Book review: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

Book review: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, by Christopher Caldwell.

To buy the book: Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West

The book is divided into three sections, one each for Immigration, Islam and the West. Generally speaking, the 'immigration' section is devoted to a scathing criticism of the arguments used to justify mass immigration. The 'Islam' section looks at the problematics of Muslims in Europe, and 'The West' section looks at how Europe is dealing with this immigration.

A small gripe: The book has end-notes which give background and sources for some of the quotes and anecdotes. Instead of having pointers to the end-notes, they're simply listed by page number and partial quote from the original page. I can see the advantages, but I didn't realize they existed until I was halfway through the book.

'Reflections on the Revolution' is a very thought provoking book. I'll try to summarize the points I found most interesting together with my take on them. Some issues I've been thinking over for a while, some I've just started considering now, so this is really a work in progress.

US vs. Europe

I don't intend to repeat all of Caldwell's arguments against mass immigration. In the 1960s and 1970s Europe opened the gates, releasing what Caldwell calls 'network power', and what I call the 'immigration dynamic'. Every immigrant makes his own personal decision to immigrate, but together with all the other immigrants making that same decision, he makes up a formidable movement. As time went by and Europe realized what was happening, the arguments used by its politicians and policy makers also changed accordingly. Caldwell brings the different arguments used to explain why immigration is good and shows their internal contradictions.

Caldwell points out that the US had managed to integrate its immigrants better than Europe, though there are several difference: the US did not have to deal with mass immigration of a completely different culture (Muslim immigration) and the US forces the immigrants to integrate. In fact, Caldwell says that Europe's immigration problem is more similar to the race problem in the US. The Muslim culture in Europe and the Black culture in the US are 'adversary cultures' - built on distrust towards the dominant culture. When it comes to the Muslims their 'adversity' can easily slip into dangerous territory. There is a thin line between sedition and acceptable protest.

He does not see race as an issue in Europe, but I think that he really missed the point here. I agree with him that the best comparison is to the race problem in the US, but this is not because Europe's problem is racism. It's ethnicism.

Europe is made up of ethnic nation states. The ethnicity of the US, on the other hand, is its political system. An immigrant to the US can accept his new 'founding fathers', though he has no blood ties to the men who founded the nation. An immigrant in Denmark, on the other hand, can't become a descendant of the Vikings based on wish alone, and at this point in time, this wish barely exists. Assimilation wise, Islam is much more similar to the US. It is not ethnically based. A European convert to Islam can aspire to live according to the lifestyle of the prophet, and not feel that he's pretending to be somebody he really is not.


Caldwell uses the terms 'integration' and 'assimilation' interchangeably, but they are not really the same. In fact an 'issue' by many Muslims today is that they are willing to integrate but not to assimilate. Assimilating means losing your ethnic identity while integrating means keeping your own identity but being a part of the society. This could mean anything from being able to function in society to accepting the social norms. As Caldwell points out, some Europeans are fine with just 'demanding' that immigrants keep the local law.

Even if the Muslims of Europe might be integrated, they are far from assimilated. Caldwell points out that in France, for example, children of Italian or Polish immigrants were not considered 'second generation', but rather 'French'. I think the reason for that is simple. In her book "Generous Betrayal", Norwegian anthropologist Unni Wikan quotes the American sociologist Nathan Glazer who says that inter-ethnic marriage is the last step of assimilation. It marks the highest degree of social acceptance. I think it's more than that. I think that it is the only way to assimilate into a culture, into an ethnicity. Inter-ethnic marriage is a serious problem for today's Jewry for exactly this reason. It is not the 'last step' of assimilation. It is assimilation.

The Italian and Polish immigrants to France assimilated. Their children (or grandchildren) were already ethnically French. Take Sarkozy as an example: the son of an Hungarian father and French mother - he's French as can be. Though Muslim assimilation in France is relatively high compared to other European Muslims, it is still very low. Most Muslims marry Muslims from abroad or fellow Muslim immigrants, usually from the same ethnic background. Only a few would marry a European. And even among those who do marry Europeans, not all assimilate. There are cases where the European partner has decided to assimilate into the Muslim ethnicity instead.

'Invented' identities are one way for non-Europeans to integrate. For example, while most of the 'ethnic' English see themselves as 'English', most of the minorities see themselves as 'British'. The EU is a way for immigrants to become Europeans, even if they can't join the 'ethnic' natives. the problem is that you can call yourself 'European', but it doesn't leave you with any real identity.

In any case, Caldwell speaks of the lack of integration. Muslims in Europe don't think highly of European values. Since many Europeans have no idea what their values are, and have been quiet busy tearing those values down for the past few decades, that is not really surprising.

The second generation is de-assimilating and turning to its 'native' culture - Islam. In fact, this is a simplification. In many cases the 'native' culture is a folk Islam. The European youth are rejecting that as well, and turning to Arab Islam or multinational Islam, as a way of finding an identity. Caldwell speaks of the second generation assimilating into a globalized Islam, driven by what they see as the suffering of Muslims around the world.

Muslims accuse the West of colonization, but in many respects, this is exactly what the Muslim immigrants are doing today to the West: They are coming to Europe in order to enjoy the benefits European society offers, but they have no intention to assimilate into the local culture.

Religious Reform

The world today is experiencing religious renewal, a renewal which is barely felt in Europe. Caldwell says that Europeans who do want to feel that renewal are more likely to choose Islam over Christianity. He ignores the data that he himself brings, that Christianity is experiencing a revival of sorts in Europe as well.

Caldwell rejects the notion that Christianity developed into today's enlightened version on its own. He says that European secularism was set up in order to combat Christianity. Whatever space was given to religion in the public sphere, it was a concession given in return for Christianity leaving the rest to the secular state.

Islam is being protected from the very process which developed Christianity. It is being protected from ridicule, from criticism, from academic study. Caldwell is talking about Europe, but I don't really see enough (or any) wish in the Muslim world to 'attack' Islam. Even if Islam would face criticism in the West, can it really change as long as it remains the same in Muslim dominated countries? I really don't know.

Caldwell is very dismissive of the idea of moderate Islam and moderate Muslims. Moderate Islam, at the moment, is a hope, not a fact. He says that the level of moderation of Muslims actually depends on their view of politics, rather than view of Islam.

Caldwell writes what I've said many times: Tariq Ramadan, who's considered a moderate Muslim, doesn't practice 'taqiya', he says exactly what he means. It is the Europeans (or the West), who prefer to interpret what he means in the most moderate way possible. Ramadan speaks of 'war', of 'resistance'. It is the Europeans who decide to understand this as 'peaceful reform'.

Ramadan speaks of 'Jihad' as a 'spiritual effort', but as his grandfather al-Banna - whom Ramadan quotes as an influence - says that Jihad of the mind and Jihad of the sword are two sides of the same coin. According to Caldwell, Tariq Ramadan and Pim Fortuyn both saw Islam in the same way - a religious value system which can easily overwhelm Europe. They just didn't agree on whether that's a good thing.

Caldwell is also critical of the idea that Islam is never a problem. What sort of religion requires expertise so as not to become dangerous? Caldwell dismissively says that there's no such thing as 'moderate protestants'. That is true, but there are 'fundamentalist protestants'. This brings up another point: by saying 'moderate Muslims', people are acknowledging that 'Islam', in itself, is not 'moderate'.

'Minority protectionism'

Caldwell speaks out against the laws designed to prevent Holocaust denial - once one group was specially 'protected', everybody else wanted in as well, if only to prove that they were just as important. This directly led to today's situation, where people can not voice their opinions on the issues of the day for fear of being sued.

As an aside, Europe's law to 'protect' the memory of the Holocaust did nothing to protect its victims. The Muslims today are cast as the 'new Jews' and the Jews as the 'new Nazis'. In France, Jewish students refuse to go to school since they're afraid of the jeers they'll hear during history lessons. Teaching the Holocaust is not helping its victims, and the Muslims seem to be unaware that they're the prime beneficiaries of Europe's guilt over the Holocaust. Instead we see what French philosopher Finkielkraut predicted: anti-racism is now becoming a source of violence.

After WWII nationalism became passe in Europe. However, the immigrants who soon started coming were usually encouraged to be proud of theirs. Caldwell theorizes that since Europeans could not embrace their own nationalism, they embraced that of others, and in particular that of the Palestinians. It's an interesting idea, though it seems to me that it was more a way of channeling repressed antisemitism than repressed nationalism.

Multiculturalism wasn't only an issue of repressed nationalism, it was/is also an issue of processing European guilt feelings over colonization. The only problem? Immigrants are flooding into all of Europe, not only to former colonial powers. The Brits might feel guilty for their escapades in South-East Asia, but the Swedes don't owe the Palestinians anything. And though the colonial powers might feel they owe the people of their former colonies, what do the Italian owe the Albanians, Egyptians or Moroccans? Or the Dutch to the Moroccans and Turks?

Mosques and sexual freedom

According to Caldwell there are two basic issues where the Europeans do say 'stop'. One is mosques. When Muslims build mosques, Europeans have to accept the fact that Islam is going to stay, and that's a very difficult thing for them to do. It had taken a few decades just to realize that the 'temporary' workers don't intend to go back.

Resistance to mosques is mostly a popular sentiment, not usually supported by the politicians. There is one 'value' supported even by the most multicultural European politician, and that's everything having to do with sexual freedom, whether it's the veil, or honor killings, or homosexuality. It's no coincidence that the one thing that caused the Norwegian government to threatened the Islamic Council of Norway with withdrawing subsidies was their refusal to condemn the death sentence for homosexuals.

The violence Muslim women face in order to make them comply with the 'norm' is not simple violence. In such cases violence makes law. One honor murder can cause thousands of women to comply with the 'honor' norms.

Caldwell points out that male dominated societies lay down codes of virginity because they are hard to live by. This enables the men to use women sexually without feeling guilty. They are raped/sexually abused etc because they are sluts, and they are sluts because they have been defined so by men. Again, I think Caldwell misses a basic point. There are many religious societies where virginity is prized. It is the societies where only female virginity is prized that things can turn really ugly for women.

Now the question is: is this Islam? Islam (unlike Christianity) is not totally at odds with the West's sexual practice of the day, and in Europe Islam can actually serve as a way out of this sexist culture. As I wrote above, young European Muslims are leaving their parents' cultures and assimilating into globalized Islam. One reason to do this is to escape their parent's notions of family honor and the place of women in society.

Sexual freedom is a highly regarded value in Europe, but Europeans sometimes have trouble putting their finger on what is really bothering them. Take the headscarf. Why can't women decide on their own what to wear? Are you really going to force a woman to be sexually free? For some reason, when it comes to sexual freedom, Europeans seem willing to sacrifice other liberal values.

Caldwell says that Europe should learn from the experience of Ottoman empire. The multi-ethnic and multicultural Ottoman empire was torn apart by Europeans coming to 'save' their brethren. I don't know if Caldwell intended to take things this far, but one could say that the same thing is happening in Europe today. The Muslim world is demanding rights for its Muslim brethren in the West, and threatening with sanctions if there's no compliance.

More on Caldwell:

* Hirsi Ali: Europe surrendered to Islam
* Quote: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe
* Quote: Europe is making concessions to Islam
* Christopher Caldwell on Fox News

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