The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray - review by Eric Kaufmann

Eric Kaufmann

Guilt-Edged Bonds

The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam


Bloomsbury 343pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Western Europe is in the grip of a cultural illness that is sapping its will to live, claims Douglas Murray in this hard-hitting polemic. Unprecedented levels of immigration, especially from the Muslim world, are turning this death wish into a reality.

In this book, Murray, a young star of the British neoconservative movement who regularly appears on high-profile forums such as Question Time, brings together three themes that have preoccupied him over the past decade: Western elites’ cultural self-loathing, the Islamist threat and mass immigration. He adopts a historical, pan-European viewpoint, intertwining a philosophical dissection of the West’s psychic malaise with reportage from the front lines of the 2015 European migration crisis.

Although Europe’s elite is hell-bent on erasing its traditional culture, Murray rests his faith in ordinary people, who are beginning to resist the masochistic tendencies of their betters. He writes in his introduction: ‘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.’

Murray is not shy about getting his hands dirty and leaving the office. At one moment we find him on Lampedusa, where migrants from Libya and areas further south try their luck on the dangerous voyage to Sicily. Then we catch up with him at the Moria camp on Lesbos, offering his take on the grim conditions and interviewing hapless refugees. On the whole, he is sympathetic to the migrants but scornful of the No Borders group volunteers, who seem oblivious to the larger question of whether an open door will encourage others to try their luck on this dangerous crossing. Murray highlights the ways in which people smugglers exploit the migrants: supplying ships with only enough fuel to make it halfway, or assigning the more dangerous positions on board to Africans rather than Arabs.

The scene then shifts back to Europe, where Murray finds himself in the office of a German MP, who downplays the impact of the influx, arguing that a million newcomers in a country of 81 million is trivial. ‘Imagine that there were 81 people sitting in this room and there was a knock on the door. It turns out to be someone telling us that if he remains in the corridor he will be killed. What do we do? Of course we let him in.’ Pressed by Murray on whether subsequent entrants to the room should also be admitted, the politician loses patience. Murray claims that the crisis exposes Europe’s inability to resist – and masochistic desire to hasten – its ethnocultural demise. Either governments run scared of the racism charge and make up secondary rationalisations – such as, in Germany, the need to resolve the problems posed by an ageing population – to justify an open-door policy, or they talk tough but do nothing to stem the flow or deport illegal immigrants. Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkel may have criticised the policy of multiculturalism, says Murray, but in practical terms they have not tackled large-scale migration or questioned the ethnic transformation of their societies.

Lacking a vocabulary for saying no and unwilling to defend its ethnocultural identity, Western Europe, Murray claims, has become hooked on immigration. The immigrants who arrived after the Second World War were supposed to remain for a limited period, but when the newcomers stayed, governments belatedly recognised reality and moved on. Likewise, though politicians have made restrictionist noises – think Charles Pasqua’s ‘zero immigration’ policy or David Cameron’s promise to reduce the number of immigrants entering the UK to the ‘tens of thousands’ – numbers have remained at record levels.

In view of the migrant crisis and Merkel’s response, Murray revisits Jean Raspail’s apocalyptic, racist novel The Camp of the Saints. In that book, a million-strong flotilla of migrants lands in France, with scores of others ready to follow in the event that France admits the ships, which it does. While Murray acknowledges the racism of the novel – Raspail dubs the leader of the migrants a ‘turd-eater’ – he suggests its central tenet holds: namely, that a neurotically guilty West lacks the will to defend its cultural boundaries. Murray rests his case on Merkel’s response to the waves of Syrians and others who washed up on Europe’s shores in 2015. The high tide may have passed, but the influx continues at a lower level and could rise again in response to another crisis in the demographically challenging region south of Europe.

Elsewhere, the book zeroes in on two internal elements of the European condition: guilt and tiredness. Guilt underpins the political correctness that was responsible for a familiar litany of things, says Murray: the sacking of British school headmaster and multiculturalism critic Ray Honeyford; the Rotherham child prostitution scandal cover-up; the under-reporting of Swedish and German migrant rape incidents; and criticism of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by the Dutch elites, which compelled her to move to America.

The charge of racism, wielded by progressives and acquiesced in by conservatives, works incessantly on the guilty consciences of Europe’s elites and carries all before it. While guilt powers Europe’s generous migration policies and reluctance to call out migrant crime, ‘tiredness’ – Europe’s cultural malaise in the aftermath of secularisation – saps its will to resist. Lacking a historico-religious narrative to guide it, Europe seems rudderless, its politics open to capture by cosmopolitanisms of both Left and Right. In Murray’s view, the fate of Europe’s emptying churches will prove a barometer of whether European identity survives.

Most, but not all, of Murray’s book is doom and gloom. The great exception to the West’s capitulation is Eastern Europe, where Slovakia’s Robert Fico and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán have drawn a line in the sand, refusing to take refugees on the grounds that their citizens don’t want to alter the historical character of their countries. Elsewhere, citizens are revolting by electing anti-immigration parties and politicians. The approaches of such leaders and movements represent the kind of robust defence of European culture Murray seeks from the West’s leaders.

On the whole, Murray’s combination of collective psychoanalysis and reportage is powerful and engaging. It will energise conservative readers, much as leftish types warm to Owen Jones or liberals to Richard Dawkins. But will the book change minds? This is less certain. Murray is at his strongest when lampooning the neurotic guilt of Western liberal elites. He is absolutely correct that they incessantly harp on about the misdeeds of the past, highlighting colonialism, slavery and the Holocaust. They are uninterested in Arab slavery, Turkish imperialism and genocide or Mongol butchery. Europeans may have conquered aboriginal peoples in the New World, but so too did the Bantu in Africa. Why, Murray asks, must Europe offer up its identity in order to extirpate the sins of the fathers? It is one thing to rectify racism and discrimination, but the enterprise of ‘white guilt’ aims to undermine the validity of majority-group identities across the continent. Majority-group ‘Somewheres’, to use David Goodhart’s term, have a right to speak their name and defend their interests within the plural conversation that is Western liberal democracy.

To the extent that immigration is motivated by a moral drive to atone for the past, Murray makes a valid point. For instance, Merkel’s actions offer a clear example of guilt-led reasoning. However, it is far from clear whether the same is true for Cameron, Sarkozy and other mainstream politicians. They sought to constrict migration but were hamstrung by laws on family reunification, free movement and refugees. Judicial activism, not politics, accounts for this. A more forensic examination of the components of the immigration inflow is likewise needed to gauge the importance of guilt in influencing Western immigration policy. There is evidence of tightening: naturalisation of non-EU citizens in Europe, for example, is running at just 0.1 per cent of the total population per year, with increases limited to Spain and Italy.

Tiredness, an important theme in the book, is a fascinating but difficult concept to pin down. Has secularisation sapped Europe’s will to live? As Olivier Roy notes, Christian teaching urges tolerance and open borders. The case of Eastern Europe shows that secularisation is no barrier to ethnonationalism and immigration restrictions. Indeed, by removing clerical objections, it probably makes it easier to shut the door. Many populist, right-wing parties in Western Europe hark back to pagan, pre-Christian ethnic pasts while church leaders call for liberal immigration policies. Regular church attenders tend to shun populists.

Finally, the book reiterates the threat to Europe posed by Islam, echoing earlier books by Christopher Caldwell, Bruce Bawer, Bat Ye’or, Oriana Fallaci and others. European Muslims are more socially conservative than most other religious groups. Sunnis are statistically more likely than others to commit terrorist acts. However, every group commits distinct crimes. Muslims are less likely to kill while drinking than non-Muslims. They are also less likely than Afro-Caribbeans to commit gun crime. In any case, the total number of these incidents is tiny. We must be vigilant in calling out Muslim intolerance and terrorism where it exists, but should not overstate its aggregate impact. Moreover, Muslim birth rates north of the Sahara are approaching replacement level, and the Pew Research Center projects that no more than 10 per cent of any European country will be Muslim in 2030. And there is assimilation potential in the more intermarriage-minded Berbers, Persians and Arabs, as compared to Pakistanis, Moroccans and Turks.

I would have liked a more nuanced discussion of Islam and immigration policy alongside the first-class critique of white guilt. Nonetheless, this is an important, well-written book. Rich in historical and contemporary detail, it takes an entire civilisation as its canvas and makes a bold argument. Disagree passionately if you will, but you won’t regret reading it.

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