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The Big Muslim Problem!

What I Believe

by Tariq Ramadan
Oxford University Press, 148 pp., $12.95

In April 1968, two weeks after the riots that devastated US cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the British Tory politician Enoch Powell (who as minister of health between 1960 and 1963 had presided over the large-scale recruitment of nursing and health staff from Britain’s former colonies) predicted that a similar destiny was facing Britain. “We must be mad,” he said,

literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.

Quoting a phrase of Virgil’s that would resonate famously down the decades, he warned: “I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”

Though the Tory party leader Edward Heath immediately fired him from his post as opposition spokesman on defense, Powell’s speech had struck a powerful chord. Within ten days he had received more than 100,000 letters of support, with only eight hundred expressing disagreement. In London more than a thousand dockworkers went on strike in protest at his dismissal. Anxiety about immigration had a significant part in the unexpected victory that restored the Conservative Party to power in 1970.

Powell, who died in 1998, has been castigated as a racist and condemned, not to say vilified, by the liberal left; but as Christopher Caldwell argues in his provocatively titled book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, his demographic predictions have proved remarkably accurate. In one of his speeches Powell shocked his audience by predicting that Britain’s nonwhite population of barely a million would reach 4.5 million by 2002; according to the Office of National Statistics, the size of Britain’s “ethnic minority” population actually reached 4.6 million in 2001. His predictions for the ethnic composition of major cities such as Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and Inner London were similarly on target. Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality predicts that by 2011 the population of Leicester will be 50 percent nonwhite, making it the first major British city without a white majority.

This pattern is being replicated in cities throughout Western Europe. According to Caldwell, Europe is now a “continent of migrants” with more than 10 percent of its people living outside their countries of birth. The figure includes both non-European immigrants and citizens of countries belonging to the enlarged European Union who are permitted to move freely within its territory. But it also includes a substantial body of immigrants—namely Muslims—whom Caldwell regards as posing “the most acute problems” on account of their religion (an issue never mentioned by Powell in his speeches).

The statistics are highly variable since many countries do not register the religion of their citizens. However, it is generally assumed that there are now upward of 13 million Muslims, and possibly as many as 20 million (Caldwell’s preferred figure), living in the European Union. The largest concentrations are in France with more than 5 million, Germany with around 3 million, Britain with 1.6 million, Spain with a million, and the Netherlands and Bulgaria with just under a million. Overall, the proportion of Muslims now residing in the European Union (including the indigenous Bulgarian Muslims) remains at 5 percent, a proportion twice that of the “nearly seven million American Muslims” mentioned by President Barack Obama in his Cairo University speech last June.

Individual cities, however, have much higher concentrations. Karoly Lorant, a Hungarian economist who wrote a paper on the subject for the European Parliament, calculates that Muslims already make up 25 percent of the population in Marseilles and Rotterdam, 20 percent in Malmö, 15 percent in Brussels and Birmingham, and 10 percent in London, Paris, and Copenhagen. If the French national figure of around 5 million were proportionately reproduced in the US, it would make for 24 million American Muslims. Moreover, given that immigrant Muslims have a higher birthrate than indigenous white Europeans or other immigrant groups such as Eastern Europeans or African-Caribbeans, that population seems set to increase, regardless of tighter controls on immigration now being imposed by governments. The US National Intelligence Council expects that by 2025 the Muslim population of Europe will have doubled.

In the first part of his book Caldwell takes some Enoch Powell–like swipes at the policies—or lack of them—that allowed this situation to develop. In the aftermath of World War II, European countries overestimated the need for immigrant labor. Instead of investing in new technology, they drove down labor costs—and undermined the power of labor unions—by importing cheap workers without regard for the social and cultural consequences. Caldwell challenges the assumptions of economists who argue that immigrants increase national wealth. With old industries such as textiles already in decline, immigrant workers merely delayed the necessary process of restructuring. In macroeconomic terms the wealth they generate is nugatory—approximately one three-hundredth of the advanced countries’ output. In any case much of the supposed added value contributed by immigrant businesses that appears in economic statistics is absorbed in the costs of accommodating them in their new environment, or is sent back to their home countries. In 2003, for example, Moroccans living in Europe sent home r3.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in remissions.

The picture Caldwell paints is complex, paradoxical, and sometimes at variance with the anti-immigration thrust of his argument. While he dwells on the obvious aspects of political and cultural dystopia—the terrorist outrages in London and Madrid, the riots in the Paris banlieues, the growing Muslim prison populations, and the horrors of unreconstructed patriarchy in the form of “honor killings,” systemic homophobia, and the bizarre medical “hymen repair operation” that allows young women to recover lost virginities—he acknowledges some of the positive contributions that immigrants make to society. In the case of Italy, for example, he observes that the country’s agriculture, food, and its superb urban landscape—features that lie at the heart of its attractions as the center of European culture—are largely sustained by immigrants:

Italy has lately received more than half a million immigrants a year from Africa and the Middle East, mostly to work in its farms, shops, and restaurants. The market price of certain kinds of Italian produce, so Italian farmers say, is in danger of falling below the cost of bringing it to market. Under conditions of globalization, Italy’s real comparative advantage may lie elsewhere than in agriculture, in some high-tech economic model that is remunerative but not particularly “Italian.”…

Traditional ways of working the land may be viable only if there are immigrants there to work it. You can make similar arguments about traditional Italian restaurants, which in the present economy may be able to hold their own against soulless chains only with the help of low-paid immigrant labor. Ditto the country’s lovely public parks, which have traditionally required dozens of gardeners, a level of manpower that the country’s shrinking population cannot supply, except at a high price….

Some natives may feel “swamped” by the demographic change, but immigration, though not ideal, may be the most practical way of keeping Italy looking like Italy. As the novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa once wrote, “If we want everything to stay the same, everything must change.”

Caldwell does not suggest that the paradox of foreigners “keeping Italy looking like Italy” is necessarily unsustainable. His concern is that a majority of migrants belong to a religion that a skeptical, post-Enlightenment Europe cannot be expected to contain or resist. The level of Muslim immigration is unprecedented. Whereas in the past, groups of immigrants—“Jewish and Huguenot refugees, a few factory hands from Poland or Ireland or Italy”—were “big enough to enrich the lands of settlement but not so big as to threaten them,” the sheer volume of Muslim immigration endangers the indigenous cultures of Europe, not least because those cultures have become precariously fragile. Political correctness, anti-racism, and multiculturalism, born of guilt about colonialism and shame about the Holocaust, are eroding national cultures, while failing to produce a coherent vision of a common European identity.

No reasonable person would deny that there are problems with some of Europe’s immigrant communities, or that multiculturalism challenges traditional boundaries separating citizenship from ideas centered on loyalty, identity, and allegiance. For the late Sir Bernard Crick, George Orwell’s biographer and a leading educator, “Britishness” is a legal and political structure that excludes culture: “When an immigrant says ‘I am British,’ he is not saying he wants to be English, Scottish or Welsh.” As Caldwell comments:

This was the EU model of belonging: You are one person for your culture and another for the law. You can be an official (legal) European even if you are not a “real” (cultural) European. This disaggregation of the personal personality and the legal personality sounds tolerant and liberating, but it has its downside. Rights are attached to citizenship. As soon as your citizenship becomes a legal construction, so do your rights.

In Caldwell’s view, immigrants to Europe are able to exploit their rights not just as citizens but as residents, by claiming the health and welfare benefits to which natives are entitled. “The postwar Western European welfare states provided the most generous benefits ever given to workers anywhere.” Germany’s job market was the archetype of the systems replicated across Western Europe, with short working hours, seven-week vacations, full health coverage, and wages for unionized workers reaching almost $50 an hour. Although—unlike some other countries—Germany’s jus sanguinis denied full citizenship to immigrant workers, who were mainly from Turkey and Morocco, the economic effects were ultimately the same.

The welfare burden has impeded investment, stifling real risk-based entrepreneurship epitomized by the “small, flexible start-up companies that drove most of the innovation in recent decades,” especially in the information economy. The US, by contrast, is less indulgent: here, contrary to the myth of American openness, immigrants are pressured to conform. An immigrant may maintain his ancestral culture, but “if it is a culture that prevents him from speaking English well or showing up to work promptly, he will go hungry. Then he will go home.”

In Caldwell’s vision Europe’s welfare states have been succouring alien intruders: as the native population grows in age and declines in proportion to immigrants, so the value they add to the “social market” economy by contributing to its welfare systems is eroded by their claims on benefits. In Spain for example, the Harvard economist Martin Feldstein has predicted that the ratio of workers to retirees, currently 4.5:1, will fall to 2:1 by 2050. In Britain the Office of National Statistics predicts a population increase of ten million people—two thirds of them immigrants or their children—over the next quarter-century, with the number of people aged eighty-five and over expected to double. For Caldwell the short-term relief that immigrants bring to the welfare state is unlikely to match their longer-term claims on it:

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