The Myth of the Muslim Tide; Fortress Europe

In This Review

The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? (Vintage)
by Doug Saunders
Vintage, 2012
208 pp. $15.00
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Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent
by Matthew Carr
New Press, 2012
304 pp. $27.95
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The topic of Muslim immigration resonates among those who indulge nostalgic nationalism, religious prejudice, or even right-wing extremism -- but also among those with an understandable fear of sudden social change. It is a subject ready-made for sensationalist journalists, resulting in a public debate poisoned by misinformation. Against that tide, Saunders has written a must-read takedown of anti-Muslim conservatives, demonstrating that their major claims are simply false. He debunks scaremongering about an emergent Muslim majority and disproves the notions that Islamic culture is impossible to assimilate and that most Muslim immigrants hold violent anti-Western views. Those slanders resemble the ones directed a century ago at Irish, Jewish, and Balkan newcomers, some of whom also had large families, required their women to be covered, and held heterodox religious beliefs that included some anti-Western ideologies. Today, Saunders concludes, the ideological clashes that matter most are taking place within Islam, and the central imperative is to create more economic and political opportunities for Muslim newcomers -- an area in which Western governments have as much responsibility as the immigrants themselves.

Contrary to nativist alarmism, Europe is not flooded with immigrants, Muslim or otherwise. In fact, the disappearance of internal border checks within most of the European Union, domestic political pressure to restrict immigration, and heightened concerns about security during the past decade have led the countries on Europe’s edges to seal their borders more tightly. Carr argues that this combination of internal liberalization and external hardening has increased criminal, abusive, and often deadly human trafficking, while only modestly reducing immigration. The unique virtue of the book lies in Carr’s reporting from the brutal frontiers of the new Europe: Ukrainian border towns where illegal trafficking thrives, Spanish territories in Morocco where would-be immigrants are shot dead or left to die in the Sahara after attempting to scale razor-wire fences, Italian and Maltese islands where overfilled boatloads of Africans drown by the hundreds. One can understand why Carr sympathizes with these outsiders, but his advocacy is sometimes overwrought. Criticizing European leaders as fascist or racist sometimes obscures his more measured proposals for temporary work arrangements, pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants, nuanced changes in visa requirements, respect for basic human rights, and solutions to Europe’s demographic deficit.