Book Review: Breeding Betrayal (1)

As I've done with former books I've read and reviewed, I will review two more books together: Breeding Bin Ladens: America, Islam, and the Future of Europe by Zachary Shore and Generous Betrayal: Politics of Culture in the New Europe by Unni Wikan.

Both books suggest how European countries can deal with (Muslim) immigrants, though they do approach the topic from different directions. Wikan's book is an anthropological study, while Shore's book is a more popular look at current events. I will therefore split up this review, giving each book its own focus, but referring to both in the overall review.

I'll start with Breeding Bin Ladens. Shore does a good job of reviewing the problems facing Muslims in Europe today and he puts his finger on the major problem: ambivalence towards America and the West. This ambivalence, if not dealt with, can lead the moderates, the "2nd circle", to hate, extremism and violence.

However, I found the book confusing and did not always follow how Shore got to his conclusions. For example, taking the issue of hijab Shore brings the different aspects of the argument, and mentions that the hijab ban was accepted in France also because Muslim parents requested such a ban. The ban was therefore meant to protect girls from immense peer-pressure to wear the hijab and protect school principals from taking on the responsibility (and danger) of making a decision to ban it. But what's his conclusion? That the hijab should be accepted as a cultural symbol, just as it is in America, while at the same time authorities should crack down on Islamists who compel it. But how do you fight peer-pressure?

The following quote from the book gives an or-or proposition. Either Europe adapts to what Muslims expect, or they will distance themselves from society.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Europe's Muslims, and Muslims around the world, do not wish to blow themselves up or harm anyone else just because they feel ambivalent about mainstream European values. What they want instead is to change those perceived values to favor their interpretation of greater social justice - mainly for workers, women, migrants ,and the poor. when they cannot change the mainstream society, they are separating themselves from it in small, but significant ways.

However, Shore never deals with the problem that this poses and he offers no solution. Living in the west means accepting that you might not be able to convince others of your values. If this is the source of Muslim's ambivalence towards the West, then Shore, maybe without meaning to, is bringing up a problem that cannot be solved.

With a growing group of 'outsiders', Shore brings an apocalyptic vision of the collapse of social democracy in Europe - with Europeans refusing to pay taxes which go to support the "other". However he also says that with an aging and diminishing population, European society won't be able to uphold its standard of living for long anyway.

Shore's suggestions are tauted as "controversial", but they don't seem too extreme to me. Some I think are quite basic, such as giving immigrant children special support in kindergarten in order to make sure they start off school on the right foot.

Others I would agree if it were done with a different focus. For example, Shore suggests setting up on advisory committee to the US president to follow up on the historical context of events in Muslim countries. I think it is much more important to follow up on the current context. Most people in the West don't care what happens in Pakistan, which is why when something does happen (Islamists get more power), they look around for the most convenient reason to blame it on.

Some I simply didn't understand, such as sending American students to universities in Muslim countries. How would Shore make sure those are not Muslims receiving radical Islamic studies? Another suggestion is to show the Muslim world that the West is dependent on it, by accepting help when offered. However, given the repeated calls to boycott, I doubt Muslims really believe the West is not dependent on them.

A few specific issues I've had with this book:

- According to Shore, Muslims feel like outsiders partially because they are an economic and social underclass. However, a point stressed in Wikan's book, he completely ignores the fact that immigrants today still have contacts with their "home" countries and they often own houses and property there. It is therefore wrong to look at immigrants only in their European context.

Studies of immigration show that part of the reason people continue to immigrate is that the immigrants themselves do their best to show they've "succeeded" by building ostentatious houses in their 'homelands' and coming on trips with flashy cars that are in some case bought specially for the trip. The fact that they live in terrible conditions in cramped apartments in Europe is not as important for them and is often a shock for those who follow in their footsteps.

- Building up the theory that European Muslims who feel they're not part of society because they are unrepresented in politics, Shore compares French Muslims to their German counterparts. German citizenship laws have been very strict until just recently and most German Muslims are therefore not citizens. Shore brings statistics showing that very low numbers of immigrants from the Maghreb in France have taken the opportunity to get French citizenship. However, he does not mention at all that their children have automatic citizenship and he later does bring the statistic that 50% of French Muslims are citizens. Are elections in France limited only to citizens? Do French Muslim citizens use their right to vote? Shore does not relate to these questions at all.

- Shore speaks of 4th generation Muslims, but he ignores the fact that many of them have (at least) one immigrant parent who does not speak the local language and was not brought up in the West, thereby blurring the distinction between 2nd generation, 3rd generation and 4th generation immigrants.

- The main cause for ambivalence towards the West, though, is that Muslims see European or Western cultural values as decadent. However, though the Islamist propaganda says wanton consumerism and seeing women as sexual objects are western "values" they really are a lack of direction at best, and immorality at worst. though it is easy to forget when starting to discuss rights to gay marriage and abhorrent artwork, Western values are liberalism and human rights. It is those values which European want to protect and which they feel are being threatened by a growing Islamic population.

- Shore brings the story of US Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell, whose speech disparaging Mohammed was widely reported in Pakistan. Shortly thereafter, Shore says, Islamists parties got 50 seats in the Pakistani parliament instead of their usual four. The claim that Falwell is single-handedly responsible for the power of Islamists in Pakistan shows an extremely shallow view of the global and local Pakistani context. It is also a good example of American arrogance, thinking that the whole world revolves around what people in America think or do.

- In one of the weirdest claims I saw, Shore says that not many people know that the Mohammed cartoon showing Mohammed with a bomb on his head mocks the Danish imam Abu Laban.

Frankly, besides the fact that they're both Muslims and have a beard, I don't see the resemblance. If at all, the Mohammed picture looks to me like a 19th century Turkish soldier.

- A main part of the book are quotes from discussions Shore has had with Muslims in Europe. From the most Western (wanting to ban hijab) to the most conservative (being against democracy). My impression is that many of those Shore considers moderate, aren't really that moderate. For example, he brings the story of Mahsa, an Iranian who came to the UK when she was 14 (later she's described as British-born). She has boycotted Marks and Spencer for years due to its Israel connection and more than that: she has returned to Iran because she did not want her tax money supporting British foreign policies. Shore doesn't bother asking if she has no problems with her tax money supporting Iran's religious intolerance, its support for terrorist groups, or its oppression of Iranian Arabs. However, he does point out that she's moderate. Why? Because she is a "sober scientist, not prone to fanaticism or irrational hatreds". I'm not sure I need to even point out that history had seen quite a few scientists who were both fanatics and prone to irrational hatreds.

Even the 'real' moderates are quoted as saying that the CIA or the Mossad organized the 9/11 attacks. Shore admits he cringes at the simplicity in which such sentiments are voiced. There are also quite a few examples of anti-Semitism, but Shore doesn't stop to point them out.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
thank you so much for your book reviews! Hugely interesting subjects. Your questions spot the weaknesses of the book, but still make me want to read for myself (which I don't have time to, alas!). I hope you plan to continue with a second part, I'd love to read it.
I tried to find some other reviews in the meantime to get different perspectives on the book:
I wonder what you will say about the book and positions of Professor Unni Wikan, as you already mentioned her ("adapt to rape?"):
Thanks for all your reviews,

Esther said...

Hi A,

Thank you! I would try to get my review of Wikan's book out in the near future.

The review by Donald Winchester is interesting, and maybe deserves a review of its' own..

He completely stumped me with his last point: The West has strayed from the Judeo-Christian values and Islam is the protector of those original values?

Donald Winchester said...

Hi Esther - a bit of vainglorious websearching uncovered this excellent review of yours. You've uncovered many of its weaknesses - some of which I would have liked to also, given the space.

Of course, my attention was most strongly grabbed by your comment, as inevitably my poor phrasing has obscured my intent. Judeo-Christianity and Islam have similar roots (thus explaining some overlap in material and ideology), and the West has moved further from those roots than much of the Muslim world. That's my point in essence. Of course, these are grand generalisations - but there is some benefit in generalising.

I'll keep an eye on your blog, and look forward to reading more. :)