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

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "