Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate, recently declared: "Now that the Communists have been put to sleep, we are going to have to invent another terrible threat." This is, of course, complete nonsense. Communists have hardly been "put to sleep," but have plenty of punch left in them, especially in the Third World. Further, Americans did not invent the Soviet threat-tanks, ICBMs, and a global ideology made it real enough. And far from needing "another terrible threat" to replace the Soviet Union, we should look to perfecting liberty and free markets here at home. If that's too heady, we ought to be quite happy to go back to watching baseball games or saving money for the next vacation.
Still, let us grant that communism is dead and that the West should beware a fall-back villain; who shall it be? There aren't many obvious candidates. Drug traffickers and apartheidists can do in a pinch; but both of these are minor actors, limited in time as well as space-and reactionary South Africans are not even hostile to the West. Some Americans look to Japan or the Common Market after 1992 as the coming menace; but really, how can democratic countries fill this role? A real enemy must inspire more visceral feelings than do exchange rates and trade imbalances.
And so it is that increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans are turning to a very traditional boogieman-the Muslim. This profound and ancient fear is far from imaginary. The Arab conflict with Israel could escalate to nuclear warfare, as could Pakistan's dispute with India. Iranian terrorism against the West severely wounded two American presidents. Iraqi invasions into Iran and Kuwait represented a plausible effort to grab over half the world's oil reserves.
Nor is the idea of the Muslims as the outstanding threat to Western civilization entirely new. As early as 1984, Leon Uris explained that his purpose in writing The Haj, a novel, "was to warn the West and Western democracies that you can't keep your head in the sand about this situation any longer, that we have an enraged bull of a billion people on our planet, and tilted the wrong way they could open the second road to Armageddon." But Muslim-phobia took off only in 1989, a by-product of the orgy of speculation that accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and the liberation of Central Europe.
Speculations about a Muslim threat divide into two distinct types. Some observers point to hostile states and the military forces bent on jihad (Islamic righteous war). Others focus on migrants to the West and fear a subversion of Western civilization from within. For the latter, the mischief of a Saddam Husayn or Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi poses fewer dangers than that of their followers living in our midst.
National Review cover, Nov. 19, 1990.
The last time Muslims physically threatened Christendom (a term increasingly coming back into vogue) was in 1683, when Ottoman soldiers camped outside the walls of Vienna. The memory of this event has been revived in the past few years. Thus, William S. Lind (who once served as an advisor to Gary Hart) worries that "the implication of a Soviet collapse, of the disintegration of the traditional Russian empire, might be that Moslem armies would again be besieging the gates of Vienna."
Peter Jenkins, a leading British commentator, concurs. He sees today's problem in light of a conflict going back six and a half centuries: "keeping Islam at bay was Europe's preoccupation from 1354, when Gallipoli fell, until the last occasion on which the Turks stood at the gates of Vienna in 1683. It is once more a preoccupation in the face of the Islamic Revolution." Leonard Horwin, a former mayor of Beverly Hills, neatly doubled the time span in a letter to The Wall Street Journal:
The real confrontation is between Judeo-Christian civilization... and militant Islam.... One thousand three hundred years of militant Islam verify that it cannot tolerate the sovereign presence of the dhimmi ("inferior") people, whether Christian (e.g. Lebanon) or Jewish (Israel) - save so long as the dhimmis can defend themselves.
Looking to the future, editorial writers at London's Sunday Times found that the concept of containment still holds:
Almost every month the threat from the Warsaw Pact diminishes; but every year, for the rest of this decade and beyond, the threat from fundamentalist Islam will grow. It is different in kind and degree from the cold war threat. But the West will have to learn how to contain it, just as it once had to learn how to contain Soviet communism.
Ideological enthusiasms like Marxism-Leninism will wax and wane, these writers are saying, but the Muslim adversary remains permanently in place.
Far from representing the eccentric thoughts of a few commentators, such fears appear to touch a nerve deep in the Western psyche. To cite one piece of survey research, a poll conducted in mid-1989 asked French citizens "Which of the following countries appear to you today to be the most threatening to France?" In response, 25 percent answered Iran, 21 percent the U.S.S.R., and 14 percent the Arab countries in general. More than half the respondents-57 percent to be exact-believed that one or more of the Muslim states are most threatening to France. Similar opinions can be found in the other countries of Western Europe.
Some Muslims, the fundamentalists, encourage these fears. For one, they declare that the great conflict of this age is not that between the United States and the Soviet Union, or between capitalism and communism, but between the West and Islam. They see Russia as part of the West. A member of Hamas, the fundamentalist Palestinian group, holds that "it is a battle of civilizations, and the Russians are part of it." Some Muslims, like the president of Iran, go further and declare that "East and West have joined forces" against Islam.
Fundamentalists boast they will win this battle of titans. Editorialists at Jomhuri-ye Islami, a Tehran daily, put it baldly in early 1990: "Westerners have correctly understood that the world movement of Islam is the biggest threat to the 'corrupt Western empire.'" The newspaper argued that Muslims must prove how "the world movement of Islam" can defeat the West. 'Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a leading Iranian hardliner, has even greater aspirations: "The world in the future will have several powerful blocs. The Islamic power will play a decisive role in this.... Ultimately Islam will become the supreme power." From Morocco to Indonesia, Muslims of a fundamentalist disposition share this outlook.
How should the West respond? While the question is too new to have received much attention, the main lines of a response can be discerned. For some, the key step lies in building cooperation between Western states. On the mundane level, industrial democracies should band together and preserve the liberal traditions of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the like; and they should cooperate against terrorism and other acts of violence. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should be extended outside of the European theater. The Strategic Defense Initiative should be developed for use against Iraqi or Libyan missiles.
More imaginative are those notions which would reach out to the Soviet Union-or, more accurately, the Christian portions of the Soviet Empire-as an ally against the Muslims. As the three Slavic republics, the three Baltic republics, Moldavia, Georgia, and Armenia return to their historic allegiances, they can extend the population and geography of Europe. The most provocative notion has to do with building a military alliance with these peoples, and especially the Russians. The Sunday Times calls on the West and the Soviet Union jointly to "prepare for the prospect of an enormous and fundamentalist Islamic wedge," stretching from Morocco to China." In one of the most original geopolitical assessments of recent years, William Lind has suggested that "Russia's role as part of the West takes on special importance in the light of a potential Islamic revival.... The Soviet Union holds the West's vital right flank, stretching from the Black Sea to Vladivostok." Walter McDougall, the Pulitzer-prize winning historian, sees Russia
holding the frontier of Christendom against its common enemy. Should the Russian empire in Central Asia threaten to collapse, a full-scale religious war fought with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is not impossible. The Iraqis and Iranis have already proven themselves capable of it, and the desperate and frustrated Russians certainly possess the means. Even more than Israel/Palestine, the old caravan routes of Central Asia may contain the site of the next Sarajevo. Which side would "the others, who call themselves Christians" support?
What is one to make of these ideas? To begin with, they are a great improvement over the supine policies that many Western states, especially European ones, have adopted in recent years. It is better to exaggerate the danger of Iraqi thuggery than to lick Saddam Husayn's boots-as too many Westerners have done since the oil boom of 1973-74.
Further, the fear of Islam has some basis in reality. From the Battle of Ajnadayn in 634 until the Suez crisis of 1956, military hostility has always defined the crux of the Christian-Muslim relationship. Muslims served as the enemy par excellence from the Chanson de Roland to the Orlando trilogy, from El Cid to Don Quixote. In real life, Arabs or Turks represent the national villains throughout southern Europe. Europeans repeatedly won their statehood by expelling Muslim overlords, from the Spanish Reconquista beginning in the early eleventh century to the Albanian war of independence ending in 1912.
Today, many Muslim governments dispose of large arsenals; the Iraqi military, for example, has more tanks than does the German and deploys the sort of missiles banned from Europe by the Intermediate Nuclear Force treaty. Middle East states have turned terrorism into a tool of statecraft. About a dozen Muslim states have chemical and biological war capabilities. Impressive capabilities to manufacture a wide range of materiel have been established in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Were it not for the Israeli strike of 1981, Saddam Husayn would by now have his finger on a nuclear trigger.
To make matters worse, Muslims have gone through a terrible trauma during the last two hundred years-the tribulation of God's people who unaccountably found themselves at the bottom of the heap. The strains of this prolonged failure have been enormous and the results terrible; Muslim countries host the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world. Specifically, only Turkey and Pakistan are fully democratic, and in those two countries the system is very frail. Everywhere else, the head of government reached power through force-his own or someone else's. As in the rest of the world, autocracy invites leaders to pursue their own interests. The result is endemic instability plus a great deal of aggression.
But none of this justifies seeing Muslims as the paramount enemy.
For one, not all Muslims hate the West. Muslims who most hate the West-the fundamentalists-constitute a small minority in most places. Survey research and elections suggest that dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists most places constitute no more than 10 percent of the Muslim population. Muslims are not fanatical by nature, but are frustrated by their current predicament. Most of them wish less to destroy the West than to enjoy its benefits.
For another, Muslims are not now politically unified and never will be so. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait made this obvious for the whole world to see, but many other examples come to mind. Lebanon and Syria are in the throes of working out conflicting nationalist claims, Syria and Iraq have divergent ideological programs, Iraq and Iran claim overlapping territories, while Iran and Saudi Arabia espouse contrasting religious visions. Arab unity seems always to fail, as do the other schemes politically to bind Muslims together.
The violence of the Middle East symptomizes these disagreements. The Iraq-Iran war, a purely Muslim conflict, lasted a horrifying eight years consumed in its peak days as many lives as the Arab-Israeli conflict has over four decades. Today Muslims confront each other in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Others of the faithful are at each other's throat in the Western Sahara, Chad, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Indeed, the record suggests that wars between Muslims are two or three times more common than those waged against infidels. Even if Muhammad's people were once again to plan a siege of Vienna, then, their internal disputes would make their effort about as ineffective as their war on Israel.
Then too, there is the fact that more Muslim governments cooperate with the West than threaten it. Turkey is a member of NATO. The rulers of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia have cast their lot with their Western allies. Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich states have invested so heavily in the West, their interests are directly tied up with it. The picture is hardly one of uniform hostility.
For all these reasons, while jihad may not be utterly impossible, it exists outside the realm of serious discussion about American policy.
Ironically, the other worry results from precisely the fact that so many Muslims are attracted to the West. They like it so much they want to be part of it. As David Pryce-Jones notes, millions of Muslims "ask little better for themselves than to abandon their own societies for a European one." The growing Muslim immigration to the West raises a host of disturbing issues-cultural this time, not military-especially in Western Europe.
All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most. Also, they appear most resistant to assimilation. Elements among the Pakistanis in Britain, Algerians in France, and Turks in Germany seek to turn the host country into an Islamic society by compelling it to adapt to their way of life.
On a small scale, they demand that factories keep to the Islamic calendar, with its distinctive holidays and special rhythms; or that public schools be segregated by sex and teach the principles of Islam. A significant body of Muslims, especially followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, appear to hope they can remake Europe and America in their own image. And they are not shy to say so. The editor of a Bengali-language newspaper in England, Harunur Rashid Tipu, explained that the leaders of the Young Muslim Organisation, seek ultimately "to build an Islamic society here." In the Rushdie affair, the Muslim diaspora in the West and the regime in Tehran created a cultural and political crisis that struck at the heart of Western values of free speech and secularism, confirming the worst fears of many in the West.
Of course, to build an Islamic society means taking political power. And while this is remote, it is just foreseeable. A French woman of North African origins told a reporter, "Tomorrow I will be mayor, the day after president of the republic." In West Germany, one hears it said by politicians that, "In the year 2000 we will have a federal chancellor of Turkish origins." In perhaps the most extreme manifestation of this concern, Jean Raspail, the French intellectual, wrote a novel, The Camp of the Saints, depicting a Muslim takeover of Europe by an uncontrolled influx of Bangladeshis.
Middle East leaders, such as the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi of Libya, overtly encourage such aspirations. But it is the Iranian government that most aggressively advocates Muslim interests, even to the point of encouraging defiance of the authorities. In one statement, a hard-line Iranian newspaper declared that "the ever-increasing influence of Islam in the contemporary world is undeniable, whether the Western world likes it or not." On another occasion, Tehran warned that Muslims living in the United Kingdom may be forced "to seek ways outside the law to guard their rights."
Understandably, such bellicosity spurs anxiety among Westerners, even fears that Muslims will succeed in subverting the liberal tradition. In London, Peregrine Worsthorne expressed a widespread British sentiment in The Sunday Telegraph:
Islamic fundamentalism is rapidly growing into a much bigger threat of violence and intolerance than anything emanating from, say, the [extreme right] National Front; and a threat, moreover, infinitely more difficult to contain since it is virtually impossible to monitor, let alone stamp out, the bloodthirsty anti-Jewish and anti-Christian language being preached from the pulpits of many British mosques.... Britain has landed itself with a primitive religious problem that we had every reason to suppose had been solved in the Middle Ages.
Similar concerns can be heard in Russia too, where there is less concern about the former Soviet Union's 55 million Muslims gaining independence than that Muslims intend to move north and take over Moscow itself.
These concerns have political potency. Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French movement to oust immigrants, characterizes Islam as "a religion of intolerance" and openly fears "an invasion of Europe by a Muslim immigration." He heads a political party, the National Front, which explicitly advocates expelling immigrants from France. The Republicans in West Germany and xenophobic groups in other countries share Le Pen's outlook and program.
The far right looms large to the Muslim immigrants, insecure and largely disenfranchised as they are. Crude remarks and jokes, especially among Germans ("What is the difference between a Jew and a Turk?" "The Jew already got what he deserves, the Turk has yet to get it") lead some Muslims to worry about a Holocaust lying ahead. Kalim Saddiqui, director of London's Muslim Institute, speaks of "Hitler-style gas chambers for Muslims"; Shabbir Akhtar, a member of the Bradford Council of Mosques, writes that "the next time there are gas chambers in Europe, there is no doubt concerning who'll be inside them." However exaggerated, these statements reflect a genuine apprehension.
Demographic facts underlie Western fears both of jihad and immigration. Population growth permeates the Muslim consciousness with confidence about the future and imbues Westerners with a sense of foreboding.
Muslims number nearly one billion individuals. They constitute more than 85 percent of the population in some thirty-two countries; they make up between 25 and 85 percent of the population in eleven countries; and significant numbers but less than 25 percent in another forty-seven countries.
In contrast to Westerners, who are not able even to maintain their present numbers (today, only Poland, Ireland, Malta, and Israel have naturally growing populations), Muslims revel in some of the most robust birth rates in the world. According to a study by John R. Weeks, countries with large numbers of Muslims have a crude birth rate of 42 per thousand; by contrast, the developed countries have a crude birth rate of just 13 per thousand. Translated into the total fertility rate, this means 6 children per Muslim woman, 1.7 per woman in the developed countries. The average rate of natural increase in the Muslim countries is 2.8 percent annually; in the developed world, it is a mere 0.3 percent.
These higher rates apply in almost every Muslim country from North Africa to Southeast Asia, as well as within the confines of a single country. Take the former Soviet Union: Muslims there sustained a birth rate fully five times that of the non-Muslims. While Muslims constituted only 16 percent of the Soviet population, they accounted for 49 percent of the population increase between 1979 and 1989.
Some see in this demographic imbalance the single greatest challenge to Western civilization. Patrick Buchanan sums up these fears with his customary panache:
For a millennium, the struggle for mankind's destiny was between Christianity and Islam; in the 21st century, it may be so again.... We may find in the coming century that... cultural conservative T. S. Eliot was right, when the old Christian gentleman wrote in "The Hollow Men," that the West would end, "Not with a bang but a whimper"-perhaps the whimper of a Moslem child in its cradle.
High Muslim birth rates already drive politics in the two non-Muslim states of the Middle East. Christians lost control of Lebanon after Muslims became a majority there. The challenge of maintaining a Jewish majority lies near the heart of the Israeli political debate; the local Muslim population keeps up a fertility rate of no less than 6.6 children per woman (1981 estimate). Comparable political tensions have arisen on the fringes of the Middle East-in Ethiopia, Cyprus, Armenia, and Serbia-as the minority Muslim population climbs toward either political power or majority status.
Of course, the situation is very different in the West, but there too Muslim populations are growing. Muslims total 2-3 million in the United States and about 11 million in West Europe. Over 3 million Muslims live in France, about 2 million in West Germany, 1 million in the United Kingdom, and almost a million in Italy. Half a million Muslims live in Belgium. Almost five centuries after the fall of Granada, Spain now hosts 200,000 Muslims. Muslims outnumber Jews and have become the second largest religious community in most West European countries. In France, Muslims outnumber all non-Catholics combined, including both Protestants and Jews. In the United States, Muslims already number as many as Episcopalians; they should become the second largest religious community in about ten years.
Further, the Muslim birthrate far exceeds that of native Europeans and Americans, so that one-fifth of all children born in France have a father from North Africa and Muhammad is one of the most common given names in the United Kingdom. Estimates point to the Muslim population of West Europe reaching twenty to twenty-five million by the year 2000.
Muslim densities are particularly notable in some cities. London is home to a million Muslims and West Berlin to some 300,000. They make up ten percent of the population in Birmingham, the second largest city of Great Britain; in Bradford (where protests against The Satanic Verses picked up steam), they constitute fourteen percent of the population. They make up one-quarter of the population in Brussels, Saint-Denis (a suburb of Paris), and Dearborn, Michigan.
Responding to Immigration
Fears of a Muslim influx have more substance than the worry about jihad. West European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.* Muslim immigrants bring with them a chauvinism that augurs badly for their integration into the mainstream of the European societies. The signs all point to continued clashes between the two sides; in all likelihood, the Rushdie affair was merely a prelude to further troubles; already it has spawned a Muslim political party in Great Britain. Put differently, Iranian zealots threaten more within the gates of Vienna than outside them.
Still, none of this amounts to Richard Condon's notion of "another terrible threat" in any way resembling the Soviet danger. Muslim immigrants will probably not change the face of European life: pubs will not close down, secularist principles will not wither, freedom of speech is not likely to be abrogated. The movement of Muslims to Western Europe creates a great number of painful but finite challenges; there is no reason, however, to see this event leading to a cataclysmic battle between two civilizations. If handled properly, the immigrants can even bring much of value, including new energy, to their host societies.
The United States faces less of a problem, thanks to a long tradition of immigration and the healthy attitudes that go with it. Being an American depends far less on ancestry than on shared values, and this encourages enfranchisement. Meritocratic ethics and an open educational system do much to integrate the next generation. Should fundamentalist Muslims move to the United States and choose to remain outside the mainstream culture, that two can be accommodated, as made clear by the Amish Mennonites in Pennsylvania or the Hasidic Jews in New York City.
There is a final point. The prediction that Communists will be replaced by Muslims as the main threat suggests that ideological divisions will be give way to communitarian ones. And this conforms to Francis Fukuyama's thesis about the end of history-where the "end of history" means not that time when literally nothing happens but (as befits a term coined by the philosopher Hegel) a time of no further advancement in the understanding of the human condition; that is, the moment when no new ideologies can be devised. If history in this sense should end, what one thinks will lose importance; who one is becomes key.
But Fukuyama's prediction seems most improbable. A great and bloody argument over the human condition has been the driving force of history for two centuries, from the French Revolution to the Nicaraguan civil war. Can this deeply divisive intellectual dispute entirely burn itself out, to be replaced by the atavistic hostilities prevailing before 1789? That prospect seems too far-fetched to be taken seriously.
Returning to the issue of Muslims and the West, my skepticism about the end of ideology leads me to the following conclusion: Future relations of Muslims and Westerners depend less on crude numbers or place of residence, and much more on beliefs, skills, and institutions. The critical question is whether Muslims will modernize or not. And the answer lies not in the Qur'an or in the Islamic religion, but in the attitudes and actions of nearly a billion individuals.
Should Muslims fail to modernize, their stubborn record of illiteracy, poverty, intolerance, and autocracy will continue, and perhaps worsen. The sort of military crisis that Saddam Husayn provoked might well become yet more acute. But if Muslims do modernize, there is a reason to hope. In this case, they will have a good chance to become literate, affluent, and politically stable. They will no longer need to train terrorists or target missiles against the West; to emigrate to Europe and America; or to resist integration within Western societies.
* This sentence has over the years attracted considerable attention. My goal in it was to characterize the thinking of Western Europeans, not give my own views. In retrospect, I should either have put the words "brown-skinned peoples" and "strange foods" in quotation marks or made it clearer that I was explaining European attitudes rather than my own. By way of example of those attitudes, here are some quotations from top French politicians from that era.
Jacques Chirac, then president of RPR (Republican Party) and mayor of Paris, July 1983: "Le seuil de tolérance [de l'immigration] est dépassé dans certains quartiers et cela risque de provoquer des réactions de racisme."
François Mitterrand, president of France, December 12, 1989: "Le seuil de tolérance [de l'immigration] a été atteint dès les années 70 où il y avait déjà 4,1 à 4,2 millions d'étrangers. ... Autant que possible, il ne faut pas dépasser ce chiffre, mais on s'y tient depuis des années et des années."
Jacques Chirac, June 19, 1991: "Notre problème, ce n'est pas les étrangers, c'est qu'il y a overdose. C'est peut-être vrai qu'il n'y a pas plus d'étrangers qu'avant la guerre, mais ce n'est pas les mêmes et ça fait une différence. Il est certain que d'avoir des Espagnols, des Polonais et des Portugais travaillant chez nous, ça pose moins de problèmes que d'avoir des musulmans et des Noirs [...] Comment voulez-vous que le travailleur français qui travaille avec sa femme et qui, ensemble, gagnent environ 15000 francs, et qui voit sur le palier à côté de son HLM, entassée, une famille avec un père de famille, trois ou quatre épouses, et une vingtaine de gosses, et qui gagne 50000 francs de prestations sociales, sans naturellement travailler... si vous ajoutez le bruit et l'odeur, hé bien le travailleur français sur le palier devient fou. Et ce n'est pas être raciste que de dire cela."
Translated into English: "Our problem is not foreigners, it's that there is an overdose. It may be true that there are not more foreigners [now] than before the [Second World] War, but they are not the same ones, and that makes a difference. It is certain that having Spanish, Polish, and Portuguese working here with us creates fewer problems than having Muslims and Blacks. ... How do you want the French worker, who along with his wife earns altogether about 15,000 francs [a month], and who sees across the landing a family with a father, his three-four wives, and twenty or so kids, and which receives 50,000 francs from welfare, of course without working. ... If you add to this the noise and smell, well the French worker goes crazy. And it is not racist to say this."
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former president of France, September 21, 1991: "Bien que dans cette matière sensible il faille manipuler les mots avec précaution, en raison de la charge émotionnelle ou historique qu'ils portent, le type de problème auquel nous aurons à faire face se déplace de celui de l'immigration vers celui de l'invasion."
More quotations along these lines can be found at http://lmsi.net/article.php3?id_article=81 and http://wwwassos.utc.fr/~plaider/calimero/22/mots_a_maux.html.
Sep. 12, 2013 update: The title of this article has inspired the title of a so-called comedic documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" by Negin Farsad & Dean Obeidallah and released today.
"The Muslims Are Coming!" book cover.
"The Muslims Are Coming!" book cover.
the first comprehensive critique of counterradicalization strategies. The new policy and policing campaigns have been backed by an industry of freshly minted experts and liberal commentators. The Muslims Are Coming! looks at the way these debates have been transformed by the embrace of a narrowly configured and ill-conceived antiextremism.
Apr. 3, 2014 update: Kundnani acknowledges taking his book title from this article:
What I was hoping to do with the title is, by using this phrase The Muslims are Coming!, indicate the kind of history going back to the Cold War. And the phrase The Muslims are Coming! was also the title of an Islamophobic article written by an American Islamophobic writer called Daniel Pipes in the 1990s. So I am trying to take that kind of Islamophobic slogan and be sarcastic with it and turn it around.