The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam
by Douglas Murray
Bloomsbury, $16.45 on Amazon
Who are we? What do we believe in? What are our cultural underpinnings? And do we still have the will to defend our civilization?
This last question is vital, as it presupposes that we have already worked out the answers to the preceding questions. Because if one’s society cannot even define what it believes in, this immediately poses a grave paradox. For how can one defend a civilization whose purpose and identity one is incapable of defining in the first place?
Douglas Murray’s latest book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, attempts to explain just how we have arrived at our current state of cultural nihilism. It is a somber and poignant tale, often written more as a story than a political treatise. At many points it is unequivocally depressing. But regardless of one’s opinions of the book, at every turn of the page, nobody can question its author’s deep and profound attachment to western culture and his sense of urgency in calling for its revitalization.
The book has garnered much attention- much of it positive and some of it glowing- for its perceived focus on the threat that Islam, in particular, poses to Western civilization in the modern day. But this would be a misunderstanding and an unfortunate dilution of Murray’s far more elaborate thesis.
The fundamental threat to the west, according to Murray, is not Islam per se. Rather, it is our own cultural weaknesses, timidity, and vulnerability. For these are the perfect preconditions by which we can be superseded by a far more assured and confident culture.
Today, the most obvious example of this is Islam. But in reality, it could be anything else, provided that its adherents have the zeal and fortitude to try to overturn our own way of life.
Put another way, in the words of the British historian Arnold Toynbee, “great civilizations are not murdered. They commit suicide.”
Which brings us back to the questions posed at the beginning of this review. During the great civilizations of yore, questions as basic as these could have been answered by average citizens, or at least by the ruling elites, with relative ease.
In Augustan Rome, for example, at the apex of western civilization, people could be relied upon to define their culture far more precisely and with far more vigor than we are able to do today. Denizens of the newly-formed empire were bound by the founding myth of Romulus and Remus. They openly professed a veneration for the Gods, who entrusted matters of temporal supervision to the pater patriae: Augustus himself.
Art in Rome revolved around a glorification of the myth of Rome- its Gods, its victories in battle, and the fecundity of its splendid earth. Its architectural splendor was derived from both its harmony with the natural world as well as its assertion of man’s conquest of it. Its triumphal arches and monumental porticos were designed to arrest even the most doubtful of visitors. It was a civilization that was confident, robust, and unshakable.
In some ways, Islamic culture is in a similar position of philosophical strength today. Murray argues that, unlike contemporary secular westerners, today’s Muslims are, like our Roman forbearers, able to answer civilizational questions with a reflexive fluency, certainty, and zeal that leaves them with little confusion as to the purpose of their lives. This leaves the confused and dithering westerner in a position of immense relative weakness.
To illustrate this point, in one of the most memorable and harrowing passages in his book, Murray describes how so many in the west turn to radicalism and religious fanaticism. Their “breaking points” are often eerily similar: for example, they are sitting at a bar, slightly jaded, with shallow pop music blaring in the background. They are then forced to ask themselves: “is this really all there is to life?”
Murray has a deep distrust of the concept of multiculturalism in particular, which he feels is responsible for much of our current societal malaise. At its best, multiculturalism has spawned a confused cultural relativism among us. This is to say that it has given birth to the commonly-held view today that all cultures are of equal value. At worst, multiculturalism has led to cultural masochism: the belief that one’s culture is in fact the most rotten culture currently in existence.
Regarding this last point about cultural masochism, Murray believes it is essentially the result of a shared collective guilt for the sins of our forbearers. Be it colonialism, Nazism, or even the Crusades, we are constantly reminded today of the negative contributions of western culture on the world. These discussions are seldom tempered by citing western civilization’s positive contributions to the world: Da Vinci, Plato, the internet.
With a collapse in its own confidence in such spectacular fashion, Murray quite convincingly argues that western civilization has little prospects of survival. That is, unless things rapidly change. Murray recommends, first of all, to vastly slow down the pace of immigration from the Muslim world from its current number (estimated to be at least in the hundreds of thousands a year into Europe).
In America, this has been attempted by current President Donald Trump. Yet one glaring omission in Murray’s book is any discussion of the Trump phenomenon. In fact, Trump, if memory serves me correctly, is not even mentioned in the book at all, save a passing reference to the “new American President” and his “travel ban.”
The Trump phenomenon would have been a relevant topic to discuss, as Americans elected a man who at one point called for, “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This is rhetoric that goes far beyond anything that any mainstream European politician has ever said.
The Strange Death of Europe is not a typical, light beach read by any means. Douglas Murray offers a very pessimistic prognosis of the west’s contemporary afflictions. He would argue that if the facts are bleak then this pessimism is warranted. I tend to agree, but I do hope I am wrong. The book is excellent.