More of the same, only different
Laila Lalami has a great rebuttal in The Nation to a newish anti-immigration and anti-islam book: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, by Christopher Caldwell.
What strikes me, reading her dismantling of the paper-thin arguments, is how repetitive this kind of "criticism" is. It's just a certain set of the same sort of arguments made with more or less eloquence, the same thin factual grounding and the same certain kind of rhetoric. In different times, it attacked different groups for many of the same reasons. There isn't anything quintessentially new. The analysis is always-already there. The conclusion foregone, facts soon coming to follow. In Sweden, Andreas Malm's recently published Hatet mot muslimer (Bokförlaget Atlas, 2009) is a good extended analysis of the phenomenon for the Scandinavically abled. But for those of you who aren't used to the arguments, Lalami does an admirable job on them, and the article is sort of an introduction to the usual go of these arguments. These two paragraphs struck me in particular:
The societies of Europe are undergoing demographic changes, which have economic, social and educational consequences. So far, the debate on these changes has focused exclusively on Islam in Europe. Yet no one in the chattering classes seems to have noticed that the voices of European Muslims are seldom heard. This is a debate about them--not with them. And indeed Reflections on the Revolution in Europe has been reviewed in the American press mostly by people who are not European, much less Muslim. Not surprisingly, the argument that Muslims are collectively trying to "conquer" Europe "street by street" in order to turn it into an outpost of Islam has been taken at face value. But this argument is not serious criticism because it is not based on thorough empirical evidence; it is racism.
The current debate places far too much emphasis on Islam as a set of codes and on the Koran as a literal text, rather than on Islam as it is lived and the Koran as an experienced text. A Moroccan man may be very devout and yet work as a sommelier in a restaurant in Paris. A Turkish teenager may not be particularly faithful and yet keep Ramadan because it is the only time of year she gets to connect with her community. An Algerian elder may be the imam of his mosque and yet carry credit card debt. Islam is not just its texts; it is millions of people, each one of whom has found an idiosyncratic way of adapting faith to modern life. Our religious beliefs are not the sum total of our lives. To discuss them as if they were puts our very lives up for debate.