If you want to read a European book decrying Islam and Muslims, you have many to choose from. The dominant style on the continent is memoir, recounting the horrific experiences of a Muslim (or formerly Muslim) woman in her Islamic milieu. Infidel and The Caged Virgin, by former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are the most familiar in this genre. The best-selling French titles speak for themselves: Dishonored; Mutilated; The Sold Ones and The Fatiha (both on forced marriages); Disfigured; Souad, Burned Alive; and Latya, Her Face Stolen.
Europes anti-Islam sentiment may be expressed most visibly in memoirs because Europeans have been reticent to condemn Islamor religion more generallyoutright. Americans, however, seem to prefer a less subtle approach. In the United States, alongside the autobiographies, we find two kinds of direct attack on Islam: as a gutter religion (as Louis Farrakhan once described Judaism) and as a threat to our fundamental valuesa threat that has already overrun Europe and is now heading this way.
Robert Spencers The Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran illustrates the first style of attack. I am interested in the second style. Theyre asleep; were nextso we are warned in Bruce Bawers While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. We hear a similar message in his Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom; in Brigitte Gabriels They Must Be Stopped; and Mark Steyns America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.
Perhaps these books are innocent, less about an animus against Islam than an expression of Americans secret delight in knocking weak-kneed French and English politicians. Or maybe we simply prefer displacing our anxiety about Islam from the nice Pakistani surgeon next-door onto jihadists invading European cities.
But these cheerful readings do not do justice to the books somber tone or their striking thematic consistency (shared with many like-minded Web sites). Islam, they argue, has shocked Europeans, the shock comes from Islamic values, and the clash is unlikely to subside. These three themesIslamic shock, value conflict, and unending struggleevoke Samuel Huntingtons clash of civilizations, but with added urgency: Muslims are now on the wrong side of the Huntingtonian line.
We need to take this argument seriously and understand what is wrong with it. Andto cut right to the chaseit is wrong on every detail that matters.
This article has become a book!
MIT Press / Cloth / $14.95 / April 2012
In the United States and in Europe, politicians, activists, and even some scholars argue that Islam is incompatible with Western values. In Blaming Islam, John Bowen uncovers the myths about Islam and Muslim integration, with a focus on the histories, policy, and rhetoric associated with Muslim immigration in Europe, the British experiment with sharia law for Muslim domestic disputes, and the claims of European and American writers that Islam threatens the West.
John R.Bowen, Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is author of Why the French Dont Like Headscarves and Can Islam Be French? He was a 2005 Carnegie Scholar.