Sad that the dumbest thing I’ve read in the New York Times for years came from the blog of Ross Douthat, the Catholic conservative voice at the Gray Lady:
Maybe the encounter with a post-Christian Europe will supply the Islam of recent immigrants with the cultural vigor that’s been missing, for centuries now, in Baghdad and Cairo and Damascus. Maybe a kind of “Euro-Islam” is being forged that’s capable of contending with secular liberalism for converts. Maybe a Tariq Ramadan-esque figure will emerge to play the Muslim Saint Paul to the E.U.’s Roman Empire.
I’ll have more to say about this in a brief essay on the minarets issue tommorow in the On the Square, but the core of the problem is simple: the most important spiritual leader of Muslim provenance in Europe is Magdi Cristiano Allam, who was received by Pope Benedict XVI into the Catholic faith at the Easter Vigil in 2008, to the very vocal outrage of the Islamophiles in the Church. Allam, the deputy editor of Italy’s leading newspaper Corriere della Sera, wrote at the moment of his conversion that the Church had sent a message of hope to innumerable Muslim converts to Christianity who dared not acknowledge their new faith for fear of physical violence.
In fact, the message fell flat. Magdi Allam was hung out to dry, and other Muslim converts to Christianity—who cannot afford the full-time bodyguards who keep Mr. Allam alive—continue to live in terror of their lives.
As for Tariq Ramadan: the redoubtable Paul Berman exposed the supposed Euro-Islamist as a terrorist supporter who uses the threat of violence to silence critics, in a 28,000 word essay for The New Republic. Ramadan, it should be remembered, is the grandson of the founder of the original and still-thriving Islamist entity, the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is simply the Gaza chapter). I reviewed Berman’s essay (which he is turning into a book, I am pleased to hear) in my “Spengler” column in 2007. As I reported then:
Without spoiling Berman’s story in The New Republic, a subscription site, I can report that he has placed Ramadan in the midst of a web of terrorist associations. He does not advocate terrorism, by any means, but he defends many who do. Berman’s 30,000-word essay, really a condensed book, targets not only Ramadan, but the European and American journalists who admire him, for example Timothy Ash in The Guardian. What Berman dubs “the intellectual establishment” has decided, “Better the 7th century than Nicolas Sarkozy,” and attacks Muslim dissidents such as former Dutch Member of Parliament Hirsan Ali while cozying up to presentable Islamists like Ramadan.
An especially revolting example is found in Ash’s laudatory profile of Ramadan’s great-uncle, the cleric Sheikh Gamal al-Banna. Ash contrasted the aged Egyptian mullah favorably with the hapless Hirsan Ali, as it happened on the same day that Banna’s public endorsement of the World Trade Center attacks appeared on the MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) website. Comparing Banna to Hirsin Ali, the collaborator of murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh, Ash wrote, “Which do you think reveals a deeper historical knowledge of Islam? Which is more likely to encourage thoughtful Muslims in the view that they can be both good Muslims and good citizens of free societies?” It happens that Banna had praised the “extremely courageous” action of the September 11, 2001, hijackers, which was “dreadful and splendid”, in opposition to the “barbaric capitalism” of the United States.
Willful blindness in the face of undisguised intentions to do violence to the West, Berman writes, requires explanation. The physical threats that follow journalists who attack Ramadan and his homicidal family, he concludes, have turned some of the more timid members of the fourth estate.
Ross Douthat read the essay at the time, and stated coyly on his Atlantic blog that he was “by no means certain which side of that debate I’m on.” Well, Douthat is flirting publicly with a very, very wrong side. Flirting is the correct word, for Douthat backs away from a conclusion:
But I’m just not sure you can extrapolate that far from current trends. I think it’s reasonable to look at Europe and see decadence demographic, cultural and otherwise. But even a decadent society can be stronger than its rivals, and capable of containing, assimilating, and outlasting them.
In fact, Muslim immigrants to Europe tend to sink into the cultural swamp; there are some reports (fragmentary, because European governments studiously avoid providing data on the actual number of Muslim residents or their birth rates) that the fertility of Muslim women in Europe falls towards European levels. But intermixed in the demoralized, sullen mass of mostly poor, mostly marginalized immigrants are a large enough minority of hard-core jihadis.
Europe’s Christians not only have declined to evangelize the Muslims in their midst: they have backed away from helping Muslims who came to Christianity quite on their own, as Magdi Allam protested. Paul Berman is a secular liberal, but a consistent one, and came to the conclusion that Tariq Ramadan is a menace. Ross Douthat is a Catholic conservative, but an inconsistent one, and flirts with the idea that Tariq Ramadan might be part of Europe’s spiritual re-awakening.
Young Mr. Douthat should consider a brief Bildungsreise to Rome with Magdi Allam (and Mr. Allam’s bodyguards); the presence of the bodyguards will teach him as much as whatever Mr. Allam might say.