A Review of The Strange Death of Europe

In The Strange Death of Europe, British author and journalist Douglas Murray strives to document the readily apparent and dramatic upheaval occurring in Europe. One has to do little more than turn on the news to witness stories of countless migrants pouring into the continent and claiming asylum in rich welfare states like Germany, France, and Norway. As Murray puts it in the book’s first sentence, “Europe is committing suicide.” The most apparent cyanide pill is unmitigated, ongoing immigration from the foreign and predominantly Islamic societies of the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa, but it is not the sole cause of death. According to Murray, the secondary fatal components of the great European suicide are declining indigenous birth rates and the loss of Europe’s faith, traditions, and values. In his book, Murray seeks to explain just how this poison was mixed and why Europe’s taking it, even though many of its natives know it’s lethally toxic.

In the book’s introduction, Murray’s thesis becomes clear; his book’s seemingly hyperbolic title and opening are anything but. Mixing historical and contemporary political analysis with journalistic reporting and an ironic tone, Murray sets out to convince the reader of Europe’s impending demographic, cultural demise. And so, what he offers us in The Strange Death of Europe is a multi-faceted yet compelling argument in favor of his opening assertion. Murray’s personal account of the immigration predicament is enriched by detailed anecdotal and observational descriptions of the ongoing realities of migration into Europe. In most of the book, the case he builds is so well-reasoned and worded, it seems downright inoffensive to all but the most radical defenders of these suicidal, open borders immigration policies. At times, the book seems to suffer from wordiness, a lack of consistent specific focus, and disorderly approach to chronology; however, these sins are not unforgivable and only distract minutely from the book’s central objectives.

In the book’s first half, he outlines the historical origins of the current catastrophe. He reveals its roots in the years following the end of the Second World War and then explores the effects of the ongoing migrant influx, namely cultural disruption and terrorism. He discusses the first arrivals of Turkish gastarbeiters (“guest workers”) to Germany in the 1960s and the transformative effect it had on local society. He elaborates on contemporary European pressures in favor of the migrants, as well as contradictory attitudes. One of the most surprising yet consistent trends that Murray explores is the opposition of native Europeans to the radical mass immigration policies of their governments, like the 60 percent of Germans, who in a May 2016 poll, said that Islam does not belong in Germany. He also introduces various notions of European continental guilt arising from colonialism, while revealing the double standard applied to European and Asian empires. The destruction caused by the Mongols and the Ottomans, he states, rivaled that caused by any European power.

Over the course of the book, he visits the Mediterranean islands which were the first to bear the brunt of the migratory wave. He describes Lampedusa, an Italian island closer to Africa than to Sicily, which has been a major point of entry into Europe for migrants. Once they make landfall on the small island, the migrants, who have bought passage with human smugglers, rejoice because they have arrived in Europe and therefore are entitled to certain rights and protections, such as the immediate ability to claim asylum. At a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, he listens to the stories of migrants, predominantly young men from South Asian nations like Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who would give anything to make it to desired countries in Europe. He recounts his meeting of two Afghan brothers, one of whom was raped by the Taliban, and the other who declares: “We have seen everything.” Sometimes these human interests feel out of sync with the rest of the book, humanizing an otherwise impersonal threat. In these instances, Murray demonstrates a level of compassion and personal understanding that is rare if not absent for the rest of the book.

The Strange Death of Europe features the most well-known, negative stories and figures concerning Islamic immigration en masse. He cites statistics often, and many of them are immediately jarring. For instance, he reveals that on some days in September 2015, as many as 10,000 migrants entered Sweden. He frequently references the 2015 New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany and at one point describes the organized and long-lasting abuse of at least 1,400 young children by Muslim men in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham. He condemns the self-isolating Islamic enclaves which forge and harbor jihadists, like the well-known Belgian municipality of Molenbeek, which provided refuge to the masterminds of the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and the urban “no-go zones” in which Swedish women are at risk of being raped. He rejects the conciliatory and evasive attitude that most media outlets take towards those Muslim communities, such as blaming Molenbeek’s jihadist sympathies on the failures of urban planning.

Murray depicts a political class of EU leaders oblivious to ordinary Europeans’ concerns as well as to the true motives of the “refugees” pouring into Europe. He reveals the establishment political and media opposition to any form of dissent with unchecked immigration policies. One of his most notable examples is the former Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an immigrant from Somalia and survivor of female genital mutilation, who assimilated to the Dutch way of life, abandoned Islam, and became a center-right politician. Murray writes that she was ostracized from Dutch political life and unfairly condemned for her criticism of Islam and Dutch immigration policies. Another example he gives is Oriana Fallaci, a celebrated Italian journalist, who in her final years devoted her writing to the criticism of Islam and earned herself widespread praise as well as condemnation from the elites of her time. Murray also recalls the disgraced British politician Enoch Powell who dared to criticize the UK’s immigration policies in his infamous 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech. Even though Enoch Powell was sacked as a shadow cabinet minister for his remarks, opinion polls taken at the time showed that three-quarters of the British population agreed with him. Through such examples, Murray attempts to show that European political leaders are not only disconnected from popular sentiment, but also from reality.

Thus, Murray condemns those who preach tolerance and multiculturalism, while turning a blind eye to the intolerance and mono-culturalism of the millions of Muslims entering Europe. A driving desire to not be perceived as racist exists for Europeans, remorseful because of their historical treatment of Jews and other minorities. In Murray’s view, guilt plays a significant role in the complicity of many Europeans, particularly for haunted Germans. This feeling forces their political class to avoid any policies that resemble those of wicked, heretical Nazism and Fascism and to condemn those “far-right” parties that threaten the status quo. This overriding sense of a haunting past clouds the judgment of a people, who so burdened by their feelings towards the past, cannot discern the many differences between the migrants of today and the refugees of yesteryear. This self-hatred is not limited to only those countries with a particularly dark and recent history of human rights abuse, former colonial powers too must strive to make amends for the crimes of their past, even if that means committing demographic suicide. The great and foreboding European historical burden is driving a conscience-stricken continent towards its self-selected demise.

One of Murray’s examples of this guilt was Europe’s reaction to the death of Aylan Kurdi, the red-shirted Syrian toddler who washed up on a Turkish beach, having fallen off a raft and drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Instead of faulting the human traffickers who caused his death through deliberate negligence or the Turkish authorities who were most linked to the transit of Kurdi’s family, Europe heaped the blame for the child’s death upon itself.

In Murray’s general understanding, Europeans have been wearied by not only guilt but also the real demands of decades of conflict and hitherto unimaginable suffering in the 20th century. These worn-down Europeans are troubled by pervasive self-doubt, which prevents them from behaving with any lasting decisiveness. Unlike the residents of Europe, foreign peoples, such as those of the Islamic world, have definite beliefs–Islam–and objectives, namely economic self-interest, that are driving their movement into Europe. Murray then circles back to link this contrast to his main argument about the threat of the migrants themselves. He posits that with these new arrivals, repressive social attitudes, and practices, like female genital mutilation, have been rearing their ugly heads in liberal European countries.

For instance, Murray endeavors to prove that Islam is opposed to the core Western value of free speech, citing many unfortunately deadly examples. He makes crucial mention of the fatwā issued by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, the author who dared to insult Islam in The Satanic Verses. At the time of that episode in 1989, many (non-Muslim) public figures in Rushdie’s native UK stated that his assassination would not be unacceptable, considering that he had, of course, impugned one of the “great religions.” Rushdie survived, but many of his peers were not so fortunate. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was assassinated in 2004 by a Dutch-born Moroccan Islamic fundamentalist for making a film entitled Submission, condemning the treatment of women under Islam. It’s impossible to forget the massacre of twelve writers and artists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, in January 2015. These examples, of which I have selected only a few, are devastating and compelling, his point well-made and convincing.

Later on, he shifts his focus to the weariness of Europeans to defend their traditions and values, specifically Christianity. Though an atheist himself, Murray has a secure attachment to the culture and ethics of the Anglican Church, something which informs his writing on the subject of The Strange Death of Europe. Murray writes that a lack of fervor in the Christian institutions in Europe is leading to a general absence of individual moral direction among native Europeans. This dearth of meaning and value is driving some into irreligion or atheism and others towards the absolute belief system of Islam. In general, Europeans are deprived of the value they once found in their religion, their culture, and their institutions. Even art, he believes, has been deprived of its ability to contribute meaning and value to individual lives. He gives the Dada movement artwork Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, which was just a urinal, as an example of the vacuity of modern art. The European ruling elite, he believes, feels no sense of purpose, story, or drive, only tiredness, a lack of will, and self-hatred.

A sense of ambiguity and confusion regarding the migrant crisis is a prevailing theme throughout the book. While Murray makes use of many statistics in support of his arguments, he always includes a disclaimer. No one is sure exactly how many migrants have entered Europe without any legal right, such as an asylum claim, to do so. There can be no accurate accounting of migrants who have evaded official detection and now reside in the insular Muslim communities of Europe. Another ambiguity is the broad sense of indigenous European uncertainty regarding immigration, found in both politicians and private citizens. Many mainstream and high-ranking European politicians, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have vacillated wildly on the subject, leading to inconsistent policy decisions. Although they may not be outwardly opposed to immigration, many Europeans are unsure about the visible impacts of Muslim migrants on their societies and about what steps should be taken to curtail this demographic change. In the past, many Europeans believed the pros of immigration, like an influx of young, fertile people and cheap labor, outweighed the cons. Now they are not quite so sure.

Many of Murray’s assertions and observations resonated deeply with me and my understanding of Europe’s fatal predicament. The Paris I knew on a summer vacation in 2015 was not the Paris I inhabited in July 2017. In between these two visits, the city had experienced the devastating November 2015 attacks, not to mention the continuous arrival of thousands of new migrants and asylum-seekers. Last summer, the city was more hostile, more jaded, and the impact of the migrants more visible. Correspondingly, one of the most astonishing and significant things about The Strange Death of Europe for me is the recentness of its time frame. While Murray does venture back occasionally to the 1960s and ‘70s, the book focuses on many events that fall within my short lifetime, especially within the last five years.

Beyond the pages of The Strange Death of Europe, Murray’s investment in his argument becomes all the more apparent. A gay, Oxford-educated neoconservative writer and social commentator, he, like all of us, is a beneficiary of Western liberal democracy and of a society which values free speech, personal responsibility, and individual liberty. It goes without saying that most if not all aspects of Murray’s life would be impossible under Sharia law. Despite his privileged background, Murray comes across in this book as a bit of a populist, stressing the importance of widespread native European sentiments and values over the machinations of a rarefied social and political elite.

While The Strange Death of Europe is far from perfect, it is an important book. It has put to words, in a well-documented and researched volume, the most insidious existential threat to Europe, since either Hitler’s bid for dominance or the Umayyad Caliphate’s invasion of Iberia and France in the 8th century. Murray’s argument can be considered overly complicated or excessively philosophical, but the depth of his analysis and the breadth of his accounting add considerably to the legitimacy of a position which until recently has been ostracized in many circles of public life. To pay it sufficient justice would be to say that The Strange Death of Europe is an in-depth book, more profound than can be sufficiently explicated in this brief review, as it examines not only Europe’s current crisis but also problems endemic to Western civilization and the human condition. The book does its best to make the immigration crisis a non-partisan issue, claiming that the unchecked migration affects all Europeans and the reaction involves figures from across the political spectrum. However, Murray does not succeed in making many arguments that would appeal to a modern leftist, and with a few exceptions, advocates cultural and political stances that are undeniably right-wing. Nevertheless, it is well worth reading regardless of political leanings, and a real tour de force by one of the most intellectual and youthful voices in Western media today.

In the closing chapters of the book, Murray ponders what solutions, if there are any, exist for the migrant crisis. He states that the reinvigoration of European culture with a sense of purpose “need not be a proselytizing mission, but simply an aspiration of which we should be aware.” Murray suggests that widespread adoption of this aspiration is unlikely and his realistic prognosis is conflicted and uncertain. In his final remarks, Murray bemoans the indecisiveness and lack of consideration of politicians who will allow Europe to be irrevocably changed by migration. This change, he says, will be regretted by many Europeans, betrayed by a weak, self-loathing, and tired political establishment. At present, only one thing is certain: while the native peoples of Europe are beleaguered and divided, the Muslim migrants have common goals and values, rooted inextricably in their faith.