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Muslims' 'parallel society'

Christopher Caldwell's "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West" is a hot book presented under a cool, scholarly title. To observe that Caldwell's rhetoric is "hot" is not to say that it is aggrieved or unruly. On the contrary, Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a columnist for The Financial Times, compiles his arguments patiently, twig by twig, and mostly with lucidity and intellectual grace and even wit.

But they are arguments one is not used to hearing put so baldly, at least from the West's leading political journalists. Primary among them are these: Through decades of mass immigration to Europe's hospitable cities and because of a strong disinclination to assimilate, Muslims are changing the face of Europe, perhaps decisively. These Muslim immigrants are not so much enhancing European culture as they are supplanting it. The products of an adversarial culture, these immigrants and their religion, Islam, are "patiently conquering Europe's cities, street by street."

Caldwell is a vivid writer, and like an action-movie hero he walks calmly away from his own detonations while fire swirls behind him. "Imagine that the West, at the height of the Cold War, had received a mass inflow of immigrants from Communist countries who were ambivalent about which side they supported," he writes. "Something similar is taking place now."

Muslim cultures "have historically been Europe's enemies, its overlords, or its underlings," he deposes. "Europe is wagering that attitudes handed down over the centuries, on both sides, have disappeared, or can be made to disappear. That is probably not a wise wager."

There are many strains to Caldwell's argument, too many to fully tease out here. Suffice it to say, up front, that Caldwell is not anti-immigration. He traces the historical movements of various peoples across continents and nationalities and notes both successes and failures. But there has been nothing, he suggests, quite like the recent influx of Muslims into Europe -- he refers to it as "a rupture in its history."

"In the middle of the 20th century, there were virtually no Muslims in Western Europe," Caldwell writes. "At the turn of the 21st, there were between 15 and 17 million Muslims in Western Europe, including 5 million in France, 4 million in Germany, and 2 million in Britain."

These immigrants are further swamping Europe demographically, he adds, because of their high fertility rates. He points to small facts as well as large ones. In Brussels in 2006, the seven most common given boys' names "were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine, and Hamza."

The problem, in Caldwell's view, is less about sheer numbers than cultural divergence. What's happening in Europe is not the creation of an American-style melting pot, he writes, because Muslims are not melting in. They are instead forming what he calls "a parallel society." Newcomers to England now listen to Al Jazeera, not the BBC. They are hesitant to serve in their adopted country's militaries. (As of 2007, Caldwell notes, there were only 330 Muslims in Britain's armed forces.) Worse, these immigrants are bringing anti-Semitism back to Europe.

Caldwell carefully observes the riots that spread in ethnic neighborhoods across France in 2005, during which thousands of cars were burned. "Who were these rioters?" he asks. "Were they admirers of France's majority culture, frustrated at not being able to join it on equal terms? Or did they simply aspire to burn to the ground a society they despised, whether for its exclusivity, its hypocrisy, or its weakness?"

The most chilling observation in Caldwell's book may be that the debate over Muslim immigration in Europe is one that the continent can't openly have, because anyone remotely critical of Islam is branded as Islamophobic.

Europe's citizens -- as well as its leaders, its artists and, crucially, its satirists -- are scared to speak, because of a demonstrated willingness by Islam's fanatics to commit violence against their perceived opponents. There exists, Caldwell writes, a kind of "standing fatwa" against Islam's critics.

Caldwell, who is also a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, finds things to praise about Islamic society, but he is unsparing about its deficiencies.

"The Islamic world is an economic and intellectual basket case, the part of the potentially civilized world most left behind by progress," he writes. He adds, devastatingly: "Spain translates more foreign books in a year than all the Arab-speaking countries have translated since the reign of Caliph Mamoun in the ninth century."

"Reflections on the Revolution in Europe" is more descriptive than proscriptive. Better intermediaries between East and West are sorely needed, Caldwell implies during his thumping takedown of the Swiss Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan, whom he accuses of placating Western audiences while encouraging jihad through coded language.

Among Caldwell's few heroes is the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who refers to himself as a "demanding friend" of Muslims in France and who, as France's interior minister, reduced the number of first-time residency permits the country offered. Sarkozy, the author writes, is moving beyond "uncritical multiculturalism."

Caldwell's book is well researched, fervently argued and morally serious. It may serve as a dense, footnoted wake-up call to many of Europe's liberal democracies. It is also a worst-case overview of Muslim immigration into Europe, and it is possible that Caldwell overstates his case.

It is hard to argue with his ultimate observation about Europe today: "When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture" (Europe's) "meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines" (Islam's), "it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter."

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