The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home

Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   
August 07, 2006

The Battle with Publishers - Douglas Murray reviews recent books on Islam in Europe

Posted by Douglas Murray

The Losing Battle with Islam
by David Selbourne
Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2005
Hardback, $28

Celsius 7/7
by Michael Gove
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006
Hardback, £9.99

The West's Last Chance
by Tony Blankley
Washington D.C.: Regnery, 2005
Hardback, £16.99

by Melanie Phillips
London: Gibson Square, 2006
Hardback, £14.99

While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within
by Bruce Bawer
New York: Doubleday, 2006
Hardback, $23.95

Menace in Europe
by Claire Berlinski
New York: Crown Forum, 2006
Hardback, $25.95

The Caged Virgin
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Free Press, 2006
Paperback, £12.99

The Force of Reason
by Oriana Fallaci
New York: Rizzoli, 2006
Hardback, £12

Douglas Murray - the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - reviews recent books on the challenge radical Islam poses to Europe.

All the books discussed in this piece are relevant to Great Britain and Europe. But very few of them are published here. Despite being one of our most significant historians, David Selbourne could not find a publisher for his latest book in the UK. Despite her highly acclaimed previous books, and a position as one of our foremost commentators, Melanie Phillips found it impossible for several years to find a British publisher willing to take her latest book, only finding a small new press after the book was scheduled in America. Oriana Fallaci has a distributor, but no UK notices, reviews or, visible distribution for this translation of her last but one book. Neither Bawer nor Berlinski's books - about the urgent need for Europe to wake up to the threat within - have been published on the continent under discussion.

Which suggests that there are problems. The first is the now undeniable issue of pusillanimity in British publishing (Selbourne wrote an important article about this in the Sunday Times before his dense book came out in America). Of course there is some sense in the cowardice. Since the Rushdie affair, publishers have - like newspaper editors - made a not-too secret recognition. They know that publishing novels claiming that Christ was Mary Magdalene's lover pull in "good-controversial" publicity. But they also realise that the "all publicity is good publicity" mantra doesn't extend to the moment when you find the girl from the typing pool with an Allah-gram pinned into her chest because the messenger couldn't reach the editors.

Michel Houellebecq's publishers demonstrated the situation beautifully last month in a full-page advert in the Sunday Times promoting the French novelist's latest book. The advert's "hook" was promoting Houellebecq as a controversialist. To this end they included a selection of controversial things he has said, including not very successful bon-mots on feminism ("I've always seen feminists as amiable idiots"), writing, provocation and - of course, you guessed it - the Bible ("Packed with passages so boring they make you want to shit").

What made this advert remarkable - or perhaps unremarkable - was that there was no mention of the subject which made Houellebecq's reputation as a controversial writer. The lacuna is of course Islam. Houellebecq's comments on this subject include - in his 1999 novel, Atomised - the opinion that Islam is "by far the most stupid, false and obscure religion", a comment that continued by presciently noting that despite these flaws, the religion in question "seems to be gaining ground". His next novel, Platform, has richer seams, but anyone who has read the novel would have to agree that amid the multiple shocks and gratuitous insults, the most jaw-dropping moment is the passage in which the narrator who has (again pre-the event) lost his girlfriend in a Bali-style attack reflects that:

Every time I heard that a Palestinian terrorist, or a Palestinian child or a pregnant Palestinian woman had been gunned down in the Gaza strip, I felt a quiver of enthusiasm at the thought that it meant one less Muslim.
It is statements like these that have earned Houellebecq the dubious reputation which his publishers hoped to cash in on in the Sunday Times. But of such quotes there was not a sign. Though his publishers are willing to make money from Houellebecq's art, they are not willing to suffer for it.

And when it comes to discussing the subject seriously, other publishers across the UK and Europe don't even seem willing to make money. Oriana Fallaci's recent books have sold across Europe in their millions, yet British publishers won't touch material like it. Which is a shame, because Fallaci - for all her occasional flaws - is not just one of Europe's greatest writers, but one of our most accessible. Her books are for the people, not just specialists, and it remains encouraging that since 2001 her popularity on the continent at least has circumvented the machinations of the critical establishment (who have boycotted her entirely) as well as the courts.

Of the book's mentioned here, Bruce Bawer's is perhaps the most comprehensive dissection of Europe's crisis as a whole. The fact that Bawer - though he now lives in Europe - is not published here is genuinely perplexing. The book (like - with the exception of Fallaci - the others mentioned here) is no rant: it is a deeply thoughtful, persuasive and beautifully written work by an American who came to Europe looking for the old tolerance of Holland and Norway, and found instead a continent teetering on the edge of a new dark age. He summons this impression with immeasurable style and knowledge.

Which is more than can be said for Berlinski, whose first book is a mess of irrelevant material and poorly linked chapters. Flashes of good article-writing abound, but the general feeling is of a writer who needed vastly more guidance and help in the synopsis stage. Berlinski's book is not as important as Bawer's rich and textured work, and Bawer has certainly suffered for being lumped in with her in US reviews. But the combined effect of the two books - especially in the wake of Bat Ye'or's savage indictment of the European elites, Eurabia, is to complete perhaps the most damaging effect of all That effect it to make Americans believe that Europe is - in effect - over.

Tony Blankley (Editorial page Editor of the Washington Times) has compounded the idea, with his grand-sweep narrative The West's Last Chance. Blankley concedes that there is still a fight to be had over Europe's soul. But - as his book is published only in the US - it is not a fight which the publishers of Europe are engaging in. Even all the American books critical of Islam up until recently have been published by only a couple of US publishers. Foremost for some time has been Prometheus, an anti-theist US publisher who first brought out the works of the great Ibn Warraq in the 1990s, though others - notably Regnery and Encounter - have joined in.

The importance of stressing that there are still people in Europe willing to speak out is now not only a matter of pride - it is vital, for Europe's future and for America's too. The perception that Europe can no longer be saved has been so continuously argued - with greater or lesser subtlety - that many Americans now believe the fight is over. The perception has hardly been helped by Ayaan Hirsi Ali's transfer to the AEI (American Enterprise Institute). The first book of her writings to appear in English is an important - and too-long delayed - event. But the force already seems less. It is in Europe that Hirsi Ali is needed, and events like her exile continue the perception that the stage is set, and all that the good people in Europe can do now is to get out.

Which is why the publication in Britain of Michael Gove and Melanie Phillips' books would be an important event even if they weren't such superb works. Both Londonistan and Celsius 7/7 are coolly argued and extraordinarily comprehensive analyses of the British establishment's misunderstanding of the Islamist threat, and the process from misunderstanding terror to bowing before it.

If there is any reason at all to be hopeful that Britain at least may get to grips with the problem we face it lies in these books. However hard it was to get them into print, they are at least now published and accessible to the public. The censorship imposed by the craven and the cowardly has palpably been cracked. A leading writer and a leading politician have said what needs to be said. It should be a cause for celebration that even if many people in America have given up on us, and though vast swathes of Europe have given up on themselves, there are still some who are willing to stand between the cowards and the barbarians and plant the flag of reason.

Douglas Murray is the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.

Comments Notice
This comments facility is the property of the Social Affairs Unit.
We reserve the right to edit, amend or remove comments for legal reasons, policy reasons or any other reasons we judge fit.

By posting comments here you accept and acknowledge the Social Affairs Unit's absolute and unfettered right to edit your comments as set out above.

We have only ourselves to blame. The sustained assault on Christianity, from even before the Enlightenment, has at length left European society without any moral fibre, so we have rendered ourselves defenceless against these invaders. Today’s multiculturalism is driven by the same motive, and has produced such bizarre phenomena as the BBC “Miracles of Jesus” presented by the Somali-born Rageh Omaar, now working for Al-Jazeera.

Last night John Snow presented a “Dispatches” programme “What Muslims Want”. I can, to some extent, sympathize with the Muslims, since I know what John Snow and his friends want, which is to lead our society ever deeper into Channel Fournication. But I have no illusions about what would happen if the Muslims did get all they want. Take the case recently where the Hampshire Police pounced on a lady who put up a sign “Our dogs are fed on Jehovah's Witnesses”. Were we to come under Shari’a Law, our guardians of society would simply eliminate the lady, the dogs, and the Jehovah’s witnesses. No chance of legal redress either, since under Shari’a law the evidence of a non-Muslim does not count against that of a Muslim.

May I say, however, to our conservative friends that you are just as much to blame for this situation as our trendy leftie ones, since neither do you want to know God, except perhaps as an instrument for maintaining the social order. And God is no-one’s sidekick.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at August 8, 2006 01:39 PM

Somebody famous once remarked to the effect that rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated. After several years of viewing the rise of European Islam with alarm, I’ve had a change of heart and no longer see Islam as a threat to European life and institutions, at least in the way that threat has generally been portrayed. The supposed wane and demise of European civilization in the face of a resurgent Islam have, I now believe, been greatly exaggerated.

Some astute commentators have recently seen the turmoil in Islam as an epic battle royale between the old rivals, the Sunni and the Shia. If this is true, as they believe, then the “Palestinian question”, the presence of Islam in Europe, even the events of 9/11 and so on, are mere sideshows, however ghastly specific acts committed in Islam’s name may have been. There is something to be said for this point of view, a view most often made by sophisticated Muslims themselves. I can’t recall a single Western commentator ever investigating this premise.

But even though the rivalry between the Sunni and the Shia may indeed be an important if hidden cause of contemporary Islamic turmoil, at a deeper level there is something else at work here. It’s not the resurgence of Islam that we see but its death throes.

I believe it was the French scholar Gilles Kipel that remarked that 9/11 was not so much an act of vengeance against the West as it was an act of desperation by Islamists trying to impress the world-wide Muslim community. If this is true, and I believe it largely is, it confirms in my mind that Islam is not on the rise but on its deathbed.

The fact is, Islam in the modern world may be a religion, but it is nowhere near being a “civilization” in the sense that we speak of a European civilization. That the latter might “replace” the former is beyond credulity. There may have once been an Islamic civilization but even that was largely Iranianism in Islamic garb, and, despite reports to the contrary, it never approached the cultural depths or heights Europe reached during the High Middle Ages, let alone the Renaissance. In any case, all that was long ago. Islamic civilization began its steady decline way back in 1245 when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols. It never really recovered.

Whatever “culture” may be perceived in the Middle East today is largely derivative, not native. Arabic literature, both poetry and prose, just to take one instance, has been fundamentally formed and influenced by the literature of the “hated” Christian West. Any intelligent and ambitious Arab Muslim of the elite classes heads to the educational citadels of the West, if he can help it. He may remain a devout Muslim for the rest of his life, but he will readily acknowledge that his future, his children’s and the world’s, is inextricably tied to what develops in the West, not what transpires in the East. Talk to any educated Arab youth what he thinks of the idea that Islam poses or could pose a threat to Europe, and he will inform you, if he is truthful, that the idea is absurd.

The writers reviewed in Mr. Murray’s essay may indeed have important things to say, but none of them, I believe, can or would admit that Islam is on the decline, as I do. I will certainly learn from them, but I now view their interpretations as fundamentally flawed.

Posted by: Alo Kievalar at August 10, 2006 04:51 AM

Of course its clear to anyone who looks at Islamic theology that poking its head up in the modern world as it is doing, and therefore attracting scrutiny, it exists only to be extinguished.

But how many will a slow lingering death take with it? Do we leave it for the next generation to deal with, on worse terms?

The armies of darkness in Europe 60 years ago were always going to ultimately fail but for how long do we allow their ascendency?

We shouldn't allow things to get to the civil war stage in Europe, the Southern States were destined to fail with their desire for a South American slave empire, but for how long should we have entertained their desires?

Do we sacrifice one, two, three generations on the alter of our cowardice?

If the Shia - Sunni equals National Socialist - Bolshevik, can't we work to short circuit the massive bloodletting that their desires for empire will cause?

In short my question for Alo is, what timeline are you working with in this decline of Islam and what are the costs to me and my civilisation as this happens?

Posted by: martin at August 14, 2006 10:28 AM

Thanks to “Martin” for his comments on my previous post. He states that even if what I said were true (that Islamic civilization could never conceivably “replace” European civilization on European soil and that Islamic civilization is in fact dead or dying), how long are we to wait for this civilizational demise to reach its conclusion, considering that as it disappears as a viable alternative to Western modernity, it is wreaking death, destruction and mayhem worldwide?

An excellent question. On re-reading my original post, I can see why readers might have gotten the impression that I might be suggesting that nothing be done at all, since its just a matter of time until the world is rid of this terroristic scourge. We’ll just have to put up with it until it’s all over. In the meantime, just go on back to worrying about credit card payments and so on and let “time” take care of everything else.

But that complacency would be a sure formula for further and worse devastation of the kind we have seen since 9/11. I believe there is a saying that a rat is at its most dangerous when it is cornered and it knows the jig is up. Then it becomes ferocious. And that is what we have been witnessing since 9/11 (and before): the fight to the death.

If I’m suggesting anything, it is that the current “war on terror” is far too superficial and mild for dealing with the situation we find ourselves in. Somewhere along the way, we’ll have to get serious and the going is going to get rough and ugly. I have my own ideas on what would have to be done, but they are just personal opinions not fit for public viewing.

But let me say this: if you get infected with smallpox, typhoid or cholera, you don’t treat it with water or vinegar, nor do you attempt to “talk” the virus out of your body. You take massive, punitive and deadly action of the most extreme kind to bring your body back to health.

Therefore, although I believe that Islamic civilization is on its deathbed, or close to it, we must realize that it is at an extremely dangerous stage of its demise. (If I’m going to go, I’m going to take as many of you as I can with me….and so on).

I believe Western leaders know all this….I don’t see how a rational person could believe otherwise. But of course, none of this can be made the bases for public policy or even discussed officially. At least, not yet.

Posted by: Alo at August 17, 2006 08:15 PM
Post a comment

Anti-spambot Turing code

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The Social Affairs Unit's weblog Privacy Statement