Monday, September 03, 2012

Myths About Muslims.

Here's my review of Doug Saunders' The Myth of the Muslim Tide in the Globe and Mail. It was a slightly awkward assignment. Given that Saunders is a senior Globe correspondent, had I not thought the book was up to snuff it would have been very awkward. As it happens, I quite like it:
As it turns out, the chief assumptions about Muslim demographics in Mark Steyn’s wildly popular America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It appear to have been overtaken by a mountain of contradictory data that Saunders puts to persuasive use. Muslims do not carry some sort of fertility gene with them wherever they go. When they settle down in Europe and North America, Muslims soon enough tend to exhibit all the behaviours and values of – let’s not be delicate about it – white people.
Still, you will not much like this book if you are the type that sneers at Mark Steyn, declaims the imminent takeover of America by the Christian right, dismisses the courageously militant atheist reformer Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a mere operative of sinister conservatives or bangs on about “Islamophobia” – a silly term Saunders thankfully doesn’t even bother to dignify with a dismissal. 

 As for multiculturalism, better to “abandon the word” entirely, Saunders argues. . .

By calling "Islamophobia" a silly term I mean that it is almost always a diagnosis looking for an ailment. There is nothing irrational in the fear of certain aspects of Islam (or any religion, come to think of it) and as often as not the term is applied to any concentrated attention on Islamist crackpottery, on backward and barbaric practices cloaked in the guise of Islam, and so on.

It's not that there isn't anti-Muslim bigotry or even "phobia" about Muslims abroad in the so-called West. But there is also an especially sinister kind of bigotry betrayed in the presumption that Muslims will be upset if any of the rest of us notice the obscurantist savagery that animates the trussed-up clerics who prey upon Muslims themselves, and who too many journalists, for instance, imagine to be  representative of Mulsim immigrants. That is a most indecent sort of presumptuous bigotry, and paradoxically it is most often indulged by leftish people who have cultivated the habit of slinging the term "Islamophobe" at their betters.
The one fault in Saunders' book that I might have pointed out had I more space is not minor, and it's the same sort of fault that some have found in my book on Absurdistan (Saunders' structures his book in a similar way too).
I've been taken to task for wasting effort in piling evidence against the existence of the Absurdistan that occupies the western imagination - effort that I might have more usefully expended in telling stories about the actually-existing Afghanistan. Saunders goes to extraordinary lengths to disabuse the reader of widely-held misconceptions about Muslim immigration and immigrant communities, but he only more or less alludes to those more interesting and disturbing implications of certain real-world currents within immigrant communities and within Islam globally that readers would very much benefit to know more about.
Too bad, too, because Saunders' vigorous disassembling of the school of thought championed by the likes of Mark Steyn and Robert Spencer would have served Saunders well in establishing himself as a trustworthy voice among the masses of those who lazily imagine that close scrutiny of, say, the Khomeinist scum among us, is somehow masking a species of racism (that's "Islamophobia" for you).
The one lousy thing Saunders does is he wanders dangerously close to an engagement in the same sort of cheap and opportunistic smearing that erupted in the wake of the mass atrocity Anders Breivik committed in Norway. It was all the rage at the time: people who should have known better started reaching for explanations and placed the formidable Bruce Bawer in the same class as the ghastly and cretinous Pamela Geller,blaming Breivik's act of terror on individuals whose work Breivik had cited in his nutty manifesto (Breivik cites Bawer, for one). But at least Saunders also places Bawer in the same company as Niall Fergusson and Sir Martin Gilbert. This could be taken as a compliment, however unintended.
The Norwegian court's bizarre finding that Breivik is sane - Breivik insists he is a member in good standing of an actually-persisting brotherhood of the Knights Templar, if you don't mind - has only exacerbated the sickening tendency that James Kirchick exhaustively assessed here. Kirchick comes properly to Bawer's defence, too.
By engaging in something approximating guilt (Bawer's) by association (tangentially, with Breivik), Saunders comes perilously close to committing the same sort of offence he properly accuses the Gellerites of committing when they smear harmlessly devout Muslims with the taint of jihadist dingbattery. It is as ridiculous as laying the sins of Mao and Stalin at the feet of starry-eyed young socialists. I would have wanted Saunders to have taken a higher, if uneasier, road. 
Still, Saunders is otherwise a good egg and The Myth of the Muslim Tide is otherwise a very worthwhile and useful book.


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