This publication has consistently stood for human rights throughout the world – the claim that people from all backgrounds and belief systems are entitled to certain rights simply by virtue of their being people. We are all entitled to equality before the law, regardless of our skin color or background; we should be treated consistently based upon our actions. Another basic human right is the right to be able to think for ourselves and determine our own religious and political beliefs.
The idea of human rights has been around for a long time, but the modern conception came into being following the Second World War. Faced with unspeakable evil and the shocking manner in which others placed zero value on the lives of others, a movement coalesced to recognize these rights in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. No respectable person would disagree with the fact that all human beings are entitled to a certain amount of dignity and freedom as they go about living their lives.
The core of the argument is that Europe means something. Saying that you are “European” is the kind of social clothing that Arendt would have recognized. It is a community. That does not mean that there is no diversity of background and thought within Europe, but that are general propositions for which a majority of people agree. Pluralism is among those propositions: the idea that many strands contribute to society and that the only means of maintaining that pluralism is for all of the strands to accept the existence of the other ones.
Europe has accepted, in more recent years, a large number of migrants from Muslim-majority countries that may or may not have identities that overlap with those of Europeans. During the year 2015, more than a million migrants sought refuge into Europe. The people traveling to make a new way of life in Europe did so at great cost to themselves. Before that, they had seen their homes and ways of life destroyed by terrorism and civil war. Douglas Murray’s basic argument is that if migration occurred at a more gradual rate, Europe could better absorb those coming, but that the sheer volume of arrivals makes that feat that much harder. The end result is the strange death of what it means to be European rather than the strange evolution of the concept. Some people’s hearts go out so willingly to these migrants that they immediately reject Murray’s argument. Others have rightly seen the horrors produced by racism that they wrongly label Murray as racist and are equally shut down to the argument itself, which does have merit. How should a tolerant, multi-cultural society handle intolerant viewpoints? The answers to these questions are not simple and it is OK to ask them. Clearly, there is some upper limit to the number of migrants that societies can absorb in short periods of time without losing its identity, even if that number cannot be precisely quantified. In addition to placing some reasonable limit on migration, it is also eminently reasonable to find pragmatic ways to assimilate newcomers. It is not contradictory, for example, that someone is both European and Islamic. But, that same person has to recognize the rights of other Europeans to have other beliefs and that within the broader secular world. While finding reasonableness among some of Murray’s core arguments, others are perplexing. He seems to be sentimental about the lack of enthusiasm for Christianity in modern Europe. Yet, Christianity was partially responsible for two world wars and primarily responsible for virulent anti-Semitism, nearly causing another kind of death for Europe. Murray also seems far too ready to defend political figures like Marine Le Pen, who swim in political sewage and whose indefensibility goes far beyond any disagreement with others on immigration. What Murray, more philosophically arguing is that Europe as an idea is something special, but that its leaders are too tired to defend it any longer? He writes: “Those in power seem persuaded that it would not matter if the people and culture of Europe were lost to the world.”
For a transitory period, all refugees are stateless. As human beings, they should be entitled to all the human rights all others are entitled to, but their lack of community is what makes those rights nothing more than a failed promise. Those refugees have to choose at some point whether they want to continue to live as if they were part of the communities in which they were from or join the European community, and there is a distinction, despite the fact that there is no inherent contradiction in being both Muslim and European.
The world today is complicated (when was it simple?) and deserves more than just lazy thinking. It is easy to see a paradigm in everything and label all criticism of Islam as “Islamophobia.” It is also easy to blame nuanced problems on simple causes like immigration. One can disagree with all of Douglas Murray’s solutions. He asks pertinent questions that make the book worth the read.