FindArticles > National Review > Nov 19, 1990 > Article > Print friendly

The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming! - growth of Muslimphobia

Daniel Pipes

Muslimphobia is growing in the West, fueled more by an influx of brown-skinned taxidrivers and factory workers than by Saddam Hussein. How frightened should we be?

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. The Communists have hardly been "put to sleep"; they 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 or saving money for the next vacation.

Condon's strain of thought, which is by now widely held, may stem in large part from the disappointment Americans experienced after World War II. The victory over fascism was supposed to inaugurate a new era, courtesy of the United Nations and modern science. Then Stalin and Mao dashed this euphoria. Reluctant to be fooled a second time, Americans are now preparing themselves for yet another adversary.

And so it is that Americans, and Europeans as well, are turning in increasing numbers to a very traditional bogeyman-the Muslim. Some focus on a single country (in April, four months before the invasion of Kuwait, Newsweek dubbed Saddam Hussein "Public Enemy No. 1"), but most look at the Middle East as a whole, if not the entire Muslim world.

In 1984, Leon Uris explained that his purpose in writing The Haj, a novel, was to warn the West "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 Muslimphobia took off in 1989, a by-product of the orgy of speculation that accompanied the liberation of Central Europe.

Concerns about a Muslim threat divide into two distinct varieties. One concentrates on Iran, Libya, and the other hostile states, and sees a military force bent on jihad (Islamic righteous war). The other, focusing on migration to the West, fears that Muslim immigrants will subvert Western civilization from within.

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. Thus, William S. Lind (who once served as an advisor to Gary Hart) worries that "the implication of a Soviet collapse . . . might be that Muslim armies would again be besieging the gates of Vienna."

Peter Jenkins, a leading British commentator, concurs, seeing today's problem in the 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."

Editorial writers at London's Sunday Times found that the concept of containment still holds:

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 per cent said Iran, 21 per cent the USSR, and 14 per cent the Arab countries in general. More than half the respondents-57 per cent 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 between capitalism and Communism, but between the West and Islam. The fundamentalists boast that they will win this battle. Editorialists at Jomhuri-ye Islami, a Teheran daily, put it baldly earlier this year: "Westerners have correctly understood that the world movement of Islam is the biggest threat to the 'corrupt Western empire."' Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the leading ideologue in the Iranian leadership, frequently makes this point: "The world in the future will have several powerful blocs.... Ultimately Islam will become the supreme power." From Morocco to Indonesia, Muslims of a fundamentalist disposition share this outlook.

Responding to Jihad

HOW SHOULD the West respond? Some say the key is building cooperation among 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. NATO should be extended outside of the European theater. SDI should be developed for use against Iraqi or Libyan missiles.

More imaginative are those who would reach out to the Christian portions of the Soviet empire as an ally against the Muslims. As the three Slavic republics, the three Baltic republics, and Moldavia, Georgia, and Armenia return to their historic allegiances, they can extend the reach of Europe eastward. The most provocative notion involves building a military alliance with these peoples, and especially the Russians. The London 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. 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 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.

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 Libyan thuggery than to lick Qaddafi'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 poems, from El Cid to Don Quixote. In real life, southern Europeans 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 army, for example, has more tanks than does the German, and the missiles banned from Europe by the Intermediate Nuclear Force treaty can be found in the Middle East. Middle Eastern states have turned terrorism into a tool of statecraft. About a dozen Muslim states have chemical and biological war capabilities. Impressive capacities to manufacture a wide range of materiel have been established in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Before long, several of these states are likely to deploy atomic bombs.

To make matters worse, Muslims have gone through a 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 have been enormous and the results agonizing; Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world. Only Turkey (and sometimes Pakistan) is fully democratic, and even there the system is frail. Everywhere else, the head of government got to power through force his own or someone else's. The result is endemic instability plus a great deal of aggression.

But none of this justifies seeing Muslims as the paramount enemy.

For one thing, not all Muslims hate the West. Survey research and elections suggest that Muslims who do hate the West-dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists constitute no more than 10 per cent of the Muslim population. For another, Muslims are not fanatical by nature, but are frustrated by their current predicament.

Further, Muslims are not now politically unified and never will be so. They are in the throes of working out conflicting nationalist claims (Lebanon and Syria), divergent ideological programs (Syria and Iraq), overlapping territorial claims (Iraq and Iran), contrasting religious visions (Iran and Saudi Arabia), and so forth. Arab unity has failed, as have the other schemes to bind Muslims together politically.

The violence of the Middle East symptomizes these disagreements. The Iraq-lran war, a purely Muslim conflict, lasted a horrifying eight years and consumed in its peak days as many lives as the Arab-Israeli conflict has over four decades. Muslims are also at one another's throats in the Western Sahara, Chad, Lebanon, and Central Asia. Even if the faithful were once again to plan a siege of Vienna, 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. Kings Hassan of Morocco and Hussein of Jordan have long worked with Western governments, as have the rulers of Tunisia, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The Saudis have invested so heavily in the West that 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 remains outside the realm of serious discussion about American policy.

Culture Clash

THE OTHER worry results-ironically-from precisely the fact that so many Muslims are attracted to the West. They like it so much, in fact, 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."

All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most. Also, Muslims 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, also hope to remake Europe and America in their own image. They are not shy about saying so. Thus, the editor of a Bengali-language newspaper in England, Harunur Rashid Tipu, explained that the leaders of the Young Muslim Organization seek ultimately "to build an Islamic society."

Of course, to build an Islamic society means taking political power. And while this is remote, it is just possible. In West Germany, one hears that, "In the year 2000 we will have a federal chancellor of Turkish origins." In perhaps the most extreme manifestation of this concern, several years ago 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 Eastern leaders such as the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and Qaddafi 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, Teheran 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, and these concerns have political potency. In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen characterizes Islam as "a religion of intolerance" and fears "an invasion of Europe by a Muslim immigration." His political party, the Popular Front, openly advocates expelling immigrants from France. The Republicans in West Germany and xenophobic groups in other countries share Le Pen's outlook and program.

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, this does reflect genuine apprehension.

Here, There, Everywhere

DEMOGRAPHIC FACTS underlie fears both of jihad and of immigration. Muslims number nearly one billion. The constitute more than 85 per cent of the population in some 32 countries, between 25 and 85 per cent of the population in 11 more countries, and significant proportions (though less than 25 per cent) in another 47 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 total fertility rate of six children per Muslim woman, compared to 1.7 per woman in the developed countries. These higher rates apply in almost every Muslim country from North Africa to Southeast Asia to Central Asia.

Some see in this demographic imbalance the single greatest challenge to Western civilization. Patrick Buchanan sums up the sense of foreboding with his customary panache:

For a millennium, the struggle for mankind's destiny was

between Christianity and Islam; in the twenty-first 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 fewer than 6.6 children per woman (1981 estimate).

Of course, the situation is very different in the West, but there too Muslim populations are growing. Muslims total two to three million in the United States and about 11 million in Western Europe. Muslims outnumber Jews and have become the second largest religious community in most Western European countries. In the United States, Muslims will become the second largest religious community in about ten years.

The Need to Modernize

FEARS OF a Muslim influx have more substance than the worry about jihad. Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene. Muslim immigrants bring with them a chauvinism that augurs badly for their integration into the mainstream of the European societies. 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" like the Soviet danger. Muslim immigrants will probably not change the face of European life: pubs will not close down, secularist principles will restrict the role of religion, and freedom of speech will remain a fundamental right. The movement of Muslims to Western Europe creates a great number of painful but finite challenges; there is no reason to see it as leading to a cataclysmic battle. 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 are also important. Should fundamentalist Muslims move to the United States and choose to remain outside the mainstream culture, that too can be accommodated, as the Amish Mennonites of Pennsylvania and the Hasidic Jews of New York City make clear.

There is a final point. The prediction that Communists will be re laced by Muslims as the main threat suggests that ideological divisions will 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 a philosopher) 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 will become the key issue.

But Fukuyama's prediction seems most improbable. A great and bloody argument over the human condition has been the driving force of history over the past two centuries, from the French Revolution to the Nicaraguan civil war. Can this deeply divisive argument entirely burn itself out, to be replaced by the atavistic hostilities that ruled before 1789? Not very likely.

My skepticism about the end of ideology leads me to the following conclusion: The future relations of Muslims and Westerners depend less on crude numbers or place of residence, and much more on beliefs, skills, and institutions. The key issue is whether the Muslims will modernize. And the answer lies not in the Koran but in the attitudes and actions of nearly a billion Muslims.

Should they fail to modernize, their stubborn record of illiteracy, poverty, intolerance, and autocracy will continue, and perhaps worsen. Military and cultural tensions with the West might well become more acute. But if Muslims do modernize, things will turn out differently. Then they have a good chance to become literate, affluent, and politically stable. They will no longer need to train terrorists or build missiles for use against the West; to emigrate to Europe and America; or, once having moved, to resist integration in Western societies.

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