Down the many centuries, Muslims have seen themselves inhabiting the Dar al-Islam, and in this exclusive House of Islam they are to have their way in all matters great and small. Conquest delivered into their hands the unbelievers of many lands, and these were offered terms: death for the recalcitrant, and for the rest either conversion to Islam, or the status of dhimmi, that is to say, they were deprived of the rights of Muslims and subjected to special taxation, inferiority in law courts, restrictions on worship, residence and dress, and other social disadvantages.
Persians, Berbers, and Kurds were among those choosing to convert, so that today they are almost entirely Muslim while still retaining their national and cultural identity. Jews and Christian communities, such as the Chaldeans in Iraq or the Copts in Egypt, became dhimmis. Meanwhile, unbelievers in unconquered countries were said to be living in the Dar al-Harb, the House of War, a phrase indicating that one day they too would be obliged by force of arms to choose between death, conversion, and dhimmitude.
This mind-set—and the cultural assumptions that stem from it—goes a long way towards explaining the phenomenon of the loss of creative energy, of scholarship and inquiry, which afflicted the whole House of Islam, inducing an unrealistic self-perception that could only generate stagnation. A few rare Muslims journeyed to the West, mostly as seamen and pirates, or sometimes as envoys. One such was a Muslim visitor to Europe in the 1790s, who investigated the reasons why the West seemed to be thriving, and so endangering the House of Islam. Taken to a session of the Westminster Parliament, this visitor, otherwise an inquisitive man, reported that these were people so benighted that they did not possess a divine law, but were therefore obliged to make their own laws. The upshot of innumerable but unequal encounters such as this was that the House of War conquered and occupied most of the House of Islam.
Granted Muslim history, the fact of conquest was in the nature of things; it was what the strong do to the weak. As the words “sepoy” and “askari,” “zouave” and “spahi” testify, Muslims saw no impediment to volunteering for the British and French armies, and fighting bravely, and in huge numbers in colonial as well as international wars.
Gradually Muslims came to learn about their new rulers, the British, the French, the Dutch, and to travel in their countries, to receive a Western education, and in exceptional cases mostly involving the rich or the rebellious, to settle there. The imperial powers accepted that their Muslim subjects would one day acquire independence, but there were all manner of debates about the ultimate nature of that independence. Napoleon III elaborated an imperial concept of France as “une puissance musulmane”—a Muslim power—signifying the intention to ensure the country’s standing as a great power by incorporating the Arab world into it. In 1896, a mosque was built in Britain, in the town of Woking, the first ever in the Christian House of War. In 1926, the French opened the Great Mosque in Paris, the first in France, as an expression of gratitude for the Muslim effort in helping to win World War I, and a concrete step towards becoming “une puissance musulmane.”
World War II altered the relationship between the House of Islam and the House of War out of all recognition. Nationalists in Muslim countries first of all expected that Nazi Germany would win that war, and to the best of their ability reproduced its ideology and practices. The onset of the Cold War, and the apparent strength of the Soviet Union, provided another totalitarian model to imitate. Military officers or strongmen had perceived that the mainsprings of the former European empires had been broken beyond repair, and they themselves could now take power on a wave of popularity inspired by nationalism and the single-party politics of the police state. Disappointment, economic failure, iniquity, and injustice greater than anything previously experienced quickly set in.
Coincidental with this push there was a pull. In the 1950s and 1960s, the countries of Western Europe were inviting workers in to fill labor shortages. Accordingly, Pakistanis and Bengalis began to arrive in Britain; Algerians in France; Moroccans in Spain; Libyans in Italy; Turks in Germany. Immigrants such as these hoped to better themselves, to enjoy a prosperity and stability unobtainable at home. No migration from without had occurred on this scale since the long ago time before Europe had constructed its system of nation states, when following the collapse of the Roman empire the continent was something of a free-for-all.
Almost nobody paused to question what the social and political consequences of this mass movement might be. To do so risked incurring accusations of prejudice and racism. Immigration took place without serious debate in a continent on the one hand focusing narrowly on material prosperity, and on the other wracked with guilt and self-doubt.
Numbers are all open to revision, what with illegal entry through the porous borders of Europe and the uncertainty of census statistics, but today there appear to be at least twenty million Muslims living in Europe—somewhere between four and seven million in France, three million in Germany, approaching two million in Britain, a million apiece in Holland and Italy, at least half a million apiece in Austria and Spain. Until recently unknown anywhere in Scandinavia, Muslims have settled on a comparable scale in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
As they arrived, these people formed communities in the capitals and great cities of Europe, Cologne, Lyon, Marseilles, Milan, and so on. Naturally enough, they soon began to organize. Every country now has its overall body or council to represent to the authorities what it considers Muslim interests, and all over the continent there are thousands of Muslim voluntary associations of one kind or another—many hundreds in Britain alone. In addition, there are something like 1,500 mosques in Britain, and two or three times that number in France and Germany. Muslims have long since been elected everywhere to local and national governing bodies. Within their communities, all sorts of movements imported from their countries of origin jostle for support, for instance the Jama’at at-Tabligh and the Deobandis, who are Sufis from India and largely non-political, and Hizb ut-Tahrir and other Islamist groups that are militantly political and even terrorist. Indigenous Europeans, in short, in a few compressed years have had to confront in their midst people speaking among themselves Bengali, Urdu, Seraike, Pushtu, Gujerati, Turkish, and many other languages, further set apart by clothing, food, and cultural and social habits, and finally by faith as asserted through the mosques so visible in the landscape and so different in architecture to their settings.
The initial reaction to these newcomers in Europe was to welcome them. Diversity was the buzz word, diversity entailed the absence of racism, diversity would allow everyone to go their way free and untrammelled. Out of this aspiration burgeoned the multiculturalism of the 1970s and 1980s. Its history remains to be written, but multiculturalism was evidently something of a political goal, something of a philosophy, and something of a pious hope that everything would turn out well—as Voltaire’s Candide puts it, in the best of all possible worlds.
The choice facing Muslims settling in Europe was between integration with their hosts, or separatism; between accepting the new nationality of their choice or establishing themselves apart in countries which had recently colonized them—a reverse col- onization, in short. The former necessitated learning the host language, appreciating the history and cultural values of the country and duly subscribing to them, accepting its code of law, its traditions and customs, and living as other citizens within it, distinguished from them only by their faith—as Spanish Muslims, French Muslims, Dutch Muslims, and the rest. In general terms, the first generation of immigrants seemed to be willing and able to integrate, or at least to assimilate—to make a subtle, perhaps too subtle, distinction of degree. The tabloid press could arouse shock with reports of arranged marriages of underage girls, or the murder of women deemed to have dishonored the family by falling in love or even just associating with a man of their choice, but it was possible to attribute such things to diversity, and assume they would vanish with the integration to come.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power in 1979 has shattered this live-and-let-live atmosphere. In his manner, he was confirming that there are a billion Muslims in the world, they have only to make themselves felt as such, and power will then accrue to them, concluding in rightful God-given conquest. More than a challenge, here was an updating of the ancient division of the world into the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb. What he preached and exemplified has spread rapidly through one Muslim country after another, activating those who agreed with his dogmatic vision, as well as challenging those with alternative political, secular, or nationalist definitions of their societies. In response to Khomeini, the struggle for self-definition within the Dar al-Islam has left behind it a huge trail of sectarian and communal horrors in Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Palestine, and elsewhere.
This wave of violence finally engulfed Muslims who found themselves in the House of War. Their position became uncomfortable as all manner of crises were manipulated to promote separatism at the expense of integration. Completely artificial in substance, the Salman Rushdie affair soon demonstrated how deeply Iranian foreign policy now reached into the West. Also motivated by Iran, another example was the foundation by Dr. Salim Saddiqi of a Muslim parliament in Britain, with the avowed purpose of making Muslims responsible to it, and not to the elected national parliament. Some have had the craft to cloak the demand for separatism as a plea for tolerance. Tariq Ramadan, for one, grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and a professor safe in Switzerland, argues that Muslims must enjoy all the rights of democracies in order to live among unbelievers as uncompromising Muslims—in other words Muslims are to receive everything and give nothing in return. Other separatists are openly imperialist. In Antwerp, Dyab Abu Jahjah, originally from Lebanon, heads a group whose aim is a transnational unity of all Muslims in Europe, the planting, that is, of the House of Islam on the soil of the House of War.
Through the 1990s, Islamist groups assiduously worked towards armed militancy, whether in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, or Palestine, while also building cells and means of finance in preparation for operational openings in the House of War. 9/11 was their victory in two respects; it wreaked spectacular damage to targets representing American and Western power and prestige, and it marked the bankruptcy of multiculturalism. Here were Muslims prepared to kill themselves and any number of others rather than assimilate on any terms whatsoever. It was a warning to Muslims everywhere, but especially in the West, that the right reaction to the freedom and tolerance proffered to them was not assimilation, not even separatism, but pure Khomeinist enmity and hate.
Suicide bombings in numerous places, in Bali, in Madrid, in London, the beheading openly in an Amsterdam street of the film-maker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim of Moroccan origins but born in Holland, as well as many other acts of terrorism thwarted by police forces across the continent, all have the effect of putting Muslims in Europe on the spot. Is their primary loyalty directed to the societies in which they have chosen to live, or to their faith as the Islamists demand? In this dilemma, the grandchildren of the earliest immigrants prove alienated and marginalized to a degree that multiculturalists in their naiveté had never suspected. A poll in Britain in July 2005 showed that 6 percent of British Muslims (that is a six-figure number) think the London suicide bombings were justified, and another 24 percent sympathize with them. Sixteen percent of British Muslims feel no loyalty towards Britain, and a startling 32 percent think Western society as a whole is decadent and immoral, and should be brought to an end. An Italian Muslim journalist, Magdi Allam, asked a question specific to Italy, but applicable to every country, “How long will Italy continue to tolerate the presence of those who consider themselves a distinct and potentially antagonistic body?”
In contrast, the general run of the Left, in the company of spokesmen for the numerous Muslim organizations, have hurried forward to displace any blame away from the perpetrators of terror, and on to other people. A slew of do-gooders reluctant to jettison multiculturalism likes to assert that Western society has made Islamists and terrorists what they are, by excluding them and in general showing inadequate regard to their rights. The President of the Italian Senate summed up this attitude when he said sarcastically that the West today seems to be “a land of penitents beating their breasts whenever someone strikes them.” Islamists easily internalize such appeasement, as was illustrated perfectly when a British-born terrorist who had failed to explode the bomb strapped to him in the London subway was later cornered in his bolt-hole by the police and obliged to strip to the waist to prove himself disarmed, whereupon he came out with his hands up, shouting, “I have rights.”
Leftists during the Cold War created a climate of opinion favorable to Communism, repeating and no doubt believing that virtue and peace and progress were properties of the Soviet Union, and vice and war and injustice the properties of the West. The same type of person, and sometimes the very same people, older but not wiser, re-engineer this same phenomenon to fit Islamism. Anyone who undertakes serious analysis of Muslim disaffection is held guilty of Islamophobia, a hybrid word that can only be a euphemism for racism, since indifference to all religion and a cheerful ignorance of Islam have long been characteristic of the West. Islamist fellow-traveling springs from a very contemporary cocktail of emotions, irrationalities, and fear: from the potential accusation of Islamophobia; from anti-Americanism; from self-hatred; from deep-seated compulsion to salvage something from the break-up of multiculturalism; and finally from some fluid sense that if extremist Muslims mean what they say, it is only a cost-free insurance policy to side with them. In the aftermath of 9/11, according to one report, there were 30,000 converts to Islam in the Netherlands, while the Figaro said that there were 50,000 converts in France. Converts from the United States, Australia, France, Britain, and Germany have volunteered to fight as Islamists in Afghanistan and Iraq, some of them being killed in the process.
In this phenomenon, apologists pretend that there is no connection between Islam and those who practice terror in its name, as though terror were incidental, a passing aberration; they also say that measures of self-defense are nothing but “state terrorism”—as bad as Islamist terror, or worse. Day after day, in one detail after another, European authorities and decision-makers, some of them at a high level and others local, degrade the values and practices of their societies by currying favour with Islam in politics, the media, cultural, and behavioral issues, and even the law—a British judge prohibited Hindus and Jews from sitting on the jury in the trial of a Muslim. Robin Cook, at the time British foreign secretary, told a Muslim audience, “Islam laid the intellectual foundations for large portions of Western civilization,” when in simple fact Muslim scholars were part of a chain transmitting knowledge from classical Greece and Rome, from Persia, and from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
At the memorial service for a British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in St. Margaret’s Westminster, perhaps the most select of London churches, the Saudi ambassador read from what The Times Social Register called “The Holy Qur’an and from the sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.” Muhammad is now among the twenty most popular names in Britain. The mayor of London, a critic of the Iraqi campaign and a notorious Jew-baiter to boot, shared a platform with Sheikh Qaradawi, and praised him as a great Muslim scholar, although Qaradawi is wanted for murder in his native Egypt, calls for the assassination of homosexuals, and is on record as describing suicide bombings as “heroic operations of martyrdom.” The British bishops have gathered to pontificate that “Democracy as we have it in the West at the moment is deeply flawed and its serious shortcomings need to be addressed.” Their recommendation is “a public act of repentance” made to senior figures from the Muslim community. In medieval Spain, King Ferdinand III fought the Moors for twenty-seven years, and recently the municipality of Seville removed him as the patron saint of their fiesta, for fear of offending Muslims—at the moment when Osama bin Laden was speaking on a video released to al-Jazeera television of his intention to liberate Andalusia, to give Moorish Spain its Muslim name. An imam in Spain published a book on how a man may beat his wife without leaving marks on her body: “The blows should be concentrated on the hands and feet using a rod that is thin and light.” He was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for this, but a judge released him after twenty-two days on condition that he study three articles in the constitution and the universal declaration of human rights.
In Italy, Islamists have threatened to destroy the cathedral of Bologna because a fifteenth-century fresco on its wall depicts the Prophet Muhammad in the circle of Hell where Dante relegated him. The German state of Saxony-Anhalt has become the first European body to issue a sukuk, or Islamic bond. In several countries, crucifixes have been removed from schools or hospitals to spare Muslims the sight of them. Double standards are in play: Saudi Arabia can finance the costs of as many mosques as its pleases in the West, yet no Christian church is allowed to be built there; Christian worship, even possession of the Bible, is illegal, and recently some Pakistani Christians were publicly beheaded for it.
Integration is not yet a lost cause, but putting it into place requires determined political will. In France, dire consequences were predicted in the event that a law in defense of the state’s secularism was passed forbidding Muslim girls from wearing the hijab or head-scarf in school. After fifteen years of anxious debate, the law passed, and none of the predicted violence materialized. Imams preaching jihad have been expelled from France, Italy, and Spain. The murder of Theo van Gogh shocked the Dutch into deporting thousands of illegal immigrants.
Throughout the decades of Muslim immigration into Europe, the political elite of the continent has been engaged in the experiment of centralization and federation that has led to the European Union. Historic nation-states are to become an empire; Europeans are to acquire a new collective identity replacing their ancient individual nationalities, calling into question all the moral, legal, and cultural features of their heritage.
The politicians who recently tried—and failed—to impose a constitution for this European Union could not decide whether to acknowledge Europe’s Christian character, and if so, whether with real commitment or mere parade. Turkey has long been applying for admission to the European Union on the grounds that it defines itself as a westernized state, but much European public opinion tends to visualize the admission of so large and populous a Muslim country as the building block that will make an Islamic Europe irrevocable.
Just as Muslims in Europe are in the process of deciding between integration and separatism, so Europeans have to decide whether or not their historic identities fashioned their independence and if so, whether it is wise to abandon them. One whole range of pessimists thinks that the outcome of these different clashes of identity will be ethnic and inter-communal violence. Another whole range of pessimists believe that Europeans have lost confidence in their heritage. Too decadent to defend themselves, they will simply prefer to let the Islamists take over until, in the words of one of them, the Islamic flag floats over Downing Street, the British Prime Minister’s office. Muslims would neatly and ironically have reversed the meaning of the old French notion of “une puissance musulmane”—their reverse colonization resulting in the new entity of Eurabia. The historian Bat Ye’or used this coinage as the title of a book whose thesis is that Europeans, out of blindness or degeneracy, are preparing for dhimmitude, the surrender and abasement awaiting non-Muslims in the House of Islam. For the moment, the relationship between the House of Islam and the House of War hangs in the balance, depending on imponderables such as what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether Islamists manage to recruit the rank and file, and what the Khomeinist ayatollahs really intend with their nuclear program. Optimists who think that we are bound to muddle through the way we somehow always have, and still come out on top and smiling, are few and far between.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 24 Number 6, on page 4
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