Douglas Murray in ‘The Suicide of Europe’ argues that European civilisation based on Greek philosophy, the Judeo-Christian tradition and of the Enlightenment is ‘staring into the abyss’ and is doing so because of its own actions, why?
- Mass Migration from Africa and the Middle East.
- Europe has lost faith in itself – in its beliefs and values.
Murray argues that multiculturalism and assimilation has failed, that migrants have opposing views and values to Europeans (a clash of civilisations/cultures thesis). We took ‘them’ in because of our colonial guilt and because of this we have increased crime and terrorism as a result.
In short, the argument is that European values have been abandoned by the European elites and now we face a ‘clash of cultures/civilisations’ that migrants bring.
This neatly sidesteps the arguments deriving from an examination of political economy such as Wolfgang Streecks’ (2016) ‘Post Capitalist Interregnum‘ which asks us to examine much broader social, political, economic and philosophic transformations.
While there is no doubt that rapid influxes of people with different cultures is unsettling to indigenous groups, and brings certain problems. It is probably the case that complex factors such as poor management of migration, the stoking of nativist feelings, and insufficient support for communities from local and central governments, as well as the willingness of traffickers and employers to exploit cheap labour, that create those problems. It is ironic that apologists for right wing neoliberalism (which emphasises free trade based on free movement of goods, services, labour and capital, deregulation, a small state and tax cuts), now complain about the effects of such liberalisation. In dismissing the history of colonialism and imperialism as ‘guilt’ they also wish to distance themselves from root causes, from the push and pull factors of migration. In reducing the ability of local authorities to provide services for local and migrant communities, central governments have helped to create the conditions for social tension.
To focus on the migrants themselves, and to argue that because they don’t share ‘our values’ (perhaps some don’t) our European culture is dying, is racist cant dressed up as intellectual argument.
We have heard this before: Western civilisation will be destroyed as a result of a conspiracy, of people who do not share European values. The clash of cultures/civilisations narrative is not only wrong, it is a cornerstone for building a fascist narrative:
There is “…a declaration of war by sub humans against culture (meaning Western European culture) itself…the absolute destruction of all economic, social and civilising advances made by western civilisation for the benefit of a rootless and nomadic clique of conspirators…”
“Old Europe is dying”
“He who defends (the migrant) harms his own people”
“How deeply the perverse…spirit has penetrated…cultural life is shown in the frightening and horrifying forms of the Exhibition of Art…the botched art works which were exhibited …and their creators, are of yesterday and before yesterday. They are the senile representatives, no longer to be taken seriously, of a period that we have intellectually and politically overcome and whose monstrous, degenerate creations still haunt the field of the …arts in our time.”
Goebbels was ranting against the Munich Art exhibition in which he saw the work of ‘jewish degenerates’ in the artwork on show. Today, we will have tirades against the culture of migrants and while certain practices are abhorrent (female genital mutilation for example), it is surely the case that migrants as a heterogenous group do not have the monopoly on abhorrent cultural practices. There is also an unstated conflation between ‘migrant’ and ‘Islamic terrorist’ in this narrative which neatly skates over the many differences between migrants and within Islam itself. Just as Catholics are not paedophiles nor are all migrants terrorists.
The clash of ‘western european civilisation’ and an incoming migrant based ‘Islamic civilisation’ was also put forward by Samuel Huntingdon in 1997. Edward Said (2004) argues that this thesis is an example of
“the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims” (p. 293). And I would add ‘against migrants’.
Huntingdon’s claims have empirically, historically, logically, and ideologically been challenged (Fox, 2005; Mungiu Pippidi & Mindruta, 2002; Henderson & Tucker, 2001; Russett, Oneal, & Cox, 2000).
Amartya Sen (1999) argued:
“…diversity is a feature of most cultures in the world. Western civilization is no exception. The practice of democracy that has won out in the modern West is largely a result of a consensus that has emerged since the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and particularly in the last century or so. To read in this a historical commitment of the West—over the millennia—to democracy, and then to contrast it with non-Western traditions (treating each as monolithic) would be a great mistake”.
Sen’s point about ‘monolithic’ Western and Islamic culture is pertinent. They are not, and have not been, monolithic in practice, ideals, religion, values, ethnicities or philosophy. Murray’s pointing to the Enlightenment and to Greek Philosphy and to the Judeo-Christian tradition smacks just a little of the the Eton/Oxbridge elites’ view of the world. Most of us did not study PPE at Oxford’s Magdelen College or are classical scholars from Cambridge. Murray should look a little harder around the UK to note the diversity, well actualy I think he has…and he appears to hate it. He might benefit from a taking a ‘Historical Materialism’ perspective as well as his ‘elite view’, but of course anything deriving from dialectical materialism will be anathema to supporters of neoconservatism.
In his 2003 book Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman again argues that distinct cultural boundaries do not exist in the present day. He argues there is no “Islamic civilization” nor a “Western civilization”, and that the evidence for a civilization clash is not convincing, especially when considering relationships such as that between the United States and Saudi Arabia. In addition, he cites the fact that many Islamic extremists spent a significant amount of time living or studying in the Western world. According to Berman, conflict arises because of philosophical beliefs various groups share (or do not share), regardless of cultural or religious identity.
Timothy Garton Ash objects to the ‘extreme cultural determinism…crude to the point of parody’ of Huntington’s idea that Catholic and Protestant Europe is headed for democracy but that Orthodox Christian and Islamic Europe must accept dictatorship.
Edward Said issued a response to Huntington’s thesis in his 2001 article, “The Clash of Ignorance“. Said argues that Huntington’s categorization of the world’s fixed “civilizations” omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture. This means that migrants and hosts interact and develop dynamically. One just has to note how Britain has changed culturally for the better from the waves of immigration for over 100 years. Just think about our food, clothing and music for example. If you want to argue that migrants are a bloc and will stifle old European traditions and cultures to have to accord them a power they do not have. You have to deny the dynamic interplay of cultures and you have to ignore history. Of course, what happened in the past does not predict the future, but an examination of history shows a dialectic relationship between cultures, a dynamic that will surely continue. Some migrants do establish enclaves, many do not.
Antonio Tajani provides a more humane, less ‘fascist’, response to what is indeed a migrant crisis. Rather than blaming migrants themselves, he points to other geopolitical factors as root causes: “instability, insecurity, terrorism, poverty, famine and climate change (climate breakdown) in Africa and the Middle East”. I would add that modernity’s turn since the 1970’s in the Anglo-American world especially, towards atomised individualism, gross inequality, the breakdown of notions of community and society, the lauding of money as the final arbiter of one’s success, global capital flows, the role of the finance sector and globalised corporations, the rise of a plutocracy and the mean minded quasi fascist national press have as much to do with social unrest and cultural fractures as the unmanaged influx of migrants. The UK in particular could have decided on its own how best to manage eastern european migration but did not bother. As for African and Middle Eastern Migrant flows to Europe…it behoves European nations who have ‘meddled’ in those countries to respond to the push factors they helped create. To call this guilt merely dodges the issue.
In other words, there have been massive structural transformations in global capitalism(s) and in geopolitics that are the contextual milieu in which the personal troubles of an out of work factory worker voting for Trump, Brexit or a far right party, are experienced. It is the inability to place oneself in this wider context that leads to searches for an easy answer…so cometh the strong man with a populist, or religious, response.
The evidence is that cultures can live harmoniously together without always having to converge. Ashcroft and Bevir (2018) point out the very long history of largley successful multiculturalism in Britain. Properly managed migration is not a threat, the populist proto fascists are. Douglas Murray merely polishes an intellectual gloss onto a fascist boot.
Douglas Murray was educated at Eton and Oxford, and is clearly very educated, articulate and erudite. He wrote the ‘Suicide of Europe’ after careful consideration of the issues. His is not a racist testament, but in his eyes is an honest account of the threats certain people bring when they arrive in Europe. I agree Islam contains within it anti democratic, mysogynistic and homophobic core texts. I am not fan of any Abrahamic Religion. I believe in the strict separation of State and Religion which sadly in the United States has been eroded by the ‘moral majority’ of Evangelical ‘Born Again’ Christians who pose a threat to European culture if imported from across the Atlantic.
Ashcroft, R and Bevir, M. (2018) Multiculturalism in contemporary Britain. Policy Law and theory. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. 21(1):1-21
Berman, P. (2003). Terror and Liberalism. W W Norton & Company
Fox, J. (2005). Paradigm Lost: Huntington’s Unfulfilled Clash of Civilizations Prediction into the 21st Century. International Politics, 42, pp. 428–457.
Garton Ash, T. (2000) History of the Present. Penguin.
Mungiu-Pippidi, A., & Mindruta, D. (2002). Was Huntington Right? Testing Cultural Legacies and the Civilization Border. International Politics, 39(2), pp. 193 213.
Henderson, E. A., & Tucker, R. (2001). Clear and Present Strangers: The Clash of Civilizations and International Conflict. International Studies Quarterly, 45, pp. 317 338.
Russett, B. M.; Oneal, J. R.; Cox, M. (2000). “Clash of Civilizations, or Realism and Liberalism Déjà Vu? Some Evidence” Journal of Peace Research. 37: 583–608.
Parekh, B. Is Islam a threat to Europe’s Multicultural Democracies? https://books.openedition.org/ceup/1283?lang=en
Said, E. (2001) The Clash of Ignorance. The Nation. October.
Said, E. W. (2004). From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map. New York: Pantheon
Sen, A (1999). “Democracy as a Universal Value”. Journal of Democracy. 10 (3): 3–17
UCL research report on immigration: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1113/05112013-ucl-migration-research-salt-dustmann/