Double Book Review: Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch and The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray (Part 1)

What is it to be British, European, Black or some combination of the three? How far is Britain’s national identity anchored in its historical precedents and cultural inheritance? Is the much vaunted ‘post racial society’ now reality or just one in a long line of quintessentially British conceits? Do the shifting sands of Europe’s racial and religious demographics threaten or enhance its sense of identity. Can we forge a common identity that encompasses vastly disparate ethnicities and religious views? What even is identity to begin with? Questions that draw upon the current zeitgeist of angst and uncertainty, and which Hirsch and Murray grapple with, albeit from very different perspectives (think Nigel Farage vs Jean-Claude Juncker).

In Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity the renowned Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor expends several pages attempting to provide a definition of the term, only to conclude: “But in fact our identity is deeper and more many-sided than any of our possible articulations of it.” Both Murray and Hirsch struggle to articulate with any great precision the essential constituents of their respective identities – what does it really mean to be “black” or “European”? Both prove equally adept at cataloguing the effects of their interactions with “the other”.

The Strange Death of Europe is the tale of a once fair continent submerging under a ravenous third world immigrant deluge – a horde whose members neither look like nor behave like the indigenous inhabitants (nor have any intention of ever doing so). It is a threnody for a continent lost, for a people betrayed by an aloof elite who lacked both the foresight to predict the catastrophe they were unleashing on future generations as well as the fortitude to rectify their mistake once it became apparent. Most of all it is a lament for the passing of a vibrant, fecund culture; one which gifted the world modernity (as we commonly understand it) in all its splendour and luxuriousness. The narrative proceeds in the manner of the classic five-Act play: intro, how it [mass immigration] all started, refuting the justifications for it, a couple of chapters on how truly terrible it is, and the denouement. There is, however, no chapter entitled The Solution as Murray concedes to knowing no easy resolution to the ‘mess’ Western Europe finds itself in.

Tempting as it might be – and it is a temptation to which some reviewers clearly succumbed – to dismiss out of hand The Strange Death of Europe in its entirety, there lies scattered within the chicken feed of neoconservative (albeit highly eloquent) pap the glistening of some brilliant insights that cannot be so readily elided. That said it is for the most part, business as usual from Murray: non-white immigrants are very bad, Muslim immigrants societal cyanide pills, Poles are ok (but could do with a few less) and French high-tech entrepreneurs the approved type of immigrant.

Neoconservatism

Those not familiar with the author and his political leanings might well be advised to first read his NeoConservatism Why We Need It (2006) as it lays bare the ideological substratum underlaying his latest book. It is impossible to truly appreciate The Strange Death of Europe without gaining a familiarity with Murray’s neoconservative metanarrative and mindset. Throughout the course of this essay I use the terms ‘The West’ and ‘Europe’ interchangeably, though, of course, they are not. A certain level of historical and political astuteness is assumed from the reader.

Introduction

In his introduction Murray traces the genesis of this tragedy back to Western Europe’s post Second World War embrace of large scale immigration to plug its labour shortage. Immigrants sourced largely from their former colonies in Africa and Asia. Mass immigration though is but one half of the twin evils to have propelled the continent to the brink of implosion. For concomitant to this influx was the abandonment by Europe’s indigenous inhabitants of their historic civilizational narrative and the Judeo-Christian (a highly misleading neologism given that Christianity is a repudiation of Judaism’s defining tenets) beliefs that inspired it. It is a subject to which he returns in the book’s latter stages.

“The world is coming into Europe at precisely the moment that Europe has lost sight of what it is. And while the movement of millions of people from other cultures into a strong and assertive culture might have worked, the movement of millions of people into a guilty, jaded and dying culture cannot.”

To give a three-sentence abstract of The Strange Death of Europe: in by gone centuries Christianity was the thread that bound Europe to a common narrative and value system; it sustained it in the face of external aggression, inspiring in its peoples a sense of confidence and assertiveness. A direct philosophical continuum linked medieval European Christianity to the culture of the Enlightenment which birthed secularism and thereby liberalism and capitalism; the latter in turn giving rise to industrialisation and subsequently two glorious centuries of global dominance. In stark contrast the nihilism of moral and cultural relativism which supplanted it in the second half of the 20th century has rendered Europe effete and catatonic, unable to fend off the existential threat it faces (mass immigration and Islam) or making any meaningful intervention on the world stage.

While the first half of this theory is nothing new, as far back as 1961 the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson pointed out the transformative effect the growing loss of Christian faith would have upon Europe, Murray’s unique contribution to the debate is his analysis of the effects of its concatenation with mass migration and the entrance of Islam as socio-political current.

Murray here makes two observations of note about European identity. The first that it is supposedly not about race:

“If being ‘European’ is not about race – as we hope it is not – then it is even more imperative that it is about ‘values’. This is what makes the question ‘What are European values?’ so important.”

Yet so much of the book is dedicated to talk of racial replacement, of Europe being the homeland for the European peoples that one cannot help but surmise that it is about race or at least that a significant part of it is.

“Is a ceiling of 25 per cent white Britons in London – or the country at large – a target? Or should it be 10 per cent? Or none at all?”

Murray is dismissive of the hoary “Britain is a nation of mongrels” mantra favoured by so many on the left. This he declaims as part of a grand pattern of deceit by the political class – a conspiracy to keep the public in the dark about mass immigration, its nature and its effects. While values are very much centre stage of his counterargument to mass immigration it is unclear just how far values and race intersect in his estimation. Are Europeans genetically predisposed to formulating superior values? It’s a question he doesn’t specifically raise but a holistic consideration of the arguments he adduces point to an answer. I will leave it to those who read the book to make their own determinations in this respect.

Whether those in power choose to acknowledge it or dismiss it as racist bleating the fact remains that there is a sense amongst the White working-class that they are being driven out and replaced.  And whereas in times of plenty such grievances might have remained confined to pub hall chatter, in more straitened periods such as these they have the propensity to cause serious perturbations to the established political order. Brexit, Trump, the mainstreaming of the far-right in France and Germany all serve as cautionary reminders that this is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer. Something Murray is only too keen to point out. An alumnus of both Eton and Oxford, Murray makes an unlikely working-class champion though and as with his pronouncements on Islam, I, for one, harbour serious doubts about the sincerity of his concerns; deceit of the masses (justified under the pretext of the greater good) is a cornerstone of neoconservative ideology. Like their nineteenth century forbears who returned penniless and disabled from Imperial expeditions in distant lands, only to find themselves disenfranchised and despised by the same elite at whose behest they had sacrificed all, those who swallow the poisonous pabulum Murray offers are in the end, likely to find themselves just as bitterly disappointed.

The second observation of the introduction is that it was once clearly definable:

“So whereas European identity in the past could be attributed to highly specific, not to mention philosophically and historically deep foundations (the rule of law, the ethics derived from the continent’s history and philosophy)…”

Sadly, he fails to expatiate, leaving you wondering to precisely which quintessentially European ethics he is referring. Also, we know the Babylonians as far back as the 18th century BC were familiar with the rule of law (The Hammurabi Code) and from the 7th century onwards the Middle East and north Africa was certainly acquainted with the concept. But flawed as the contention may be, it serves perhaps to illustrate something that arguably is quintessentially European, namely a conceit that the continent is the wellspring of all beneficial knowledge ever conceived. As if to press home the point Murray dedicates several paragraphs deriding the Convivencia and to generally downplaying the contribution of Islamic civilisation to the intellectual outpouring of Enlightenment, citing the anomalous thesis of a little-known French academic as his sole source. The not so subtle implication being that Europeans are (give or take an exceptional oriental or two) the sole contributors to the global edifice of scientific and philosophical knowledge with all others at best, mere transmitters or at worst, plagiarisers. In short Europe owes nothing to anybody.

Contentious statistics on Swedish rape gleaned from obscure blog sites, shock quotes elicited from desultory Eritrean immigrants (hailing from a land where men can supposedly ‘have’ any woman that takes their fancy), misrepresented official reports into child sex grooming, extreme instances of Muslim anti-Semitism (presented as if normative) – all feature in Murray’s case file against mass immigration. As do numerous hackneyed prejudices around foreign savages e.g. swarthy men’s predilection for white flesh and Muslim proclivity for honour-based violence.

Of course, most of what is glibly asserted as fact turns out not to be (or only partially) upon investigation but then I suspect he was banking on his readership not bothering to make the effort. For example (and here I could pick any number of instances):

“Irrespective of whether one agrees with Japan’s policy or not the country shows that even in this hyper-connected age it is possible for a modern economy to avoid the experience of mass immigration and show that such a process is not ‘inevitable’”

Unfortunately for Murray the Japanese government has recently been forced to relax immigration laws in the face of labour shortages arising from the ageing of the indigenous population (one of the pro-immigration arguments he spends several pages refuting).

The world outside Europe and colonialism

In the prelusive to a genuinely harrowing chapter (albeit one exuding a sense of macabre voyeurism) cataloguing the horrors faced by refugees heading to Europe Murray observes:

“If migration is caused by allure, then a way needs to be found to lose the allure.”

A statement of the obvious perhaps but one which strikes at the heart of the crisis. Towards the end of the chapter he quotes the Spanish ex-Deputy Interior Minister:

“In North Africa, there is a structural problem. We don’t know how its political and economic situation will develop. And the demographic pressure is enormous.”

Before helpfully explaining:

“He was referring to a situation in which even then 70 per cent of the Moroccan population was under the age of 30 and official unemployment figures sat at 17.5 per cent.”

Finally concluding by quoting another (unnamed) Spanish official who, commenting on efforts to deter refugee boats, confesses that: “They’ll find other ways of getting in…While there’s so much misery over there, they’ll keep coming.”

The sad irony of this seems lost on Murray or maybe he simply chooses to ignore it. As with so much he touches upon (e.g. racial discrimination) there is a consistent refusal to accept that any part, however small, of the blame for all this might be attributable to the historic policies and prejudices of Europeans. The idea that the rise of fanatical elements within the Muslim world and flood of refugees surging through Europe’s porous borders might just have something to do with the economic impoverishment of Africa and the West’s abetting of brutal Middle Eastern despots presiding over confected states whose artificial boundaries were drawn up by the colonial offices of London and Paris, is not one that Murray will countenance. Hiding behind the drapery of his grandiloquence lies an unstated lament: once upon a time we could exploit them and they would have the common decency to just stay put and be content in their misery – or something like that.

His reading of history is as highly selective as it is spectacularly jaundiced. No matter how grave the crime, it was “no worse than what others did” and besides it’s all supposedly in the past so people should just get over it.

“The conquering of one group by another and the ill-treatment of the losers by the victors is the story of most nations on earth.”

[Which presumably means he won’t complain too vociferously if his dystopian vision of Islamic takeover becomes a reality.] Whether it’s the Armenian deportation of 1915, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Palestinian mass expulsions of 1948 (surprisingly he admits they occurred – sort of) or even the creation of Pakistan the year before – the common thread is that the Muslims have been guilty of everything we are accused of but due to the credulity of the Western public (and the pusillanimity of our leaders) only we have to bear the odium of our past misdeeds. As if to illustrate the point he serves up a rather humorous anecdote about the late Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat and a nameless journalist sharing in a moment of mirth, laughing together at the antics of a rather silly delegation of Americans touring the Middle East apologising for the Crusades. Apocryphal or not, the anecdote epitomises Murray’s thinking on the issue of Western guilt for historic wrongdoings – misplaced, unnecessary as well as potentially dangerous.

Rather less humorous is the re-writing of swingeing colonial injustices. So, while the Turkish treatment of the Armenians qualifies as an indisputable genocide the British decimation of the Australian aboriginals was merely a “big historical mistake”. The dual standards Murray employs for evaluating actions against “his own” versus those targeting “the other” are very much in evidence here. Having earlier complained of the vindictive nature of British mainstream journalists and politicians’ dismissal of white working class concerns, he in turn proceeds to dismiss, in the most obtuse manner, one of European colonialism’s most cruel excesses – the abduction of tens of thousands of aboriginal children from their families.

“…some inflation of the truth is bound to occur along the way. And so in Australia the policies of missionaries and officials in removing some Aboriginal children from their parents (the ‘stolen generation’) has even been promoted to a ‘genocide’.”

That the ‘some’ was – according to a national inquiry into the episode – between one in three and one in ten children seems not to unduly concern Murray nor indeed does the fact that as a result of the European colonisation of their historic homeland the aboriginal population of Australia was diminished by anywhere from between 80 to 95 per cent. If you consider the Jewish holocaust of the 1940s resulted in the loss of around 35 per cent of European Jewry you get an idea of just how fulsome and ill-considered (and frankly racist) such a statement is. As an aside it did make me wonder how favourably the author would look upon a proposal to downgrade the Holocaust from genocide to “big historical mistake”.

As if to compound the insult there follows a short broadside at the ‘noble savage myth’: that the pre-colonial native existence was something akin to the Rousseauian ideal, untainted by the corruption of civilisation and characterised by a moral elevation surpassing that of the people whose baleful contact it had not requested. Both Australia and the United States have succumbed to the pernicious effects of this absurd myth according to Murray, left wallowing in self-doubt unable to advance for fear that they have not yet rectified their foundational sins. The truth he asserts is that these nations (and I would venture a guess South Africa would once have also featured) are the most economically advanced in the world and therefore, despite any historic wrongdoings, the native populations are all the better off for European settlement and stewardship. Again, Europe – and its offspring even if on the other side of the globe – owe no debt to anyone. It is essentially a 21st century rendering of Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”.

Such historical examinations are – for both Hirsch and Murray – more than exercises in academic vanity. Although I will reserve a detailed examination of Hirsch’s Brit(ish) for the second part of this essay I feel the question of historical wrongdoing highlights well the simultaneous congruence and incongruence of the respective authors’ thinking. Both agree that such questions are of vital import and in need of resolution but for vastly different reasons.

But a country that believes it has only done wrong, or done such a terrible, unalleviated amount of wrong in the past, is likely to become a country that is inclined to doubt its ability to ever do any good in the future. It makes a country nervous about itself whatever the wisdom of its actions. Embedding the idea of original sin in a nation is the best possible way to breed self-doubt. National original sin suggests you can do little by way of good because you were rotten from the start.” [The Strange Death of Europe]

…our failure to acknowledge this past, the prejudices, problems and hypocrisy that have – as a result – become woven into the fabric of everyday British life everywhere…And this book is my attempt to, in my small way, acknowledge, name and articulate it so that, one day, we can move on.” [Brit(ish)]

And so the chapter entitled The Tyranny of Guilt meanders on in much the same tendentious vain. The US civil war was waged for the benefit of enslaved blacks and the election of Obama should have marked the end of decades of incessant whining by African-Americans (though here he specifically references the question of reparations it’s fairly apparent from the context and subsequent remarks on race that his scope is far wider than just that). The Ottoman Turks [i.e. Muslims] were just as vicious, as were the Mongols but you don’t see their descendants rushing to apologise for the errors of their forbears seems to be about the sum of it. An argument while not wholly without merit, does rather overlook that neither the modern-day Turks nor the Mongolians are engaged in invading or interfering (detrimentally) in the lives of peoples thousands of miles from their borders.

The net effect of this endless expostulation over historical transgressions has been an induced nervousness, a certain squeamishness if you will, in Europeans when it comes to asserting their strategic interests in an increasingly competitive global market place. Out of fear of being accused of neo-colonialism, Europe (notable exceptions being the UK [which faced massive domestic opposition] and Spain [which subsequently withdrew]) did not take part in the invasion of Iraq and has consistently refused to countenance an attack on Iran. Such foreign policy timidity is naturally at odds with the neoconservatism of the author; someone who was a vocal advocate of the invasion of Iraq and still refers to it as a “liberation” notwithstanding its premise long having been proven a flagrant falsehood and the hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths it resulted in. Again, the parallels with Victorian era colonial thinking are all too apparent.

Though perhaps venturing beyond the scope of this essay the rise of industrialisation and capitalism (both fruits of European socio-economic evolution) were in my opinion the factors that distinguished the European colonial experience from the historic civilisational clashes and invasions of previous epochs. So, for example, the brutal murder of ten million Congolese was not merely a case of one warring group overcoming and mistreating another. The duration, the prodigious scale, the systematic, methodical nature and that it was done in furtherance of a specific economic goal set it apart as a depredation unlike those of past conquests. On such questions (and examples) Murray is silent. He concludes by musing whether the pathology of guilt with which contemporary Europeans feel encumbered might eventually dissipate to be replaced by “who knows what?” True to form, Murray is ever long on articulations of “the problem” but short on answers.

Islam

Supposedly irrational, inherently violent, misogynistic, homophobic and worst of all, fastened to an infrangible belief in the literal inerrancy of its scriptures – Islam embodies the very worst fears of both liberals and neoconservatives. The former primarily due to its opposition to secularism and the toleration it engenders, the latter more as an ideological (and potentially political) opponent of neoliberalism and Western economic hegemony. It should come as no great surprise therefore that The Strange Death of Europe is glazed with the trenchant Islamophobia for which Murray shows exceptional form – he is the author of a 2013 book entitled “Islamophilia – a very metropolitan malady” published by the infamous critic of Islam, Melanie Phillips, as well as numerous anti-Islamic pieces in various publications (most notably The Spectator).

Having earlier excoriated the left for their disingenuousness apropos mass immigration and for the various artifices they’ve supposedly employed to recast it as a net socio-economic boon he goes on to present his own master class in deceit vis-à-vis Europe’s Muslim minorities. The language and tenor of his pronouncements on Islam and Muslims serenade the fears and prejudices of the far right for whom he exhibits a degree of sympathy, dedicating a few paragraphs to mitigating the criminality and thuggish nature of ex-EDL head, Tommy Robinson. It is hard to believe that Murray would ever have any truck with the such individuals or with the constituency they represent, the disaffected white working class, in the real world but in line with neoconservative principles of deceit and demagoguery for the greater good they represent a body mass ripe for harnessing and exploitation.

Approvingly quoting Viktor Orban, the nationalist Prime Minister of Hungary – who isn’t averse to the odd anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in his spare time – he lays out what is at stake:

“But those who have come here with the intention of changing our country, shaping our nation in their own image, those who have come with violence and against our will have always been met with resistance.”

Which, of course is another play on the age old “The Turks are invading” call to arms – except this time the conquest is supposedly being played out to the thud of the immigration officer’s stamp rather than to the clashing of swords or the thunderous crash of cannonballs.

In Murray’s alternate reality ‘Islamophobia’ is a chimera, a neologism concocted by ‘anti-racists’ (both pairs of quote marks reproduced as found in the book) and most murders of Muslims are by other Muslims. Only Muslim men rioted during the racial disturbances of 2001 – presumably the shaven headed white men throwing bricks and bottles were merely practising for assorted Olympic events – and only areas with high concentrations of Muslims (as opposed to Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Jamaicans etc.) warrant the appellation “enclave”. Shariah based arbitration panels (to whose adjudication appellants voluntarily submit) undermine the “absolute bases of Western civilisation” – a charge he neglects to level at their Beth Din counterparts. Pub and church closures in areas with high concentrations of Muslims provides the surest evidence of the futility of multiculturalism. One particularly jarring sentence (admittedly quoting a German banker) even manages to amalgamate upper-class hauteur with Muslim hatred, regurgitating an old canard about proletariat over breeding and its supposed threat to economic stability. In a similar spirit of vicarious anti-Muslim demagoguery, he gives over several pages to the bilious expectorations of the late Oriana Fallaci. Upbraiding others for their (alleged) cowardly inability to articulate “the truth”, however unpalatable it may be, whilst hiding behind the words of deceased journalists to vocalise your own inner hatreds might strike some as supremely hypocritical.

Hypocrisy, though, is never far from the surface when it comes to Islam and Murray. Though the Jyllands-Posten cartoons may have elicited a uniquely robust response the nature of the controversy was by no means unique to the Muslim community. Outrage over and censorship of, provocative art and imagery is not an Islamic idiosyncrasy and Murray conveniently ignores the numerous instances in Europe that bore no connection to the faith. Amongst the many he might have cited, and one approximately coeval with the Danish cartoons controversy, was the banning in both France and Italy of an advertising poster based upon an irreverent reworking of Da Vinci’s celebrated Last Supper fresco. The French judge which granted the Catholic Church’s injunction ruled it “a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs”. Perhaps then, when considering the publication of invidious imagery of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the editor of Jyllands-Posten should not have been so “startled that such a taboo should exist in a free society”? Along with the Satanic Verses affair which preceded it and the Charlie Hebdo massacre almost a decade later Murray casts Muslim ire at the wanton abuse of their most hallowed figures as not only evidence of their unassimilable nature but more worryingly as indicative of their growing assertiveness in the political arena, helped along by the supine acquiescence of native populations and their leaders: “Other political and cultural figures lined up to attack the ‘provocation’ and lack of respect shown by the paper…”

Yet back in 2010 Murray himself spoke of the need, in a functioning society, to show respect for other’s sensitivities and avoid provocations. He was at the time referring to the desire of some Muslims to construct a mosque (or cultural centre) in the vicinity of the site of the 9/11 attacks or ‘Ground Zero’ as it’s more commonly referred to. Such duplicity is far from a one-off and constitutes something of a modus operandi for Murray. Respect is a one-directional operation in his calculus – whether it’s coloniser versus colonised, superpower versus third-world states, or the majority versus the minority the flow must always be from the weaker party to the stronger.

In much the same vein the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in Western Europe, whilst likely bearing some correlation to the burgeoning Muslim population and its staunch identification with the Palestinian cause, constitute another classic case of Murray misdirection. Anti-Semitism has traditionally been a European preserve, inspired in part by Church teachings on the crucifixion and in part by an establishment need to maintain a scapegoat in times of economic woe. It is within living memory that Europe set about annihilating its Jewish minority and age old anti-Semitic libels and tropes certainly did not disappear with the defeat of the Nazis. Yet when it comes to anti-Semitism it is for Murray a simple equation: more Muslims equals more anti-Semitism. Having pointed out that Eastern Europe, due to its relative ethnic homogeneity and absence of any significant Muslim minority, lacks many of the societal tensions of its Western counterpart, one wonders as to how he would explain a recent Pew survey which revealed anti-Semitic attitudes at far higher levels in the former than in the latter.

It’s clear that Murray views Muslim-Jewish frictions – most obviously manifested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – as some sort of microcosm of a wider conflict between The West and Islam. In such a conception Israel represents a beleaguered Western outlier whose fall would precipitate a disastrous tectonic shift in the power balance between the two. His philo-Semitism ought to be viewed then through this prism – the Jews as a constituency broadly supportive of Israel, warrant support only in as much as this serves the West’s strategic interests. Jewish orthodoxy’s advocation of Halakhaic law and it’s rather unbenign views on matters such as homosexual relationships, gender segregation and female emancipation are therefore overlooked for the greater good, as is the latent anti-Semitism of some of those about whom he speaks with approbation, such as incumbent Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban. His passing observation that Muslims will outnumber Jews in the US by 2050 reflective not of any genuine concern for the domestic welfare of the latter but rather of the growing power of the former in a democracy to influence the course of that nation’s foreign policy – to the detriment of Israel and consequently, in his estimation, of the West. It is a concern that he harbours about Britain also (see below).

Clearly no fan of multiculturalism – he dedicates a chapter to its deconstruction – he correctly observes that whereas previously minorities were identified primarily by race, today this stands replaced by religious affiliation, or to be precise, Islam. The growing number of black, mixed-race, Hindu and Sikh supporters of far-right parties and organisations is certainly suggestive of this. Though he speaks approvingly of the reformist Muslim movement and its leading proponents such as Ayan Hirsi and Maajid Nawaz he nevertheless acknowledges the unlikelihood of it bearing fruit in the foreseeable future. In short, his prognosis when it comes to assimilation is not a positive one and there are repeated warnings that at some point something will have to give, likely with disastrous consequences.

To similarly unpick every other fault in Murray’s analysis of Muslim communal frictions with European liberal values would render this essay a book in itself; it will suffice to say that his evidence is carefully curated and invariably stands devoid of any explanatory context.

At this point it might be tempting to simply draw a line and dismiss his entire thesis as hopelessly flawed but to do so would be to deny it justice. And though his motives may be suspect and his arguments (deliberately) lacking in nuance and context there is nonetheless the lingering feeling that he is after all on to something. That Islam (manifested by the presence of millions of its adherents) does present a unique challenge to the established order of things (i.e. Western hegemony) is a contention that has been steadily gaining purchase across the socio-political spectrum. The growing dissonance between the traditional Islamic mores and values that European Muslims seem intent on maintaining and the liberal ideals of wider society will inevitably increase tensions between the two groups. To those familiar with Murray’s political ideology one senses, however, that as unwelcome as this may be, it is not Murray’s primary concern. Whether some gay men (as he is himself) suffer occasional jibes whilst treading the streets of Whitechapel is not his chief concern. Which naturally poses the question, what is? In a moment of uncharacteristic candour Murray lets slip what really lies at the heart of his worries:

“In 2014 a leaked report from Britain’s Ministry of Defence revealed that military planners believed ‘an increasingly multi-cultural Britain’ and ‘increasingly diverse nation’ meant that British military intervention in foreign countries was becoming impossible. The government would gain less and less public support for British troops being deployed in countries ‘from which UK citizens, or their families, come’.”

Pointing out that young Muslims speak the same language, utilising the same idioms and vernacular, and partake in many of the same activities as their non-Muslim counterparts, Murray deems a sop doled out by an establishment looking to pacify growing indigenous discontent. What is salient, in his estimation, is that they regard themselves as Muslims first and British second (or not at all) not that they might have a penchant for fish and chips or an unfathomable interest in X-factor.

Ultimately then, it’s about power – the ability to exercise and project it. In his writings, Leo Strauss, founder of the political philosophy we know today as neoconservatism, lays out his belief in the natural right of the superior to rule over the inferior; it is a proposition that Murray has clearly taken to heart and The Strange Death of Europe is in many respects an ode to the pernicious legacy of his ideological godfather.

Christianity and the loss of identity

Scattered across the course of several appropriately named later chapters – Tiredness, The Feeling The Story Has Run Out, and What Might Have Been – lie Murray’s fascinating insights on the philosophical rot he believes responsible for the atrophy of European power and prestige. To the uninitiated it may come as something of a surprise that as an atheist and someone from a sexual minority group historically suppressed by the Church he locates the origins of this decline in the Biblical textual criticism movement of the nineteenth century. A unifying – notwithstanding a certain amount of Catholic-Protestant theological wrangling – text that had for centuries served as the mainspring of European advancement and its philosophical bedrock, whose historicity and divine authority had hitherto been unquestionable (at least in public) was in the space of a single lifetime reduced to a mere relic of literary excellence on par with the works of Homer or Shakespeare. To this he adds Darwin’s 1859 treatise, On the Origin of Species. Between the two he credits these wrecking balls with wreaking such devastation upon the edifice of European Christianity such as from which it never recovered. The wings of divine afflatus having melted away, Europe fell from the skies like the legendary Icarus of its ancient mythology. Europe would never be the same again.

Religious dogma is not Murray’s concern, however and unlike those prelates fretting over the diminution of their flocks, his concerns are decidedly more sublunary. In line with neoconservatism’s Machiavellian principles he recognises religion qua cultural identity for the supremely powerful force that it is. For in by gone centuries, Christianity provided the unifying thread that bound a fissiparous Europe to a common narrative and value system, serving to sustain it in the face of external aggression and inspiring in its peoples a sense of confidence and assertiveness. A people bereft of a Weltanschauung are like the sheep who have overthrown their shepherd – any benefits from the freedom they gain thereof prove all too transient as soon as the first wolf comes calling.

“For centuries in Europe one of the great – if not the greatest – sources of such energy came from the spirit of the continent’s religion. It drove people to war and stirred them to defence.”

Its departure inevitably gave rise to a vacuum, filled for a duration by a liberal fudge which might have sufficed had European nations remained ethnically homogenous, but which proved signally unsuited to the demands of the multi-racial state. Add to the mix the presence of millions of interlopers who unlike those who received them were not the votaries of any kind of relativism but rather of fixed, immutable values with firm societal prescriptions (and proscriptions), and who were not shy of demanding of their hosts the relevant concessions.

“Just one of the problems with absolutes and the pursuit of them is what happens when they crash. Unlike the fudge of liberalism – which allows everybody to plausibly blame anything – an absolute when it crashes, leaves everything in the wreckage…”

The wreckage of the post-religious crash is strewn all around us, according to Murray but nowhere is it more evident and its pathos more appreciable than in the art galleries of present day Western capitals. Art is after all a visual shibboleth for a civilisation; a reification of the philosophy that inspired it. The arresting brilliance of the Sistine Chapel and the frescos that illuminate it stand proud testament to the glorious efflorescence of European creativity. By contrast the insipid nihilism of postmodernist art offers a window into a moribund civilisation in its last gasps. In cultural relativism and its embrace by Western Europe, he identifies the malignant cancer responsible for this downturn in affairs. Now there are no absolutes and no particular set of values must be permitted to claim supremacy over any others. Under the effects of this fatal poison, Europe has slunk from its historic position as standard bearer of enlightenment values and socio-economic progress. Unwilling anymore to impose its (superior) way of life over others (for their own betterment, naturally) it now throws open the gates of its once fortified redoubts to these same others, placing their primitiveness on equal footing in the process.

For all its elegance the thesis presents a conundrum. Liberalism arose out of the secularism of the post-Enlightenment and though the process spanned across three centuries its inexorable endpoint was the relativism they so vehemently declaim against. In other words, the Enlightenment and the civilisation that it birthed was born destined to fail – once God was removed from the equation and reason supplanted the Bible as the societal cynosure it was merely a matter of time. Perhaps then we are not at the end of history and European liberal democracy does not represent the pinnacle of political progress after all.

“What Strauss identified, and what he has hardly been thanked for identifying, is that liberal democracy carries within it certain seeds of its own destruction, and that foremost among the seeds are those of relativism.”[Neoconservatism Why We Need It]

In a twist of irony worthy of Sophoclean tragedy, relativism turned out as much an absolute as the biblical Christian tradition it had replaced except unlike the latter it weighed its anchor in the turbid depths of self-deprecation and self-doubt. How one preserves liberalism without resorting to illiberalism is a question to which nobody has yet supplied a satisfactory answer but Murray in other writings and interviews makes plain that moral scruples over human rights (a term he uses with obvious disdain) do not constrain his prescriptions for how to preserve Western primacy. And if they violate the categorial imperative then so be it – the West is exceptional.

“If the culture that shaped Western Europe has no part in its future, then there are other cultures and traditions that will surely step in to take its place.”

Dotted in several places lie half-hearted appeals for some form of rapprochement with the Church – a call for the re-adoption of Christianity as a badge of European identity; an identity he hopes capable of instilling the necessary moral fibre to resist the onslaught of rival civilisations. For when you cut through the plentiful thickets of demagoguery, a vying between civilisations for supremacy is the metanarrative you uncover. Murray’s proposal for a Christianity redux might carry sway in certain intellectual circles and some in the far right might embrace it with alacrity but is unlikely to ever gain mass adoption. Europe simply has no use for Christianity anymore; in any form. Soaring rates of atheism and church closures bear more than ample witness to this.

Though not many would dispute that traditional Christianity and its moral prescriptions have had their day, there is nonetheless a sense of foreboding in some quarters that something “worse” lurks ready to replace it. The untrammelled freedom from God and his strictures (“If God is dead everything is permissible” as Dostoevsky put it) which it took Europeans centuries to achieve are faced with the perceived threat of rollback by a Muslim juggernaut. On the penultimate page Murray captures the cognitive dissonance felt by so many Europeans intent on maintain liberalism and cultural relativism whilst also fretting over some of the possibilities it opens up:

“Europeans are left in the position of not believing sufficiently in their own story and being distrustful of their past whilst knowing that there are other stories moving in that they do not want. Everywhere a felling is growing of all options being closed off.”

As scathing as his denunciation of the prevailing hedonism is, it is tinged with a certain weariness, as if he realises the game is up and that like Canute his is an exercise in futility. Unlike the votaries of Islam he despises so intensely, those whose sole pursuit in life is to lose themselves with ever increasing frequency in the stupor of the wine bottle or the iridescence of the nightclub’s lights are unlikely to find in such voluptuary pursuits anything that would inspire them to lay down their lives in its furtherance and defence. The death knell for Old Europe has sounded and his extensive references to Houellebecq’s dystopian novel Submission carry more than a subtle undertone of resignation to them.

“Enjoyable as it might be while it lasts, it probably goes without saying that the life of a mere consumer lacks any real meaning and purpose. Instead, it reveals a gap in human experience that every society in history has attempted to address and which something else will try and fill if our own societies do not…A society that sells itself solely on its pleasures is one that can swiftly lose its attractions…A society that says we are defined exclusively by the bar and the nightclub, by self-indulgence and our sense of entitlement, cannot be said to have deep roots or much likelihood of survival.”

Having expended over three hundred pages fulminating against the supposed problems of mass immigration, identity attenuation and the rise of Islam, Murray concludes with an acknowledgement that there seems to be no answer to the “crisis” and a short, sharp warning of impending violence should the status quo be allowed to continue unchecked. Upon completing the final sentence you’re left with a gnawing sense of having been cheated, to have endured the rough edge of trenchant (rather obvious) polemic for so long without receiving so much as a valedictory ‘and here’s what to do about it’ by way of return.

Can Europe be the same with different people? It is a question others have asked before, notably the American journalist, Christopher Caldwell in his 2009 book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe which also analyses, and ventures many of the same opinions upon, mass immigration, Islam and European identity. The answer to such a question can only be an emphatic no. At least not within the liberal paradigm to which Europe has hitched its yoke. Europe has changed irreversibly and no amount of importuning its indigenous populations to eject immigrants and their descendants is likely to alter this. In any event despite the recent ascendancy of far-right parties and the inevitable rise in xenophobia that has accompanied it, there is no appetite amongst Europeans – Christian or otherwise – for the type of colonial revanchism favoured by neoconservatives.

Probably the most unfortunate reflection on The Strange Death of Europe is that many of the questions it raises are legitimate and worthy of serious, impartial examination. There is a book to be written on what is undoubtedly the greatest social experiment ever in human history, on the collision between liberal democracy and Islam, on the limits (if any) of relativism and on the collapse of European Christianity and the re-calibration of the moral compass that it necessitated. It’s just that Murray isn’t the man to do it. For all his urbane sophistication, his mild-mannered diction and delightful articulation there is simply no escaping that what you are reading is meticulously finessed agitprop; a highly parti pris reading of a complex situation masquerading as serious intellectual discourse. The world and the contours of power are shifting. Those lost in their reverie of a prelapsarian Europe will awaken to the realisation that the owl of Minerva has taken flight; what Europe will become remains to be seen but we should give thanks that it is unlikely to be anything resembling the Murryan utopia.

May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon sayyidina Muhammad. Ameen.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Very interesting. Please get in touch

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