On the edge
How democratic values may be threatened by Europe's efforts to appease its radical Muslim enclaves
While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within
By Bruce Bawer
Doubleday, 247 pp., $23.95
If I may be personal for one moment, what drew me to Bruce Bawer's ''While Europe Slept" was the knowledge that it was substantially about the Netherlands, where I grew up and which my family, after 28 years, finally left in the fall of 2001. My own last day was Sept. 8 of that momentous year, and I have not been back. They say the world is different now, and indeed I have seen that the Netherlands is different. The longtime queen has died, also her consort, and the husband of their daughter, the current queen -- all figures of a '70s childhood.
Then there have been two political assassinations heard around the world: the first, the ''populist" Pim Fortuyn in 2002; the second, and better known, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh on Election Day 2004. Fortuyn wasn't murdered by a radical Islamist (merely by a native Dutch sympathizer); van Gogh was, by a young, educated Dutch Muslim.
Bawer's book, which is frequently anecdotal and generalizing, begins with van Gogh's killing, then takes us back to 1997, when the writer, sick of American religiosity after years writing about Christian fundamentalists, fled happily first to Amsterdam, then to Oslo, where he lives. In both countries he learned the language, and with his phenomenal appetite for what must be dozens of regularly consulted European newspaper websites and blogs, he is quite well informed. But he is most indispensable sticking close to home, Norway, an important country and anomaly: a NATO ally yet outside the European Union, for which Bawer has only an eloquent contempt.
His thesis: European postwar multiculturalism or political correctness, led by its America-hating elites (the onetime '68ers), has led to a massive failure of immigration and integration in Europe, and the foothold of radical Islam marks the beginning of a direct and likely fatal assault on Western democracy and liberty.
The first part is a credible argument. The EU is not and never has been a democratic project, as we saw only last year, when French and Dutch voters roundly rejected its proposed constitution, prompting EU leaders to suggest that the public hadn't been properly instructed, and so they would have to conduct more votes. Bawer describes European notions of ''community mediated through government institutions," an alien mentality even to liberal Americans. He has a fine, scornful passage on European ''sophistication," a code word for Americans' supposed lack of nuance and history. To be sophisticated, Bawer writes, means to possess opinions with ''little or no connection to observable reality" occupying ''a higher realm than that of mere experience." It is a ''breathtaking lack of seriousness" he sees in European media. Europe is unready for the mortal struggle ahead, largely because Europeans, no longer religious, ''can't imagine a life directed by religious belief," meaning the radical imams.
Bawer's claims are sometimes eccentric, but his critique of the EU and its elites is bracing and commonsensical, and it may not be a bad suggestion to Americans who run down their country abroad to ''cut it out," although how salutary to Europeans this will be is unclear.
Part two, on the Islamist threat, seems alarmist in the way of good pamphlets: The argument is worth having, but any kind of prediction seems too pat. I say ''pamphlet" because it is not truly a reporting project: Although Bawer travels to some places, talks to people, and so on, the talking and traveling appear to be more social and personal than professional, and, as mentioned, much of the book's facts, statistics, and quotations clearly come off the Internet. There are no footnotes, no bibliography and few citations -- strange for a critic trained as a scholar, and a pity, for startling facts require careful verification. It is tendentious: Right below the surface of Bawer's claims is an assumption that the Iraq War was just and appropriately part of the war on terror, and that liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein is equivalent to liberating Europe from communism.
And sometimes he is wrong, or the emphasis is misplaced. The ''martyred prophet" Fortuyn did call for an end to immigration (''The Netherlands is full," he said) and was a more complex figure than the righteous -- even humorless -- figure Bawer creates, when it was Fortuyn's wit, his dandyism as well as his candor, that created such a stir.
Bawer's is the first of three books on the subject by prominent writers; one expects the next two, by more experienced political journalists (David Rieff and Christopher Caldwell), to be less heated, more complex, and, especially, better reported. The pamphleteer's purpose is different, however. Bawer feels personally betrayed by what has happened in his once exalted Europe, and the offense he takes is entirely earned. But his conclusions? Bawer suggests either ''cultural surrender or full-fledged civil war." But things are seldom one thing or the other. There is such a thing as muddling through, and for Europe that seems the likeliest option. It is ugly and dispiriting, but it is a form of national or cultural survival. Bawer mentions in passing Balkanization, but I think of it rather as Ulsterization that Europe is in for, with countries fortifying themselves through combined military-police work to root out the relatively small number (only in the hundreds) of dangerous malcontents; and that like the troubles in Northern Ireland it will last at least 30 years.
When I put this theory to Rieff, he replied, ''The Ulster crisis was not solved by police work and counterterrorism but by a political deal. . . . In the Muslim case, I don't see what such a deal would consist of." He also dismissed the claim of mere ''hundreds." But the Irish ''deal" took all that time to arrive at, because it had to be preceded by those slow internal developments, promoted by Fortuyn, that Bawer requires for Europe's Muslims: ''education, emancipation, and integration." Are the two so different after all?
Eric Weinberger teaches expository writing at Harvard University.