3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2013
Over the last few years a cottage industry of provocative right-wing books has sprung up that address Europe's current problems with Islam. The argument made by these books, roughly, goes like this:
(1) Europe has a serious demographic issue to contend with: the indigenous population isn't reproducing fast enough to replace itself. This problem is exacerbated by expensive welfare provisions.
(2) In order to counter the birth deficit, the continent has become dependent on immigrants, a large number of whom are Muslims who have been brought up in strikingly different cultures with antithetical values (for instance, the belief that homosexuals deserve to be "punished", and that women should not be allowed any independence).
(3) European societies fail to integrate these immigrants, resulting in serious cultural friction, as reactionary Muslims lash out against an apathetic and nihilistic host community.
(4) Over time, the rapidly growing Muslim group will become more prominent and have a stronger effect on their respective countries, and Europe in general.
That, in short, is what has come to be known as the Eurabia thesis, as put forward by Niall Ferguson, Christopher Caldwell, Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn, Walter Laqueur, Bernard Lewis and Bruce Bawer, and occassionally entertained by Theodore Dalrymple. This book doesn't put forward precisely the same argument, but it does grapple with many of the same issues, though in a very tangential manner. Lest you think that this book is just out to lambaste Muslims though, it should be pointed out that most of the book is less about Europe's "Muslim problem" than about European culture. Berlinski's polemic regularly focuses more on examples of neo-paganism and neo-nazism, rather than Islamism. The book is very unfocused and uneven, but if one were to try to find a single message to the book it would be this: America, don't be like Europe.
"Menace in Europe" feels more like a collection of essays, rather than a coherent whole. For instance, Berlinski devotes an entire chapter to analysing the chart-topping German heavy metal group, Rammstein. The author points out the disturbing (though possibly unconscious) Nazi-esque qualities of the band, and makes some suggestive points about their unprecedented popularity in Germany. Interesting though this might be, it hardly demands an entire chapter. In another chapter Berlinski draws our attention to Jose Bove - an environmentalist protestor with a significant fanbase that includes Naomi Klein. Having introduced us to the charismatic green crusader, Berlinksi sets about charting a philosophical geneology of this archetype. It turns out that Bove represents the most recent example of an ancient trend, with many, many antecedents in previous centuries. Once again, this is interesting and does help to give a feel for how some Europeans think, and why. Still, an entire chapter..?
Like all the other books in this genre, we find a strong right-wing slant that is likely to cause controversy among readers. For example, people from the left will take issue when Berlinksi (all too typically) conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Berlinski really does seem to struggle to understand how liberals think on this issue, so allow me to provide some illucidation: liberals focus on the failings of their own country, or society, rather than point the finger at others. Because Israel is perceived as a Western outpost, planted and supported by Europe and America, liberals tend to think of Israel as "one of ours" rather than "one of theirs" - as such, they feel responsible for it and entitled to criticise it in a way that they cannot bring themselves to do with other foreign states (that, to the liberal mind, smacks of racism and nationalist hubris). As a result of this, liberals will tend to focus on the sins of Israel rather than on, say, Saudi Arabia. What might at first seem like an irrational and bigoted focus on the Jewish state is in fact more often than not just another example of the usual liberal disinclination to judge others. No doubt Berlinski is right to question the motives of some of the more vitriolic critics of Israel, but to assume that this is a sign of out and out anti-Semitism in the majority of cases is a bit much. There are quite a few other things in the book that are likely to irritate readers who aren't avowed conservatives (though not nearly as many as in the works of, say, Bruce bawer or Mark Steyn). Of course, this shouldn't necessarily be taken as an argument against the book per se, but it should be taken as a "heads up" for any non-conservatives who intend to read it.
All in all, the book contains many interesting details and observations, but despite the author's considerable wit and erudition, "Menace in Europe" is just too uneven and unfocused to really stand on its own. My advice would be to read Christopher Caldwell's "Reflection on the Revolution in Europe" (itself, a hardly perfect work, but one that is much more tightly focused and balanced in its analysis), and if you found that book interesting then you might want to follow it up with Berlinski's one as a supplement.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2006
The author appears to be a young American secular Jewish woman who has spent a lot of time in different European countries. She writes in a popular style far removed from any academic pretence of objectivity and has aimed at the American market. Her approach is that of a journalistic travel book which may leave one wondering how representative her contacts and friends are, for from them she gives us her generalizations on the state of Europe. For example her studies at Oxford lead her to write about British Muslims who are high achievers, not your average poor immigrants from the Indian sub-continent.. Her other source on the English Muslim situation is from contemporary novels. This is not exactly first hand research into the lives of ordinary Muslims.
There are though some observations one rarely hears. Richard Dawkins is the promulgator of "the condescending strain of atheism ...His remarkably unattractive world view manges not only to be spiritually empty but also intellectually embarrassing". However her analysis of religion in Britain is perfunctory and I really do doubt that Islam is the fastest growing religion by conversion among native Britons. However this is the only book I have read that tells us the British approach to multiculturalism is so monumentally flawed as to waste public money translating publications into "community languages" where the people in these communities who have not learned English are illiterate in their own mother tongues .
The authors contrast with France where ethnic communities are not officially recognized and assimilation into all things French is encouraged is most enlightening. After reading this book one has a much better understanding of the French secularist imposition of uniformity in the public square.
With the present inability of most European countries to have self sustaining reproduction rates the demographic decline of Europe is foreseen as is the probable devastating economic consequences. There are timely warnings here. but one also has to wade through some awful reproduction of the lyrics of a revolting German pop group as she warns us about resurgent nationalism.
Once again here is a book often good on the diagnosis of Europe's problems but giving no prescriptions for a cure. I am left wondering why the author divides her time between Paris and Istanbul, not living in the US which is the envy of the world and where cultural diversity is, she reckons, so much better, even the restaurants.
31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 2 September 2006
I bought this book along with a few others which I thought might challenge my world-view. This I have to say it signally failed to do.
It's basically a series of essays, reasonably well-written, each one expounding why a particular European country is awful.
The problem is that the analysis is so facile, and comes from a deeply flawed perspective. This book really depends on you holding a world-view similar to the author - "the only response to terrorism is not force - it's overwhelming force". "Al-Qaeda don't want us in Iraq, so we should be there".
Her analysis of Britain is laughable - it consists primarily of reviews of works of fiction by British immigrants, and interviewing two Asians. This might bear some wieght if she had penetrated deep into an Al-Qaida cell to gain insight into the radical mind at work, but in fact she interviews two middle-class Asians of no particular religious or political belief.
Who happen to be friends of hers. From Oxbridge. Not exactly a representative sample of British immigrants. You almost feel that she's putting in place a "Look, I'm not anti-Islam, some of my best friends are Asian..." defence.
Again the perspective is odd. After describing the life of one of her Asian chums, a businessman who lives a succession of empty love affairs in his opulent bachelor pad and is clearly desperately lonely and unhappy, she comments "You are, by any measure, the most succesful man I know...". The jaw drops.
The attack on Holland is based around the fact that some Dutch cooperated with the Nazis in the final solution 60 years ago. Yes, they did. And so too did people in every other nation conquered by the Nazis. Reality check: in every nation there are mean, fearful, cowardly people who will cooperate with authoritarianism because it is in their nature. If we in Britain had been conquered there would have been those who cooperated, if the US had been conquered, there would have been those who cooperated.
Spain is dismissed with insulting brevity as cowards who retreated because they were bombed. No mention is given to the fact that the Spanish people have endured the terrorist assaults of ETA for decades without flinching. No mention is given of the fact that the Spanish government attempted to brutally mislead the Spanish people in the aftermath of the bombings, or that the Spanish vote was largely a reaction to this.
Germany is portrayed as being full of neo-fascists because a very popular German Metal band uses imagery and lyrics that can - and has been - interpreted as being pro-Nazi (Strongly denied by the band in question). Presumably this lady thinks that America is similalry pro-Nazi. Or maybe she has never heard of Pink Floyd or seen The Wall.
As I said, I read this book in the hope that I would be challenged in my beliefs. I wasn't; there isn't enough substance here to challenge anything. A mish-mash of prejudiced opinions, selective analysis, and interviews of no particular insight, presented as individual essays with no unifying thread, does nothing to further my knowledge of our times.
The writing is engaging and occasionally amusing, but this doesn't rescue the fundamental flaws.