Paul Scheffer and the Doomsday Prophets
Almost ten years ago, the Dutch author Paul Scheffer wrote an essay that proved to be a milestone. In The Multicultural Drama, Scheffer took on the multicultural orthodoxy that inspired Dutch immigration policy, and thereby introduced a nationwide debate about the multicultural society. Now Scheffer has written a new book, and in an interview with Weekendavisen he shares his current views on the Islamization of Europe and the people he calls (not admiringly) doomsday prophets. In this article, one of those prophets, Bruce Bawer, takes a critical look at Scheffers comments.
By Bruce Bawer
Paul Scheffer plays a key role in the story of the Netherlands’ fateful encounter with Islam. Before the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, and before the controversies that surrounded Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, Scheffer wrote an essay that took his country by storm. In Britain, people still talk about Enoch Powell’s electrifying 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he warned of the future consequences of Islamic immigration. Countless British citizens condemned Powell’s speech as intolerant and rasist, but in recent years more and more of them have come to regard his strong words as prophetic. In contemporary Dutch history, Scheffer’s 2000 essay, “The Multicultural Drama,” holds a similar place. Just like Powell, Scheffer took on the apparently unassailable orthodoxy that inspired his country’s immigration policy, and thereby introduced a nationwide debate about “the multicultural society.” Like Powell, Scheffer was widely criticized. And like Powell, Scheffer has since been vindicated in the eyes of many of his countrymen, who recognize his statements as prophetic.
In 2007, Scheffer published a book, The Immigrants: The Open Society and Its Limits,
which has now come out in Danish. In connection with its publication, he was interviewed recently by Klaus Wivel for Weekendavisen
. Wivel begins by summing up Scheffer’s famous essay and its immense influence: it was, Wivel explains, “a strike against the multicultural idea, and against the otherwise highly valued Dutch tolerance, which according to Scheffer was another word for conflict-avoidance and laziness. He meant that one should stop being scared to regard Islam critically.” Bingo. But what is striking about Wivel’s new interview with Scheffer is that both now seem to strive to depict the Dutch author not as the revolutionary oracle of 2000, but as a man who now finds himself (in Wivel’s words) “so to speak in the middle.” And Wivel adds: “He will not allow himself to be cowed by either wing.”
One wing, naturally, consists of the many multiculturalists in the Dutch media, politics, and academia whom Scheffer criticized in 2000 and who continue to perceive Muslim immigrants as colorful culture victims and welfare-state clients, period. And the other wing? It consists of a number of authors and social critics – including yours truly, who is mentioned by name – whom Scheffer calls, quite condescendingly, “doomsday prophets.” These “prophets” warn that Europe is in the danger zone – that our freedoms are threatened by growing Islamization and by a widespread appeasement on the part of the cultural elite. Scheffer tells Wivel that we so-called doomsday prophets “think that Europe failed when faced with Nazism in the 1930s; that Europe failed during the Cold War; and that we are now experiencing the third Munich. They depict Islam in Europe as a well-organized, disciplined entity, even though it is a mishmash of different societies and totally fragmented.” Wivel points out that Scheffer “refuses to let himself be dragged down into the depressive, defeastist twilight mood” that I and my fellow prophets supposedly engender.
As evidence that the “doomsday prophets” are wrong, Wivel and Scheffer draw on examples from American history. We are reminded, for instance, that many Americans took a long time to accept people with Irish backgrounds as fellow citizens, and that Chinese-Americans were denied citizenship for several decades. But eventually the tensions melted away – and for Scheffer this proves that the “preachers of apocalypse” (i.e., doomsday prophets) “underestimate the viability of the open society.” But what he fails to acknowledge is that the Irish and Chinese emigrated to America to work, to live in freedom, and to raise American children – not to establish and maintain exclusionary and tyrannical subcultures, and not to collect welfare benefits and use them to buy mansions and slaves in their homelands. The Chinese didn’t bring with them to the New World a religion that preached conquest and that demanded that they keep their distance from the infidels. The Irish, for their part, were strongly Catholic, but what was critical to the assimilation of Catholics in America was that they were heavily influenced by American Protestanism – which is to say that they began to think for themselves and to question papal authority (a situation which continues to irk the Vatican). In today’s Europe, by contrast, sons and grandsons of Muslim immigrants tend to be more devoted to their extremely strict and narrow faith and more hostile toward Western freedoms than the immigrants themselves. Until Muslims began emigrating to America, such tendencies were never observed among any major immigrant group in all of U.S. history.
Of the “doomsday prophets,” Scheffer says that “What they claim to defend, they bury. I can very well see the temptation to doubt the freedoms of the open society when one sees how some groups use those same freedoms to undermine Europe.” I’m not entirely sure what he is talking about here: it’s not us “doomsday prophets” who have doubted Western freedoms, but rather the prophets of appeasement, such as Dag Solstad, who, in a breathlessly cavalier fashion, belittle the most fundamental freedom of all, namely freedom of speech. Scheffer continues: “But when I visit Muslim communities in Europe, I meet some very defensive people. They are absolutely not preoccupied with influencing us.” Thus does he sweep under the carpet the countless attempts to remove “offensive” works of literature from school curricula, to fill history classes with Islamic propaganda, to compel the acceptance of police hijabs and judicial hijabs – just to name a couple of examples. The Muslims, Scheffer insists, “are instead trying to protect themselves from European society’s influence on them.” This is an odd way to describe many Muslims’ – or, more specifically, many Muslim men’s – contempt for free speech, freedom of religion, civil rights, and equality of the sexes.
It is particularly interesting that Scheffer uses the word “defensive.” He lives, after all, in the Netherlands, where, in the decade since his famous essay, young members of “defensive” Muslim communities have been responsible for frighteningly rapid increases in the number of rapes, gay-bashings, and other actions that are influenced by their religion’s teachings about homosexuality, the oppression of women, and so on. There is not one Muslim in the Netherlands who needs to be accompanied by bodyguards around the clock because he has chosen to criticize Western values – but more and more Dutch people who have criticized Islam do live under such conditions. It wasn’t like this when Scheffer wrote his famous, gutsy article. Is it possible that he is now treading so carefully when it comes to Islam – and making such a point of distancing himself from the “doomsday prophets” – because he doesn’t want to share Fortuyn’s, Van Gogh’s, Hirsi Ali’s, or Wilders’s fate? He argues that if “consensus societies” like Denmark and Holland show more tolerance for disagreement, it will ease integration. It’s true that many European countries – Norway included – are indeed consensus societies that should make more room for dissent. But when a group of people who will soon make up a majority of the Netherlands’ four largest cities belong to a religion that punishes homosexuality, apostasy, and adultery with death, we’re not talking about ordinary “disagreement” but about a terrifying threat to fundamental democratic principles and human rights. In today’s Netherlands, the kind of disagreement that needs protection is the kind that’s practiced by Geert Wilders. Indeed, in a couple of weeks, Wilders, the most popular living politician in Scheffer’s country, will stand trial for speaking his mind about Islam. This is an outrage. But about these disgraceful facts Scheffer has nothing useful to say.
Yet at the same time Scheffer expresses a number of opinions that, strangely enough, are reminiscent of … yes, the “doomsday prophets.” He criticizes Europeans who make no demands of immigrants, who place no responsibility upon them, and who avoid confronting their attitudes. He says it’s good that events of recent years – the Van Gogh murder, the Danish cartoon crisis – have forced us to think seriously about freedom of speech and religion. “In postwar Holland and Denmark, after the 1960s, there was a feeling of invincibility,” he says. “Now we understand better that we can’t take anything for granted in an open society.” Agreed. He maintains that the European welfare system has encouraged immigrants to be dependent on government support, that Europe could learn a lot from the U.S. when it comes to many aspects of immigration policy, and that “We need a selective immigration policy.” Yep. And he even admits that the situations in many European cities and neighborhoods – “in Birmingham, in Marseilles, in Nørrebro [Copenhagen], in Rosengård in Malmø, in Molenbeek in Brussels, or other places” – are horrible. The fact is that the continent’s “no-go” zones are growing and multiplying, that gang crime is on the rise, that more and more young women born in Europe are being brutalized and forced into marriages and hijabs, and so on. Gays are moving from the major Dutch cities to avoid getting beat up by Muslim youths; Jewish children, according to an official report, can’t get a decent education in France because they are tormented so viciously by their Muslim classmates. When I write about these things, I’m a doomsday prophet. But Scheffer? No, he’s no doomsday prophet. He’s just a prophet. OK, whatever.
In any case, what is Scheffer’s ultimate commentary on all these horrid developments – his answer, his advice, his solution? Exactly the same thing we’ve hard from several quarters for several years: namely, that Europe needs more “debate.” Yes, more debate. More dialogue. And more and more and more of it – perhaps right up until the caliphate becomes a reality? (My humble apologies if I sound like a doomsday prophet.)
Scheffer clings to the belief that there is now a significant number of Muslims in the Netherlands who are integrating themselves into Western values. To support this claim, he mentions an immigrant who once said to him: “This is my country too.” Scheffer’s interpretation of this comment is as follows: “If people really can acquire this kind of relationship to the country – that is, to really feel that they have a share in the society and want to take responsibility for something that goes beyond their family – we’ve come a long way.” Yes, we’ve come a long way – but in which direction? When certain Muslims says that “this is my country too,” they mean, of course, that they have a right to try to transform the country so that it accords with Islamic norms – which of course would mean, among other things, an end to the debate that Scheffer values so highly. But Scheffer doesn’t seem to get it.