‘Strange’ and ‘Strangers’
Two new studies of Islam portray recent outbursts of coordinated violence and oppression not as a reaction to Western liberalism but instead as fundamental to the religion itself
The Europe that conquered much of the world from the 15th century onward was empowered by its violent disunity. Its quarreling states large and small were sharpened in war and diplomacy by fighting one another at frequent intervals. Each war brought its share of death and destruction, but each was followed by vigorous procreation and reconstruction, so that Europe kept growing from war to war, in population and in wealth, while advancing in the arts, the sciences, and in technology. That Europe was still Christian except for its Jews, privileged survivors when the pagans were exterminated, but its very un-Christian central ideology was the Iliad’s: men love war, women love warriors. European wars over the centuries were fought by volunteers, whose urge to fight was far more widely admired than deplored, not least by women desirous of virile mates.
Europe’s tragedy is that while the Iliad’s ideology would now be deemed absurdly archaic, the sum total of the ideas that have replaced it does not permit its survival: The average fertility rate is far below the 2.1 replacement rate, so that it is only the aging of the population that prevents its disappearance, with a palpable loss of energy and creative vitality. As to why Europeans are producing so few babies—and they would be fewer still without the high fertility of the small percentage of Muslim mothers—there can be no definite answer, because in each country and each region there seems to be a different prevalence and different mix of refusals: men’s refusal of the responsibilities of fatherhood, women’s refusal of the burdens of motherhood.
As for the post-heroic ideas that have largely displaced the Iliad’s elemental prescriptions, they are varied and changeable and drifting right-ward of late, but among the better-educated anti-racism, feminism, post-colonial guilt, and a pacifist presumption remain the dominant mix, perhaps best exemplified by the Norwegian politician Karsten Nordal Hauken. In both a TV appearance and an April 6, 2016 article, Hauken proclaimed his own strong feelings of guilt and responsibility, because a male Somali asylum-seeker was being deported after serving four-and-a-half years in prison for rape: “I was the reason that he would not be in Norway anymore but rather sent to a dark, uncertain future in Somalia. … I see him mostly as a product of an unfair world, a product of an upbringing marked by war and despair.”
Hauken’s guilty plea may seem strange because he did not capture, prosecute, or judge the Somali. Yet there can be no doubt about his personal connection to the case: Karsten Nordal Hauken, self-described as “male, heterosexual, young Socialist Left Party member, feminist and anti-racist” was himself the object of the rape.
Hauken’s sentiments are by no means unusual: Many elite Europeans hold that Somalis have the right to leave the cruelties of Somalia, inflicted by fellow Somalis, to come to Europe with or without travel documents, as do all other Africans and, indeed, non-Africans—not to mention war refugees from Syria, even though the right of asylum which they truly do have under international treaties only applies to the first country they reach, and no country of Europe shares a border with Syria. That would be dismissed as a mere technicality by many contemporary Europeans,including Mario Bergoglio, the bishop of Rome, aka Pope Francis, who vehemently insists that all immigrants must be welcomed with open arms—a sharp departure from the views of his predecessor, Benedict.
With the pope easily outranking the prime minister in Italy, it is unsurprising that the Italian authorities have blithely ignored their own laws, including the acquired Schengen Treaty admission rules, by making no attempt whatever to separate and send home the vast mass of illegal migrants from the relatively few war refugees. Instead they did the opposite by sending their coast guard to collect them from the traffickers’ barges just off the Libyan coast. Germany does not have a Mediterranean coastline, yet in 2015, the still-very-popular Chancellor Angela Merkel took it upon herself to violate the Schengen rules (treaties outrank domestic laws) to invite Syrian war refugees without limit, and without any form of identity controls, thereby ensuring that many Afghans, Iranians, Eritreans, and Kurds set out for Germany. To do so, they had to cross all the countries in between, some of which attracted opprobrium by refusing transit. The European Commission threatened harsh economic retaliation, but, of course, it too is afflicted by the intersecting European maladies that make it as impotent as the national governments in dealing with immigration, or with Putin’s Russia, or with the subversion of national cultures by relatively small numbers of Muslim immigrants.
How large a threat do Muslim immigrants pose to a dying Europe? In 2016 they were only 4.6 percent of the population in the U.K. But their powerful Islamizing impact on schools, local governments, and police practices merits extended treatment in Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, whereby one learns that the death in question is not so strange after all, for it is merely a case of suicide—or, more precisely, attempted suicide, because there is an increasing resistance underway, which is even reversing Islamization in some European countries, at least in some respects. For example, in Italy, so lax with illegal immigration, there is no laxity at all when it comes to Islamist violence, with summary deportations and many arrests of would-be terrorists, and not a single fatality since it all started, in sharp contrast to France next door. More than 160 imams are in Italian prisons, some merely self-appointed to their ministries post-imprisonment, but others for preaching what others proclaim with impunity elsewhere in Europe.
Murray is very effective in fully identifying the deformed, guilt-ridden liberalism à la Karsten Nordal Hauken that generates illiberal concessions to intolerance—and to violence. He rightly gives extended treatment to the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who once held a seat in the Netherlands parliament and whose denunciations of female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and polygamy were themselves denounced as extremist, even racist, by many leaders of Dutch society, while the Dutch police professed their inability to protect her from local Muslims, forcing her into exile.
When it comes to Sweden, Murray rightly presents the rape scandal as emblematic while also surveying the territorial loss of control manifest in Malmö, among other places. But it is not clear if the Swedish rape phenomenon can properly be called a “scandal,” because it continues to be blandly denied by the government and, indeed, the entire establishment—there was an outpouring of much-applauded ridicule when Trump mentioned it. Yet the numbers are simple enough: In 1975, there were 421 rapes reported to the police; in 2014, the number was 6,620. Given that most migrants are young Muslim males brought up in places where any uncovered woman is fair prey, the numbers are no great surprise.
What is surprising is the eagerness of the press to cover up the facts. On Feb. 2, 2015, the Swedish press reported the gang-rape of a Swedish woman on the ferry Amorella under the headline “Eight Swedes questioned over ferry ‘gang rape.’”
When it turned out that the men were not, in fact, ethnically Swedes but rather Somalis, the Swedish press (Aftonbladed, Expressen, etc.) merely changed the headlines to read “Swedish citizens questioned over ferry ‘gang rape,’” When the investigative and right-wing Nya Tider published the fact that they were not Swedish citizens but rather asylum seekers and therefore could only be described as Somalis, the Aftonbladed and Expressen simply ignored the correction. Their fear, of course, is that publishing the truth would trigger a backlash against Muslim immigrants. That has been a widely shared fear since Sept. 11: Every time Islamists commit some outrage, there is a frenzy not over the victims but rather over the imminent danger of attacks on Muslims at large—and that is curious indeed, because there were hardly attacks on Muslims, even in violent America, after 2,983 were killed.
Murray is at his best in presenting Michel Houellebecq, the French author whose novels have been steadily decoding Europe’s post-heroic and feebly sexual nihilism since his Extension du Domaine de la Lutte of 1994. Houellebecq has been widely famous in the West since his best-seller, Plateforme, of 2001. His Soumission(Submission) of 2015 profoundly agitated French politics by presenting a totally plausible sequence of events that result in the Islamization of France, with a cynical, opportunistic, and feeble academic as the protagonist. French is one of my native languages and I became a Houellebecq devotee years ago (since Plateforme) because I was captivated by his style as well as by his subject matter (including the perils of too much self-realization). Even his fiercest critics—some were agitated years ago by his offhand remark that Islam is “nonetheless” the most stupid of religions—concede that Houellebecq has single-handedly invented a new prose splendidly classical in its cadenced tonalities, yet utterly modern, hence a perfect fit with his utterly realistic contemporary tales, and Soumission is certainly that.
“Submission” is of course an exact translation of the Arabic word “Islam,” a religion far more often willfully misrepresented than ignorantly misunderstood (you will hear professors of Middle East studies and such assert that it means “peace”): To cite one example among a thousand or more, Verso has just published Suleiman Mourad’s The Mosaic of Islam, which is squarely aimed at the U.S. collegiate market (Mourad teaches at Smith College), wherein we learn that the Quran’s more murderous verses count for nothing, because along with the entire corpus of Muhammad’s sayings it has “always” been subject to change, interpretation and “rigorous” debate. When the Quran says “kill” you should therefore instead read: admonish, or persuade, or plead, or “swim backstroke,” I suppose. In any case, he adds: “The Quran legitimizes a lot of things that modern Muslims consider embarrassing: slavery, military jihad, control of women.”
Yet unreconstructed interpretations of “jihad” continue to have wide appeal beyond the confines of Smith College, as countless polls testify, and, more to the point, as the ubiquity of jihadi violence across the world from Nigeria to Mindanao demonstrates. The control of women is both an overwhelming reality in Muslim countries—and any dense Muslim community anywhere—and is often reaffirmed by state-salaried preachers. Slavery, yes, is only an exotic survival (I saw slaves in Qatar eight years ago)—or was, until its revival with the capture of Yazidi women; the men were killed when they refused to convert, in strict accordance with Quranic injunctions.
Mourad’s short book is replete with misrepresentations, yet can scarcely be criticized as especially misleading. Simple, bare-faced lying pervades the approved textbooks of what might be called “American Collegiate Islam”—the mildest of religions, in which apostasy is not— repeat, not—a capital crime (notwithstanding laws in some 20 countries), and has nothing, but really nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the Islamic state; or al-Qaida, of course; or Boko Haram; or Laskar-i-Islam; or Abu Sayaf; or the Taliban; or any of the other 60 or 70 really sizable jihadi organizations around the world, which could not exist if they did not have substantial approval among many more Muslims.
It is in its determined violation of this unique regime of voluntarily induced cognitive dissonance that Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State has caused such a scandal. Instead of synthesizing his own version of American Collegiate Islam to be assigned to hapless students by U.S. college teachers of Islam, Wood has interviewed as many active supporters of the now-almost-defunct Islamic state as he could find in Cairo and elsewhere, without actually going to Mosul or Raqqah, to find out what they believed and why.
Wood interviewed many very different believers (one a Japanese academic) yet obtained very consistent answers. First, it is evident that Wood’s believers cannot be described as mindless fanatics—they had arrived at their faith in the necessity of a caliphate by a logical process once they adopted Islam (or took it seriously, if born in it), demonstrating that the Islamic State was no anomaly. Rather, it was a fulfillment of a rigorous form of Islam that is supported not only by the tens of thousands who went to fight, but by the 100 million or so Deobandis of India and Pakistan (and Birmingham) and “Wahhabis” of Qatar (yes) and Saudi Arabia, aka the followers of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), who revived the strict Islam ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328). Though Wood does discuss this Islam at length, he wholly omits the Deobandis, who now control at least 30,000(!) mosques around the world through preachers sent out from their immense (and tax-exempt) Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband, India. (In spite of its pervasive extremism—it was a fatwa from Deoband that mandated the Taliban destruction of the immense Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001—Darul Uloom is well protected in India … because of its extremism: It opposes Pakistan on the grounds that Muslims should rule all parts of India!)
All of the above concur with ibn Taymiyyah that insufficiently devout Muslims should be flogged into submission and that heretical or hypocritical Muslims (including the Shi’a) are much worse than properly submissive Christians or Jews—only disagreeing on whether they should be given a chance to renounce heresy or killed outright. Because Iran’s clerics have greatly intensified the cult of Ali and of their 12 Imams at the expense of sole devotion to Muhammad, and also because (to them) bizarre Shi’a ceremonies are now broadcast for them to see, very many Sunnis now agree that Shi’ism is indeed a heresy and thus subject to the death penalty, even if they do not support the Islamic State’s summary roadside executions (though in Pakistan, deadly attacks on Shi’a at prayer are an almost daily occurrence).
In other words, Islamic violence against non-Muslims is, in fact, peripheral to the greater violence directed at fellow Muslims—which really varies only in degree between the routine oppression of women (explicitly enjoined in the Quran) to the periodic outbursts of mass extremist violence, such as that of the Almohads who drove Maimonides into exile to find refuge in Fatimid Egypt in 1168 or so (esoteric Shi’a Sevener Ismailis themselves, the Fatimids had to be tolerant, and in fact were).
Wood’s central finding is therefore that the extremism of the Islamic State, though very modern in some ways, was not a reaction to modern events, such as U.S. invasion of Iraq (as has been endlessly argued by apologists). It was, instead, the latest in a long series of such outbursts of mass violence that have marked Islam since its birth: Muhammad, after all, lived by the sword, before and after preaching his religion, yet he is still Islam’s perfect man whom all should strive to imitate.
But the more serious problem for non-Muslims is not violence, but rather the West’s own internal encounter with unreconstructed mainstream Islamic beliefs. Both Houellebecq’s Submission and Murray’s book are not optimistic about the result. Not many Muslims outside the Middle East support jihadi violence. Yet the latest Pew survey, issued Aug. 9, shows that support for the imposition of Sharia—complete with hand-chopping and the ritual humiliation of non-believers—is at least substantial (from 37 percent) or overwhelming in every country with a large Muslim population (including Russia), with the solitary exception of Azerbaijan, whose secularism is daily reinforced by the immediate proximity of Iran’s extremism to the south and jihadism in Dagestan to the north. In Afghanistan, that support is 99 percent.
In the United States, the number of Muslims has increased by a million in the last decade. Those who believe that routine versions of Islamic fundamentalism must dissolve on contact with American conditions had better consider the demographic expansion of American Chassidim and the Amish—bearing in mind that jihad is as integral to Islam as pacifism is to the Amish.
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Edward N. Luttwak, a military strategist and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the author of, most recently, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy.