Strangers in Paradise
Ian Buruma reflects upon the sudden panic of multicultural Europe towards a rising Islamic identity in the UK Times and sees in it a case of unintended consequences; almost a black comedy of errors. His fundamental insight about the new "Islamic identity" is that it is largely a European parody of the real thing, bearing the same relationship to traditional Islam that the Fortune Cookie bears to Chinese cuisine. The first-generation Muslim immigrants, Buruma argues, were secure in the identity of the Old Country. But their European-born descendants fell into a kind of Limbo, unfamiliar with and fundamentally contemptuous of the village vices and virtues of their fathers yet unable to adopt new identities which had, in the meantime, been abolished.
When I grew up in the upper- middle-class part of the Hague during the 1960s ... The society I grew up in was riddled with social and religious barriers. People managed to rub along by sharing perhaps a keenness for over-boiled potatoes and the Dutch football team, but otherwise they stuck pretty much to their own kind. ...
All this began to change in the 1960s when the so-called “pillars” that held religious and class affiliations together crumbled under the assault of a generation that rebelled against traditional constraints on their sexual, cultural, social and political lives. ...
At about the same time that the young let their hair down, Muslims from Turkey and Morocco arrived to perform jobs that the prosperous Dutch no longer felt like doing. In the beginning people barely noticed these shadowy figures cleaning trains and the like. ...
The views of most Moroccan villagers and Turkish men who settled with their families in the shabbier parts of Amsterdam or central Rotterdam had little in common with those of the newly secularised and sexually liberated Dutch. But the progressive multicultural view was that this did not matter. Each to his own. We may not like the way Muslim men treat their wives and daughters, but who are we to say that our ways are better?
Until a succession of events starting ominously with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004 began to force hard reappraisals of the notion that "anything goes", when "anything" might include the ritual slaughter of Dutch infidels on Amsterdam streets. Yet the Islam the 'liberal progressives' had come to fear was precisely the product of their own cultural muddle. Faced with permanent membership in the underclass due to the immobility of the European labor market, lacking a new identity to adhere to and too worldly to retain the simple virtues of their fathers the new European Muslim simply "downloaded their ideological extremism from the Internet".
The Moroccan villagers in Holland, like the Bangladeshis who came to Britain, did stick to their old cultures. But they are not revolutionaries. It is their children or grandchildren, such as Mohammed Bouyeri, Van Gogh’s killer, born and bred in the West, who are attracted to revolutionary Islam.
The purist Islam of Saudi Wahhabism, or the even more radical Taqfiri sects which promote the killing of all infidels and apostates, attract some young European Muslims precisely because of their lack of cultural tradition. The appeal lies in the promise of an abstract religious utopia, as far removed from Moroccan or Bangladeshi village life as from the contemporary mores of Rotterdam or Birmingham. This is a godsend, so to speak, for those who feel at home in neither world.
Buruma's main worry is that Europe is responding the old and wrong way: by regulation. Banning burquas and "hate speech" represent a very alles in ordnung approach to the problem. What is essential, he argues, is to provide immigrants with something they can truly be loyal to. That in the case of America, Buruma says, is the notion of America itself.
The United States has many flaws but one thing that works is the idea of the hyphenated citizen: the Chinese-American, the Iraqi-American. Being a devout Muslim does not stand in the way of being a patriotic American. This works because citizenship is not a matter of culture but of loyalty to institutions, the law, the constitution, the political system.
The problem of course with Ian Buruma's prescription is that it amounts to recommending something out of character to Europe and perhaps alien to it's history. America began as a melting pot; fought a civil war over the principle that All Men are Created Equal and took in the Jew at the same time the Europeans were busy deporting them. Recent efforts to co-opt Islamic institutions by providing them with State funding are characteristic of the way Europe does things. Perhaps all that can be hoped for is that a European solution exists for these problems, remembering always how ambiguous the term "solution" on the Continent has historically been.