations were thought
to offer a firmer foundation for a new world order,
one that would be based on universal legal norms
and in which sovereign power would be rendered
superfluous. It has been the resulting decline of the
European nation-state that has helped provide a
unique opportunity for Islamism, itself based on a
world-wide, transnational community that has been
united by faith and custom since its inception and
that traditionally has drawn no distinction between
the realm of faith and the realm of temporal power.
A number of ideological movements have spread
and fortified the modern projection of transnational
Islam. Perhaps the most successful has been the Muslim
Brotherhood, founded by Hasan al-Banna in
Egypt in 1928, with branches today in some 40 to 50
countries. Yasir Arafat and Ayman al-Zawahiri,
Osama bin Laden’s deputy, are among those formed
by the Brotherhood. Its more recent inspiration derives
from the Egyptian-born Sayyid Qutb, whose
three-year stay in the United States in the late 1940’s
and early 1950’s convinced him that the West and
everything it stood for had to be rejected, while Islam
already provided every Muslim with state, nation, religion,
and identity all in one. Saudi Arabia has spent
billions of its petro-dollars financing groups, including
terrorist groups, that promote this idea.
The 1979 revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini
in Iran was an opening test of the new balance of
forces between a rising transnational Islam and the
declining Western nation-state. European countries,
which in the postwar period seemed largely to have
lost the will to respond to aggressive challenges from
without, presented no opposition to the totalitarian
Khomeini regime and no barrier to its aggrandizement.
That left the United States, still a nation-state
very much committed to defending its sovereignty.
Indeed, to the ayatollahs and their allies, the U.S.
represented a final embodiment of the Great Satan,
fit to be confronted in holy war.
This remains the case today. In the meantime,
though, a battle of a different but no less decisive
kind has been taking place within Europe, where
some 20 million Muslims have settled. Thanks on
the one hand to their high birthrate, and on the other
hand to the sub-replacement birthrate that has become
the norm among other Europeans, the demographic
facts alone suggest a continent ripe for a
determined effort to advance the Islamist agenda.
In its global reach and in its aggressive intentions,
Islamist ideology bears some resemblance to another
transnational belief system: namely, Communism.
Like today’s Islamists, Communists of an earlier
age saw themselves as engaged in an apocalyptic
struggle in which every member of a Communist
party anywhere was expected to comport himself as
a frontline soldier, and in which terror was seen as a
wholly permissible means toward victory in a war to
the finish. Compare Stalin’s “If the enemy does not
Commentary December 2004

surrender he must be exterminated” with the refusal
of the leader of Hizballah in Lebanon to negotiate
with or ask concessions from the West because “We
seek to exterminate you.” To Sheik Omar Bakri
Muhammad, a Syrian with British citizenship who
until recently led a group called al-Muhajiroun, the
terrorists of September 11 were “The Magnificent
Nineteen”—or, as he explains, the advance guard of
an army of “our Muslim brothers from abroad [who]
will come one day and conquer here.”
Throughout the cold-war era, the European
democracies under threat from Soviet expansionism
were themselves home to Communist parties, as
well as to an array of front organizations ostensibly
devoted to peace and friendship and culture but in
reality manipulated by and for Soviet purposes. In
addition, many people from all walks of life accommodated
themselves to Communism with varying
degrees of emotional intensity and out of various
motives, including the wish to be on what they perceived
as the winning side and the converse fear of
winding up on the losing side.
Each of these elements, in suitably transmuted
form, is present today. The pool of local recruits
upon which Islamists draw is itself very large. Of Europe’s
20 million Muslims, it is estimated that 5 or 6
million live in France alone, at least 3 million in
Germany and 2 million in Britain, 1 million apiece
in Holland and Italy, and a half-million apiece in
Spain and Austria.
It is true that most Muslim immigrants to Europe
come simply with hopes for a better life, and that
these hopes are more important to them than any apprehensions
they might entertain about living in a society
ruled by non-Muslims—something historically
prohibited in Islam. Indeed, large numbers have assimilated
with greater or lesser strain, and, in the
manner of other minorities, have become “hyphenated”
as British-Muslim, French-Muslim, Italian-
Muslim, and the like. Religious life flourishes: if,
a half-century ago, there were but a handful of
mosques throughout Europe, today every leading
country has over a thousand, and France and Germany
each have somewhere between five and six
thousand. Muslim pressure groups, lobbies, and charities
operate effectively everywhere; in Britain alone
there are 350 Muslim bodies of one kind or another.
Among these various organizations, however, a
number function as Islamist fronts. Inspired by
Saudi Arabia or Khomeinist Iran, by the Muslim
Brotherhood or al Qaeda, they work to undermine
democracy in whatever ways they can, just as Soviet
front organizations once did. They push immigrants
to repudiate both the process and the very
idea of integration, challenging them as a matter of
religious belief and identity to take up an oppositional
stance to the societies in which they live. Issues
of Islamic concern have been skillfully magnified
into scandals in the attempt to foment animosity on
all sides and thus further deter or prevent the integration
of Muslims into mainstream European life.
The notorious 1989 fatwa condemning the novelist
Salman Rushdie to death for exercising his right
to free speech as a British citizen was an early example
of this tactic of disruption and agitation. Another
has been the attempt in Britain to set up a Muslim
“parliament” that will recognize only Islamic law
(shari’a) as binding, and not the law of the land. Still
another has been the insistence, in France, on the
wearing of the hijab by girls in public schools, a practice
that clearly contradicts the ideals of French
republicanism and is in any case not an Islamic requirement.
The tactical thinking behind such incitements
was well articulated by an al-Qaeda leader
who, calling upon British Muslims to “bring the
West to its knees,” added that they, “the locals, and
not foreigners,” have the advantage since they understand
“the language, culture, area, and common
practices of the enemy whom they coexist among.”
Still another phenomenon familiar from the
Soviet era has lately made a repeat appearance
in the West, and that is voluntary accommodation, or
fellow-traveling, among non-Muslims. Leftist fellowtravelers
once helped to create a climate of opinion
favorable to Communism. Many knew exactly what
they were doing. Others merely meant well; they
were what Lenin called “useful idiots.” In like manner,
Islamist fellow-travelers and useful idiots are
weaving a climate of opinion today that advances the
purposes of radical Islam and is deeply damaging to
the prospects of reconciliation.
As in the 30’s and throughout the cold war, intellectuals
and journalists are in the lead. Books pour
from the presses to justify everything and anything
Muslims have done in the past and are doing in the
present. Just as every Soviet aggression was once defined
as an act of self-defense against the warmongering
West, today terrorists of al Qaeda, or the
Chechen terrorists who killed children in the town
of Beslan, are described in the media as militants, activists,
separatists, armed groups, guerrillas—in short,
as anything but terrorists. Dozens of apologists pretend
that there is no connection between the religion
of Islam and those who practice terror in its name, or
suggest that Western leaders are no better or are indeed
worse than Islamist murderers. Thus Karen
Armstrong, the well-known historian of religion: “It’s
The Islamization of Europe?

very difficult sometimes to distinguish between Mr.
Bush and Mr. bin Laden.”
One form of Islamist fellow-traveling masquerades
as a call for “tolerance,” or “diversity,” and has penetrated
right through the world of European opinion
and European institutions. The British Communist
historian Christopher Hill once concluded a book on
Lenin with a reverent recital of the epithets the party
had devised to glorify him. Pious Muslims follow the
mention of the Prophet Muhammad with the invocation,
“Peace be upon him.” This practice has now
crept into a biography of the Prophet written by a
British writer not ostensibly a Muslim. To encourage
such acts of deference, there has been a complementary
effort to stifle contrary or less than fully respectful
opinions. When the outspoken French novelist
Michel Houellebecq pronounced Islam to be hateful,
stupid, and dangerous, Muslim organizations and the
League for the Rights of Man took him to court, just
as the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci was sued for her
book tying the 9/11 attacks to the teachings of Islam.
Although both writers won their cases, the chilling
effect was unmistakable.
The institutions that have been affected by Islamophile
correctness run the gamut. In Britain, a
judge has agreed to prohibit Hindus and Jews from
sitting on a jury in the trial of a Muslim. The British
Commission for Racial Equality has ordained that
businesses must provide prayer rooms for Muslims
and pay them for their absences on religious holidays.
In a town in the Midlands, a proposal to renovate
a hundred-year-old statue of a pig was rejected
for fear of giving offense to Muslims. The
British Council, an international organization for
cultural relations, fired a staff member who published
articles in the Sunday Telegraph arguing that
the roots of terror and jihad were nourished in the
soil of Islam, while the BBC canceled the contract
of a popular television journalist for allegedly using
negative language to describe the Muslim Arab
contribution to mankind.
Commercial society has likewise rushed to accommodate
real or imagined Muslim sensibilities: a
British bank boasts that it will comply with shari’a
prohibitions on the uses of money, and the German
state of Saxony-Anhalt has become the first European
body to issue a sukuk, or Islamic bond. Religious
society is not far behind: even as bin Laden speaks of
wresting Spain (“al-Andalus”) from the infidels by violence,
the cathedral of Santiago has considered removing
a statue of St. James Matamoros (“the Moor
slayer”), lest it give offense to Muslims. For the same
reason, the municipality of Seville has removed King
Ferdinand III, hitherto the city’s patron saint, from
fiesta celebrations because he fought the Moors for
27 years. In Italy, where Islamists have threatened to
destroy the cathedral of Bologna because of a fresco
illustrating the Prophet Muhammad in the inferno
(where Dante placed him), thought has been given to
deleting the art-work from the walls. Even the Pope
has apologized for the Crusades. In secular Denmark,
the Qur’an (but not the Bible) is now required
reading for high-school students. And so forth.
The lengths to which apologists for Islamism
are prepared to go is nicely illustrated by the
case of Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies
at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and a
popular writer and speaker. As is well known, the
American university Notre Dame recently offered
Ramadan a professorship, but U.S. immigration authorities
have so far rejected his application for a visa.
This has elicited some classic examples of fellow-traveling
obfuscation from both Americans and Europeans
outraged on his behalf. A letter to the Washington
Post protesting Ramadan’s treatment undertook to
explicate his supposed message to Western Muslims:
they “must find common values and build with fellow
citizens a society based on diversity and equality.”
Not quite. What Tariq Ramadan has really proposed
in his writings and teachings is that Muslims
in the West should conduct themselves not as hyphenated
citizens seeking to live by “common values”
but as though they were already in a Muslim-majority
society and exempt on that account from having
to make concessions to the faith of others. What Ramadan
advocates is a kind of reverse imperialism. In
his conception, Muslims in non-Muslim countries
should feel themselves entitled to live on their own
terms—while, under the terms of Western liberal
tolerance, society as a whole should feel obliged to
respect that choice.
Ramadan happens to be a grandson of Hasan al-
Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he
is also a guarded writer. In fact, his is a relatively
“moderate” and qualified expression of Islamic reverse
imperialism. More overtly, and with an implicit
threat of violence, Dyab Abu Jahjah, a Lebanese
who has settled in Antwerp, has denounced the
Western ideal of assimilation as “cultural rape,” and
aims to bring all the Muslims of Europe into a single
independent community. He, too, needless to say,
has his defenders and apologists among European
Or consider the European reception of Yusuf al-
Qaradawi, heir to Sayyid Qutb as the religious authority
of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wanted on
charges of terrorism in his native Egypt, al-Qaradawi
Commentary December 2004

now lives in Qatar. Like Tariq Ramadan in Switzerland,
he emphasizes that Muslims must keep apart
from liberal democracy as it is practiced in the West
while also availing themselves of its benefits and advantages.
But he goes much further. Unlike Ramadan,
he approves of wife-beating in the forms
sanctioned by the Qur’an; as for homosexuals, he is
agnostic on whether they should be thrown off a
high cliff or flogged to death. Yet this year, in an official
ceremony at London’s City Hall, al-Qaradawi
was welcomed as “an Islamic scholar held in great respect”
by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
“You are truly, truly welcome,” gushed Livingstone,
an otherwise enthusiastic supporter of gay pride.
Also appearing this year in London was Sheik
Abdul Rahman al-Sudayyis, a senior imam of the
Grand Mosque in Mecca; among his many distinctions,
al-Sudayyis has vituperated Jews as “the scum
of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators
of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the
prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs.” Standing
beside this apostle of “diversity and equality” was
a junior minister in the Blair government.
The Islamic Foundation, one of Britain’s numerous
Muslim bodies, has an offshoot called the Markfield
Institute. In July, the London Times linked both the
foundation and the institute to terrorism. An offended
reader with an English name wrote to protest: “I
hope that Markfield . . . will be allowed to help individual
Muslims to practice their faith with peace and
respect, in a multicultural Britain.” Another reader, an
Anglican canon in the Diocese of Leicester (a city
with a Muslim majority today), asserted that the institute
was simply trying to teach imams and Muslim
youngsters alike to work within British institutions.
In just that spirit, and even in that vocabulary, the
fellow-traveling Beatrice Webb used to advance the
transcendent virtues of the Soviet social model.
Gullible, false, and dangerous statements of this kind
are now as common as rain.
In the realm of classical Islam, Christians and
Jews once lived as dhimmis—that is to say, minorities
with second-class rights, tolerated but discriminated
against by law and custom. Many contemporary
Muslims appear to idealize this longlost
supremacy over others, and aspire to reconstruct
it. One way to work for this end is through
violence and terror. Another way, the way of Tariq
Ramadan and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is through words.
One way and another, the project is advancing.
Summing up the collective achievement so far, Bat
Ye’or, the historian of “dhimmitude,” has written
that “Europe has evolved from a Judeo-Christian
The Islamization of Europe?
civilization with important post-Enlightenment/
secular elements to . . . a secular Muslim transitional
society with its traditional Judeo-Christian
mores rapidly disappearing.” She calls this evolving
entity “Eurabia.”
If that is the case, or is becoming the case, is it any
wonder that some Europeans are switching sides, so
as to be on the winning one? The sheer élan and cultural
confidence displayed by Islamist spokesmen
may have something to do with the fact that every
year, thousands of people all over Europe convert to
Islam. Some of these converts, from Britain, France,
and Germany, taking the direct route from words to
action, have gone on to play a disproportionate role
in terrorism and Islamist militancy. Thus, at a rally
organized in London last year by a radical offshoot
of the Muslim Brotherhood, a high proportion of
demonstrators were clearly not of Middle Eastern
origin. At a recent trial in Cairo in which three
British citizens were condemned to prison for subversion
and intended terrorism, two were Englishborn,
with English names. They were led away
shouting defiance of the West.
There are certainly Muslims in Europe who look
with horror upon what is being done in their name,
and who wish to have nothing to do with the notion
that they are entitled to live in the West as, in effect,
conquerors. For wholly understandable reasons, few
of them have the courage to speak out. One of the
exceptional few recently wrote a letter to the London
Times, giving his name and address, and saying that
he defines his community as the people with whom
he chooses to interact. He went on: “We do not all
subscribe to the same way of being a Muslim, neither
do we push our beliefs into the civic and political
sphere.” But, he continued, “Sadly the public does
not always get our point of view, because the only
Muslims who are consulted are those who choose to
drag Islam into the political sphere.”
One could not ask for a clearer repudiation not
only of all Muslim Brotherhood-style proselytizers
but, even more bitingly, of the patronizing and indulgent
attitude adopted toward them by the European
establishment. Those in Europe who have striven
in ways great and small to extend special privileges
to Muslims while subtly deprecating their own national
identity and culture have indeed helped open
the way to Islamic separatism and Islamist agitation.
They have thereby hastened the very clash of civilizations
that they (or some of them) foolishly claim
they are avoiding. If Bassam Tibi is correct in stating
that “either Islam gets Europeanized or Europe gets
Islamized,” powerful forces are at work to foreclose
the question.


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