Anders Breivik and I read a lot of the same books. Just before he massacred 77 fellow Norwegians in July, Breivik sent out a manifesto arguing that jihadist Muslims were conquering Europe and the world. This well-known theory is called, in shorthand, “Eurabia”. Breivik’s 1,518-page manifesto cites Eurabia authors such as Bruce Bawer, Bat Ye’or and Melanie Phillips.
I once reviewed their books for the FT. It wasn’t much fun: jointly with the autobiography of the footballer Ashley Cole, Ye’or’s Eurabia is the worst book I’ve ever read. However, slogging through the Eurabia books helped me understand possibly the most influential western geopolitical theory since the attacks of 9/11. Though few policymakers or academics take the warped notion of Eurabia seriously, hordes of ordinary Europeans and Americans do. No wonder, because Eurabia is a simple idea that seems to explain the world.
Very popular political ideas are usually ones that can be explained over a beer in a bar, or at worst in a pamphlet. Marxism had the 23-page Communist manifesto; anti-Semitism had the rollicking forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Ye’or’s book reads like the Protocols badly rewritten about Muslims); and the Tea Party movement has the 4,440-word American constitution, albeit often with the unfortunate bit about slavery left out. You can swallow any of these ideas without ever reading the founding text, but doing the reading can back up your arguments in a bar.
Before 9/11, there was almost no talk of Eurabia. Few westerners then thought about Islam much. Muslim immigrants were called “Asians” in Britain, “Turks” in Germany and “Beurs” (sons of Arabs) in France. But on 9/11, the west discovered Islam. Suddenly all these groups were lumped together and called “Muslims”. Soon the Eurabia books appeared. In them, the Islamic fundamentalist dream of the global umma becomes reality: all Muslims, whatever their origins, Sunni or Shia, doctor and dockworker, are grimly pumping out babies intent on imposing sharia law. To Eurabia thinkers, the few thousand Islamic terrorists represent loads of Muslims, perhaps nearly all Muslims. (As The Onion magazine says: “Stereotypes are a real time-saver.”) And Muslim agents are everywhere: in one poll last year, nearly a quarter of Americans believed their president was Muslim, an echo of the 1950s’ theory that President Eisenhower was a commie.
Ye’or resurrected the word Eurabia, but few readers got through her book. Phillips was too wacky. She blamed Islam’s conquest of Britain on British transsexuals, intellectuals, gays who adopt children, Antonio Gramsci, Phillips’s former employer The Guardian, etcetera. Writers like Thilo Sarrazin (over one million copies sold in Germany) and Mark Steyn did a better job of publicising Eurabia. But many Eurabia thinkers prefer just to cite the Koran: Islam’s plan for global domination is all in there, they say.
Faced with complexities, the Eurabia thinkers march merrily on. No matter that Sunnis aren’t Shias. No matter that European Muslims overwhelmingly vote for traditional European socialist parties rather than jihad. No matter that fertility rates in most Muslim countries have collapsed: Algerian, Tunisian and Iranian women now average fewer than two children each. No matter that the French government estimated that precisely 367 women in France wear burkas. No matter that the daily reality of most Muslim life in western countries is terrifically tame: work, kids, sleep.
Eurabia makes thrilling sense of a complex world. “It’s also a victimisation narrative,” adds Jonathan Laurence, critic of Eurabia and author of the forthcoming The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims. More seductive still, Eurabia unleashes the most potent political emotion – hostility to other ethnicities – while deliciously claiming that it isn’t racist because it targets a global religion.
In Eurabia books, Armageddon is always nigh. Bawer, for instance, warns of “the end of the west as we know it”. Norman Podhoretz called his Eurabia book World War IV. This means there was an insane logic to what Breivik did. If you believe that Muslims are plotting Armageddon, then you have to act. No Eurabia author would have told Breivik to gun down socialist teenagers, but he must have decided it was “necessary murder”. He presumably thought he was saving Europe.
Eurabia thinking peaked from 2001 through 2007: the years of 9/11, the Afghan and Iraqi wars, the Madrid and London bombings and the Danish cartoon crisis. Now, though, Eurabia is fading. Osama bin Laden has died almost unmourned. Arabs are demanding what looks suspiciously like western democracy. Ethnic neighbourhoods of British cities did riot, but unluckily for Eurabia theorists, the rioters didn’t mention jihad. Meanwhile, notes Laurence, Muslim “community leaders” backed the British authorities. But worst of all for Ye’or et al, global jihad hasn’t quite panned out. Since 9/11, more Europeans have probably been killed by lightning than by Islamic fundamentalism. Laurence says: “If the Eurabia theorists’ worst fears are true, I think we would see more evidence for it.”
Soon Eurabia will probably be replaced by another simple world-explaining theory with one clear enemy, most likely China.