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review: non-fiction

Doug SaundersThe Globe and Mail

On setting himself to the work of a book about Muslim immigration to Europe and North America, Doug Saunders, until recently The Globe and Mail's European bureau chief, might have been forgiven had he succumbed to the inclination to go just the tiniest bit gonzo.

Where there were once pubs in London's Holloway Road neighbourhood, where Saunders lived, by the 1990s there were shady money-exchange outfits with signs in Arab lettering. His old neighbours seemed to be vanishing from the scene, and in their place were East Africans, Turks, Arabs and South Asians, all with flocks of children. Then came on Sept. 11, 2001.

Only a short walk from Saunders's home, the notorious Finsbury Park Mosque had fallen under the command of the one-eyed, hook-handed al-Qaeda enthusiast Abu Hamza. Convicted in 2004 on several counts of soliciting to murder, Hamza remains a guest of the British prison system, where he awaits trial for extradition to the United States on charges of abetting terrorism. One of Saunders's neighbours lost two legs in the July, 2005, London suicide bombings that left 56 people dead. Saunders's babysitter converted to Islam. And so on.

But as the title of his latest book makes plain, The Myth of the Muslim Tide is just that. So is the related frenzy about the spike in immigration from Muslim-majority countries being all part of a deliberate "stealth jihad." This fabulous idiocy percolated only recently in wholly undiluted form out of none other than the popular and fatuous American Republican Newt Gingrich.

Saunders does not go gonzo in any direction. Instead, the Donner Prize-winning author of Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World, approaches popular delusions about Muslim immigration and Muslim immigrants methodically and surgically. He relies upon the most recent and comprehensive scholarly and statistical data, including extensive public-opinion polling information gathered from Muslim immigrant communities in Canada, the United States, Britain and the European continent.

The result is a convincing case against such fashionable notions as the one about Muslims being destined to form majorities in Europe, or North America, or both, and the uglier one about there being some sort of occult regime of religious obligation that binds ordinarily devout Muslims with jihadist nutcases. There are disturbing exceptions, but in much of Europe and North America, Muslim immigrants tend to be as patriotic and as comfortable with liberal democracy as the rest of us claim to be.

As it turns out, the chief assumptions about Muslim demographics in Mark Steyn's wildly popular America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It appear to have been overtaken by a mountain of contradictory data that Saunders puts to persuasive use. Muslims do not carry some sort of fertility gene with them wherever they go. When they settle down in Europe and North America, Muslims soon enough tend to exhibit all the behaviours and values of – let's not be delicate about it – white people.

Still, you will not much like this book if you are the type that sneers at Mark Steyn, declaims the imminent takeover of America by the Christian right, dismisses the courageously militant atheist reformer Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a mere operative of sinister conservatives or bangs on about "Islamophobia" – a silly term Saunders thankfully doesn't even bother to dignify with a dismissal.

As for multiculturalism, better to "abandon the word" entirely, Saunders argues, and while we're about it we should abandon the idea of the Muslim world and the "Muslim people," too. "When they got off the airplane, they weren't 'Muslims,'" Saunders writes. "They were Indians, Turks, Arabs, North Africans, Baghdadis, Persians, Nigerians, Asians …"

It is a peculiar commonality shared by the neo-leftist racket in identity politics and the Islamist purpose of establishing a global and totalizing Muslim ideology that renders such diverse cultures a single "other" with which too many of the rest of us either demonize or try to ingratiate ourselves. It has become a matter of mere etiquette among a faction of Canada's white liberal activists to grovel at the feet of gruesome Khomeinist imams. There is also no shortage of rightists who are happy to be egged on by such lowlife weirdos as the widely read American pundits Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in their mutterings about U.S. President Barack Obama being himself a closeted Mohammedan from Kenya.

This would all be amusing were it not for the stakes in these debates, not least the West's continuing incoherence in the face of mass Islamist mobilization by what Saunders calls "reactionary, repressive, intolerant and anti-Semitic forces" at precisely the historic moment of revolutionary tumult throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Saunders begins to enumerate some of these more consequential matters too late in his short book to be of much use. He also draws awkward comparisons between contemporary immigration hysterics and historic episodes of anti-Catholic and Judeophobic frights in Europe and North America, although those episodes are worth remembering even so.

At the very least, The Myth of the Muslim Tide should be welcomed in necessary public debates that have been sadly dominated by pessimists, bigots, useless Pollyannas and the absence of solid evidence. It's a book that will probably be welcomed most warmly by recent immigrants to the West who embrace the values "we" claim as our own perhaps more seriously than "we" do, and who also happen to be Muslim.

Terry Glavin's most recent book is Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan.

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