Jun 16th 2008

“God’s Continent” by Phillip Jenkins - A Book Review

Jenkins writes about Islam in Europe and Islam's impact on Europe, Christianity, and about Islam itself. He examines a number of undesirable trends generally attributed to Islam. Jenkins, however, argues that phenomena such as high criminality among Europe's Muslims are not connected to Islam, but are a result of poverty and the lack of integration of the Muslim population into mainstream society. Jenkins also points out that living in Europe generally improves Muslims' attitude towards Christians and Jews. Jenkins sees Islam in Europe as influencing Islam itself; Europe's tradition of free speech allows Islamic thinkers to express themselves in a way that would not be possible in their native countries. Islam will also, according to Jenkins, change the secular/Christian population's attitude towards their own Christian heritage. A new, culturally Christian, group will emerge. Finally, Jenkins points out that immigration patterns to Europe and the USA have been different. Over the past forty years, the USA has mostly received Christians, mainly from Mexico. Unlike Europe, there is no such thing as a Muslim vote in the USA. This will create differences between Europe and the USA, especially in questions related to the Middle East.

Nearly 25 million, or 5% of Europe's population, are now Muslim, thanks chiefly to immigration that has taken place since the war. Should Turkey join the European Union, its population of 70 million would take the Muslim share to 16%. Fertility rates have also been higher among Muslim immigrants than in the mainstream population. Together with the fact that immigrants tend to concentrate in particular areas, this has resulted in people of immigrant origin now outnumbering the original population among those under twenty in some old European cities. That for the mainstream population this raises fears of an unwanted shift in the cultural balance is neither surprising nor new. In the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle warned of the risk of Algerian immigration overwhelming Christian France.

There is no such thing as a Muslim birth-rate. Jenkins rejects the notion that higher fertility among European Muslims could have its origins in religion. Muslim birth-rates are generally lower in those regions where society is stable and prosperous. Muslims living in wider Europe or nearby generally have lower birth-rates. In Albania, the birth-rate is 2.0, in Bosnia 1.2 and in Tunisia 1.8, meaning that these populations are actually contracting, whereas a stable population requires a replacement birth-rate of 2.1. The poorer and less stable a society is, the higher its birth-rate tends to be. In Somalia, the birth-rate is 6.8, in Afghanistan 6.7. The Palestinian birth-rate is 5.8 in Gaza Strip and 4.3 in the West Bank. Iran has a birth-rate of 1.8.

Criminality. Few could fail to be taken aback by the statistics Jenkins presents on Muslim criminality in Europe. Muslims today represent the main constituent of criminal underworlds and the prison population in Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. For instance, in Italy Muslims account for 2% of the population, yet 30% of its prison inmates. In France, Islam is said to be "the main prison religion". Jenkins sees this as a result of unemployment and poverty rather than a reflection of Islam, and draws a parallel with the black population in the USA. As a contributory factor, Jenkins points to rigid labour markets in Europe, which limit the supply of entry-level jobs.

There is also nothing inherently violent in Islam according to Jenkins, who writes: "Admittedly, the Quran includes some harsh sayings on moral issues, and passages that might lend themselves to promoting hatred of Jews and infidels. Yet these texts are no more fearsome than the Jewish or Christian scriptures, which a determined reader could take as ordering genocide or prohibiting racial intermarriage on pain of inciting the wrath of God". (For an opposing view, see Robert Spencer: The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion, Regnery Publishing Inc., Washington D.C.)

According to Jenkins, Islamist recruits are typically second-generation immigrants. Their parents came to Europe from third-worldish village environments, and their children, especially their sons, have not integrated into the society where they were born and where they live. Jenkins writes: "For many Muslims, the encounter with Europe produced a sudden and often shocking immersion into modernity and has also created a hothouse atmosphere of controversy … Though intellectual and spiritual turmoil contributes to political extremism, the long-term pressures are likely to create an ever-more-adaptable form of faith that is able to cope with social change without compromising basic beliefs."

Islam in Europe will change Muslims' attitudes. Jenkins cites the Pew Global attitudes survey, according to which in Muslim nations only small minorities held favourable attitudes toward Christians, with views being most negative in Turkey and Pakistan. European Muslims, on the other hand, felt overwhelmingly positive about Christians, at a rate of 91% in France, 82% in Spain, 71% in Britain and 69% in Germany. In Egypt, only 2% of the population had favourable attitudes toward Jews, whereas in France 71%, and in Germany 38%, of Muslims did.

Jenkins also points out that some of the strict and old-fashioned attitudes of the Muslim population are actually not that different from the attitudes of the Christian population in the past. Jenkins calls this "a time-lag in attitudes of a generation or two".

Islam in Europe will change Islam itself. Western liberties allow liberal Islamic thinkers freedoms beyond what would be possible in their native countries. For the Muslim world, Europe plays a role in providing a place where exiles can take refuge, the same way as the Netherlands did for Europe's Christian societies during the Enlightenment. An example is Hamid Abu Zaid, whose innovative Quranic studies led to his life being threatened in Egypt and fleeing to the Netherlands. France is the base for Syrian-born scholar Bassam Tahhan, who seeks a progressive and individualistic "Protestant Islam".

It is worth noting that Islam in Europe is not homogeneous. Instead, Islam in France reflects Islamic tradition in Morocco; in Germany, that of Turkey; and in Britain, Pakistan. Many customs that are popularly seen as Islamic in fact derive from the immigrants' country of origin.

Multiculturalism. It would be, however, wrong to presume that Christian and Muslim segments of the population will in the future easily co-habit Europe in a multicultural system. The whole concept of multiculturalism is Western. It assumes a secular society, where everybody accepts certain common values and where religion is a private thing. This is not possible in full. Europe is not religion-free and neither are its values, which one might mistakenly consider being secular. Michael Nazir-Ali, the Anglican Bishop of Rochester in England, points out: "Almost everything you touch in British culture, whether it's art, literature or the language itself, has been shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition, by the Bible, by the churches' worship and belief". The leftist German philosopher Jürgen Habermas proclaims that "Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy".

To a modern Christian, the Bible is primarily for guidance, which might leave more to an individual's own judgement than the Quran leaves to a Muslim. According to Jenkins: "A Christian well-wisher might praise the 'Prophet Muhammad' and believe that he was in some sense inspired by God, making the Quran a magnificent spiritual document that spawned one of the world's great faiths. But this is nowhere near good enough for Muslims, who believe Muhammad himself had precisely no input or role in making of the Quran, which was divinely dictated through divine mediation. If you believe Muhammad played any role in composing the text, subject to the constraints of his time and social settings, you are issuing a deadly direct challenge to the whole structure of that religion". This raises the question of how to handle such Islamic issues, which are incompatible with the values of secular/Christian society. An example is the recent decision of a French court annulling a marriage between two Muslims, on the grounds that the bride had lied about being a virgin. The judge's ruling caused consternation among the French, and led to some confusion among Ministers as to whether or not the fundamental principle of the separation of religion and state had been breached.

A cornerstone of European values is the right to free speech. A Christian has to accept attacks on Christian values, such as in the book 'Da Vinci Code', but the same does not apply in Islam. The Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, put it in the following way: "They can do to us what they dare not do to Muslims. We are fair game because they can get away with it. We don't go down there and say: 'We are going to bomb your place'". It is also, according to Jenkins, an old-established Western tradition to mock your own culture.

Islam in Europe will change Christians' attitudes towards Christianity. The increasingly visible presence of Islam in Europe will lead many Europeans to become clearer among themselves who they really are. Historian Michael Burleigh observes: "In coming years, more and more Europeans will say they are Cultural Christians as a means of self-assertion against reactionary Islam. In other words, while Europe may continue to be godless, it may see a great deal more religion than anyone bargained for".

The strengthening of its Christian identity could also be enhanced by a terror attack against Christian symbols, which Jenkins predicts could happen in the next few years: "What would be the cultural effect of an attack that devastated a cherished building such as Westminster Abbey or Notre Dame, Santiago de Compostela or the Duomo of Florence, or St. Peter's in Rome itself? The immediate response would undoubtedly be grief and fury, and Muslim leaders would be among the first to condemn the attack, and with utter sincerity…. But such an event would also have its religious impact, galvanising old-stock European Christians into a new awareness of their culture and heritage, towards a newly-discovered sense of what they always took for granted".

Bridges between Christianity and Islam. The presence of Muslims in Europe is something with which Christians in Europe will have to come to terms. To cite Jenkins, "The easiest way for Christians to build bridges to Muslims is to take Muslim political grievances seriously, and high on the list would be the abuses attributed to the state of Israel".

Europe and the United States. The attitude toward Islam will, according to Jenkins, become a growing dividing issue between Europe and the United States. This unfortunate prospect is thanks to geographical and historical factors rather than official policy. American immigration over the past forty years, much of it from Mexico, has bolstered Christian numbers. In Europe, the Islamic vote could well become a critical voting bloc, retaining close connections with Arab and other Muslim states for at least the foreseeable future. In America, there is no Arab vote to speak of. The difference between European and American policies is, and will continue to be, seen especially in attitudes toward Israel.

Other parts of the World. Jenkins' book focuses on Islam in Europe, where two competing religions, Islam and Christianity, meet. Islam's changing relationship with other religions and cultures is beyond the scope of this book.

The West has been economically very successful, whereas Muslim states have lagged behind, apart from the oil-rich countries. But then again, it is the West that turned oil into a valuable commodity. Many of the prosperous oil economies were built using mainly Western management and Asian labour. The West's economic success could certainly have been a contributory factor in the schism between Christian and Muslim cultures. In this sense, a new frontier is emerging for the Muslims with the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies. The recent bomb attack by Muslim terrorists against Hindus at Jaipur in India, which killed more than 60 people, might be seen against this background.

If you wish to comment on this book review, you can do so on-line.

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@facts-and-arts.com. Please note that Facts & Arts shares its advertising revenue with those who have contributed material and have signed an agreement with us.




Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "