The Strange Case of Douglas Murray
“Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?” Nick Carraway is asked by the Yale educated millionaire Tom Buchanan, in The Great Gatsby. “No” Nick replies . ‘Well it’s a fine book…The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged.’ Buchanan replies back. ‘Tom’s getting very profound,’ his wife Daisy remarks. Buchanan carries on: ‘This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.’ ‘We’ve got to beat them down,’ Daisy whispers with a wink at Nick. Buchanan still continuing with his outburst: ‘The idea is we’re Nordics. I am, and you are…And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilisation — oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?’
F.Scott Fitzgerald through Tom Buchanan revealed the nervousness among the American WASP elite of the challenge to global white supremacy from the ‘coloured races’ following imperial bloodbath on the European continent that was the First World War. The fictional character of Goddard is based, at least partly, on the real life Eugenicist and Nazi sympathiser Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, the author of the 1920 bestseller The Rising Tide of Color against White World Supremacy, warning of the impending collapse of so called ‘white’ civilisation under a ‘swarm’ of ‘colored’ people.
Stoddard wasn’t only worried about the rise of the ‘colored races’ against the white man’s hegemony. He also espoused embryonic forms of what we now identify as Islamophobia. Fearing the prospect of a resurgent Islam he wrote, “In so far as he is Islamised, the negro’s warlike propensities will be inflamed, and he will be used as the tool of Arab Pan-Islamism seeking to drive the white man from Africa and make the continent its very own.” Fearing a similar fate for the ‘white’ world, Stoddard suggested that it had to ensure that “the rising tide of color finds itself walled in by white dikes debarring it from many a promised land which it would fain deluge with its dusky waves”.
Nearly a century later, few mainstream writers and intellectuals would publicly fly the flag of white supremacy as unapologetically as Stoddard did. However, his core underlying theme that the West is in danger of being swamped by waves of immigration from the ‘rest’ is still accepted in many quarters as almost self evident. Back then fear of the ‘Yellow Peril’ from Asia was prevalent. Nowadays, Islam, specifically Muslim immigration, we are told by the modern day Cassandras, now represents the primary threat to Western civilisation, it’s values and way of life.
In more recent decades, the ‘cultural anxieties’ of certain sections of the Atlanticist intellectual class about the ‘rising tide of colour’, has been rendered either in notions of “Muslim Rage” by Bernard Lewis or in ahistorical and essentialist hyper alarmist theories like Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’, or in Niall Ferguson’s lamentations of the coming twilight of five hundred years of Western supremacy in Civilisation: How the West beat the Rest. Huntington in his last treatise, Who Are We?, fretted about how Hispanic immigration and the “anti-Western” ideology of multiculturalism threatened America’s ‘national character’ which he defined as ‘Anglo-Protestantism’— a sentiment that helped catapult Donald Trump’s whitebread pitchfork rattling pseudo-populism into the White House. Is it any surprise that Lionel Shriver in the Financial Times in 2006 was distressed that the area where she once played tennis in New York City had now been “colonised by immigrants from Guatemala”?
As the forces of globalisation and neoliberal capitalism have shifted economic power towards the East and helped change the ethnic profiles of many Western societies as a result of postwar migration, combined with the recent weakening of the post Second World War world order dominated by the United States, there is a worry among Western elites and intellectuals that the unquestioned authority and absolute power that they enjoyed to shape history and even to mould the entire world in its own image is eroding with budding competitors ready to fill the void. As neoconservative author Christopher Caldwell put it “For the first time in centuries, Europeans are living in a world they did not, for the most part shape”. Brexit, Trumpism and the rise of far right movements across Europe are direct responses to this economic decline and perceived sense of cultural loss where with the replacement of the politics of ideology with the politics of identity in the post-Cold war era issues that are fundamentally political and economic are translated as cultural and ethnic problems, hence why migration is such a hot button and often emotive issue.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by the homicidal holy warriors of Bin Ladenism that inaugurated the war on terror, there has been a growth in the ‘eclipse of Western civilisation’ genre. Over the years Mark Steyn, Oriana Fallaci, Bruce Bawer, Christopher Caldwell and Melanie Phillips have all produced works inspired by the racist theory of “Eurabia”, warning that the influx of ‘mass’ immigration from Muslim majority countries is threatening the internal demographic and cultural integrity of Western civilisation, to the point of changing its character irrevocably. As Caldwell put it in his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, comparing Muslim immigration to colonisation, Islam is “not enhancing European culture, it is supplanting it”. It’s not just conservatives who fear the Muslim tide. Some people who regard themselves as secularists and Atheists who oppose religion also call for restrictions to Muslim immigration on the grounds that you need it to defend a secular liberal society, while appropriating the language of the Enlightenment and other progressive causes like feminism and LGBT rights in their arguments. This is a discourse that is increasingly being heard and one you will encounter more in the coming years.
“Europe is committing suicide.” Neoconservative author, Douglas Murray boldly claims in the opening sentence of the Sunday Times best seller The Strange Death of Europe, the latest addition to this genre — the title a slight nod to George Dangerfield’s classic, The Strange Death of Liberal England. Unlike Stoddard in the 1920s who saw his book as a rallying cry to build the dikes necessary to keep out the ‘coloured races’ from entering the sacred home of Western civilisation, Murray feels the impending doom might just be irreversible. The tide of colour has landed and it is here to stay. If nothing is done to reverse this then “Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home.” Like Christopher Caldwell Murray feels the continent is a victim of an ongoing “reverse colonisation”, where towns that had previously been ‘European’ now “resembled Pakistan in every way except for their location…filled with people dressed for the foothills of Pakistan or the sandstorms of Arabia”. Except this time, unlike the now overthrown European overseas colonies of the past “these new colonies are obviously intended to be for good”.
Unlike, other Eurabia mongers, fellow comrades in the struggle for civilisation, Murray is less crude and bombastic, more subtle, more intellectual, more lucid, more well mannered. Well, most of the time. Occasionally his mask of respectability slips off and we can see him for what he really is. In 2006 while giving a speech at the Pim Fortuyn memorial conference in the Dutch parliament, Murray, describing Muslims as a “demographic time-bomb” argued that “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board…all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop” before “a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities”. Plus, in recent years he’s given all sorts of soft apologias for all sorts of grisly reactionaries like Geert Wilders (“defender of Dutch liberalism”), Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban and Donald Trump.
In other words, he is homo atlanticus redux, to borrow a phrase from Pankaj Mishra. Tommy Robinson in tweed. Katie Hopkins with an Oxbridge style. A cultured xenophobe. A clash of civilisations warrior. He is on a mission to expose how the combined evils of mass immigration, multiculturalism, political correctness, white guilt and secular materialist godlessness has emasculated Europeans of their cultural identity and spiritual heritage, leaving them “jaded” and “guilty”, hence making them oblivious to confronting the Islamic threat that is increasingly creeping up on them. This book is not a dispassionate assessment of the current condition of Europe. It is an intellectualised cover for the primal scream of Euro-nativism, or as David Goodhart rather pathetically put it “white self-interest”: Europe for Europeans!
Soon enough he cites approvingly Enoch Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood sanitising him as a misunderstood race relations oracle who nonetheless was profoundly prophetic for what mass immigration has wrought for native White British population by “making them a minority in their capital city”. Sure, Murray reluctantly concedes, Powell said some things that “made it too easy for his political opponents to attack him” and “gave too much cover to people way to his right” (notice the euphemistic language), but in essence Enoch was right! If anything he “understated and underestimated the case”. He does the same with Ray Honeyford, portraying him as a victim of the “race relations industry” simply because he was forced to resign for bravely taking a stand against divisive multiculturalism in education in a 1984 essay for the Salisbury Review (a ghastly reactionary magazine). Murray neglects to mention that Honeyford was a little Englander and a chauvinist who held similar views to Enoch Powell on race, culture and immigration. To give you a taste:
‘Cultural enrichment’ is the approved term for the West Indian’s right to create an ear splitting cacophony for most of the night to the detriment of his neighbour’s sanity, or for the Notting Hill Festival whose success or failure is judged by the level of street crime which accompanies it.
Elsewhere in the same essay Murray refers to Honeyford blamed multi-racial education for failing the children of “a small but growing group of dispossessed, indigenous parents”, described Pakistan as “obstinately backward” and blamed the educational inequality of Black and Asian children on “an influential group of black intellectuals of aggressive disposition, who know little of the British traditions of understatement, civilised discourse and respect for reason”. This should immediately be a red flag.
For all his hand wringing and indignation at the 1997 New Labour government for allowing a huge influx of mass immigration into Britain. And for all his efforts to debunk what he sees as a left wing, politically correct mulitculturalist reading of Britain’s immigration history, Murray never precisely explains why immigrants coming from the Caribbean, South Asia and elsewhere in the postwar period was such a bad thing to begin with if indeed this is where ‘the problem’ originates.
And on and on it goes, chapter after chapter on the same old themes. A total bore fest for the most part. Nevertheless, there are a few grains of truth he hits on though in the wrong way. Can one criticise a pseudo “multiculturalism” that ethnicises the public sphere leading to a fragmentation of the civic community? Yes. Is it possible to oppose a form of so called “white guilt” that states only Europeans should apologise for the crimes of their ancestors? Yes. Anyone familiar with the history of Russian, Ottoman and Japanese imperialism will know that extreme forms of oppression, exploitation, colonisation and chauvinism are not exclusive to ‘the West’. But acknowledging the truth about the crimes of empire even if it makes you uncomfortable is not ‘masochism’ no matter how much Murray tries to sneakily imply it is (By the way 44% of British people polled were proud of the British empire). Is it important to challenge reactionary ideas among Muslims on gender and sexuality? Absolutely. Do we need to defend the right to criticise and satirise religion including Islam? Certainly. Part of living in a pluralist society is the fact that your most cherished beliefs and ideas are inevitably going to be challenged — which is a good thing because these clashes of ideas and beliefs will produce cultural progress and innovation.
On all these counts legitimate criticism is possible and necessary, but not in the manner Murray does which is based on culturalist paranoia. The major flaw of this book is a total lack of structural explanations for either the refugee/migrant crisis or the current state of Europe. There is very little mention of economic policies, social policy, geopolitics or the effects of foreign policy and military intervention. He views Europe’s current condition through the narrow prism of immigration and leaves out other more important factors to the point of absurdity. For example, he claims housing shortages in Sweden are “largely caused by immigration” when decades of under construction would be a much better explanation.
In addition, Murray has a tendency to be very selective with the polls he quotes. He will cite polls revealing concerns among various European publics on the levels of immigration, but he ignores polls that show that people often greatly overestimate the number of immigrants in their society, and typically from those who live in areas with low immigrant populations. Moreover, he will again cite polls that show Muslims in the worst possible light which will bolster his argument of Muslims being alien to ‘European values’ whether on homosexuality or on Shariah. But will ignore polls that undermine his argument that show for example British Muslims as having a strong attachment with Britain and proclaiming their pride in their Britishness even more so than the ‘white’ British population (similar trends can be found for France and Germany). I’m not saying there are no problems or that you shouldn’t cite the bad polls. Of course, there should be no taboos in having difficult conversations on these social questions. But to only give a partial picture and ignore the whole particularly when your argument is Muslims are not ‘integrating’ and that their increasing numbers is undermining national identity is disingenuous and suspect.
Maybe this is why he finds the supposed ‘Death of Europe’ a ‘strange’ one. It all began in 1945 and it just ‘happened’, in a vacuum with little context and historical explanation. I can’t say I’m too surprised by this since I wasn’t expecting a serious concrete analysis from Murray that wasn’t based on culturalism. Any attempt to do otherwise would probably be interpreted by Murray as “masochism” and submitting to the “tyranny of guilt”.
Which leads to the second part of his thesis in Strange Death of Europe. One of the key arguments of this book is that Europe’s vulnerability to mass immigration comes from its own existential crisis. Due to increasing secularisation Europe is confused as to what it stands for and what its identity is. It has lost belief in its Christian heritage which, in his view, was the foundation of European civilisation, and its ideals (a view advocated in recent books by Larry Sidentop and Nick Spencer). In its place culture of hedonism and crass materialism has taken over Europe which in the midst of a growing Muslim community unashamed about their religion makes it “ripe for submission”.
What is strange about Murray’s “Christianity” (He’s a self proclaimed Christian Atheist) is that it’s not about belief in the truth claims of the gospels but about identity and symbolism, a form of Christian nationalism. His form of “Christianity” — more specifically aesthetic Anglicanism — is a political identity based on power and prestige that has as its symbols Christendom, Charlemagne and the Knight Templars with its prime antagonist being Islam. A view straight from the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis. Murray is one of those former believers turned Atheists who wishes he could believe, who perhaps missed his old Anglican faith, but can’t bring himself to believe because he knows it’s not true — this is what Christopher Hitchens diagnosed as the mentality of someone who wished to be a serf.
“Europe has never been a continent of Islam”, he writes, a view that is astonishing in its ignorance. Leaving aside the descendants of postwar Muslim immigrants born and bred in European societies who he obviously doesn’t see as European. For his claim that Islam is alien to Europe to be true he is going have to explain how Bosniaks, Kosovars, Albanians and Tartars, all culturally Muslim groups who are indigenous to European continent, are somehow not European. He also will have to ignore the Al-Andalus civilisation of Muslim Iberia that ruled modern day Portugal and Spain for over seven centuries, a civilisation that for its time made considerable advances in science, mathematics, and philosophy that would influence the European Renaissance, a notion Murray repeatedly sneers at as politically correct claptrap deployed to protect Islam’s reputation whenever it’s criticised. Whether Murray is prepared to accept this or not, Islam has a considerable history on the European peninsula and left a mark on its culture.
Murray is wrong when he claims that the inheritance of modernity stemming from the Enlightenment that Western countries (and some non-Western ones too) currently enjoy: Free and open societies, confessional pluralism, secular politics, freedom of expression, the primacy of science and reason over faith and revelation, was the result of Christianity. One of the stupidest lines of the book is where he writes, “the culture of human rights… owes more to the creed preached by Jesus of Nazareth than it does to that of Mohammed”. This is his basis for his claim that the defence of liberalism necessarily involves as reassertion of Christianity. It is certainly true that the Christian tradition has played an important role in the Western culture as far as politics and philosophy. But to claim that the source of Enlightenment values stems for Christianity is grossly simplistic and ignores the historic tensions between Christianity and liberal democratic values which I’m sure even Murray would admit.
This is where I think Murray is inconsistent and rather slippery. He wants to restrict Muslim migration in particular into Europe to protect it’s liberal values. Yet, we all know Christianity can be just as illiberal and socially backward as Islam. By this logic should we be calling for the restrictions African Christian immigrants coming into Europe? Why not? After all, many of them hold views that are just as regressive and patriarchal and homophobic as conservative Muslims. Murray at best may call their interpretation of Christianity “uninformed” but you’ll never see him write an article at the Spectator expressing ‘legitimate concerns’ about Christian immigrants from West Africa ‘importing’ Christian fundamentalism from Africa into liberal democratic Britain. I am at least consistent in opposing racist immigration controls whether against Muslims or Christians from Africa. But Murray can’t seem to make his mind up as to whether his problem is with ‘mass’ immigration in general or Muslim immigration specifically. For him the two are virtually synonymous.
Atheists and otherwise secular people should not be patronised by Murray and his co-thinkers into ‘paying our dues’ to the so called Judeo-Christian tradition for granting us the rights and freedoms we have today. He writes: “Unless the non-religious are able to work with, rather than against, the source from which their culture came, it is hard to see any way through”. I’m not sure what this even means in practice aside from whitewashing religious nonsense. What I am sure of though is that Christianity is no friend of any kind of progressive and democratic politics, and the history of democracy in the West has been a struggle against religious authority as much as it has been a part of it. For all the wonderful statements you may find in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths if you really want to seek Enlightenment and cultivate a love of wisdom then you’ll have to leave religion because you’re not going to find it in there.
At the end of the day, if there is going to be a “Strange Death of Europe” then it will not be because of Muslim or immigrants from the Global South. It will be because of resurgent far right movements (some of whom are backed by the Kremlin) and of European elites who pander to that politics, some of whom Douglas Murray has a sneaky sympathy for. If you want to defend modern, secular, civilised, liberal democratic Europe then Murray is not your comrade. He is on the other side. If any of the authoritarian xenophobic, ultra nationalist so called populists gain power then we might as well begin writing our obituaries to our continental home. This is the true threat to Europe. The sooner we realise this the better.