NY Times Review of Caldwell:
The review of Christopher Caldwell's recent book on the "European Revolution" (i.e. the Reconquista theory of Islam in Europe) in the NY Times, 7/30/09, should be of concern to anyone who cares about human relations among Muslims, Jews, and Christians (whether Catholic, Evangelical, or Evangelical Catholic).
Caldwell paints a compelling, fine-brush picture of a New Europe being
patientty "conquered" by Muslim immigrants, street by street. The Times claims that his book is NOT anti-immigrant, yet the author does seeem to be alarmed about the rapid spread of Islam in the (secularized) West, spreading faster than Walmart for free and open market ideologues.
Caldwell's take on all this is not so much based on history or political science as on feelings about the Other, particularly when garbed in Arab clothes. This should not surprise us when we remember that Caldwell is the son-in-law of of Robert Novak (yes, "that one" --to quote John McCain).
Whether this is yet another exercise in Hobbesian marketing or (Lou) Dobbsean heterophobia remains yet to be seen. Caldwell is a gifted and crafty writer, skilled in tantalizing his audience--like his old man.
The jury is still out on the electrifying potential this book has for interfaith relations!
Meanwhile, for another example of Caldwell's views on Islam, see his ft.com columns.
Here is one based upon Pres. Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University:
-----------------> The politics of self-abasement <-----------------
By Christopher Caldwell
With his speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University on Thursday, Barack Obama put a new face on American foreign policy, or at least a face that the world has not seen since the 1970s. This is America’s penitent, humbled and even sycophantic face.
President Obama seeks a “new beginning” to US-Muslim relations through frank self-examination and mutual respect. The US is locked in a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, whether it likes it or not. Self-examination can be a sign of strength. But we should not delude ourselves that the Muslim world sees it as such. The Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks for many when he says that it is “the power of Muslims which [has] made the new US administration try to portray a new image”. And there is another problem: the politics of national self-abasement, from Jimmy Carter to Mikhail Gorbachev, is not popular with voters. It cannot be practised for long because it entails a huge – usually fatal – drawing down of political capital.
The US is still, paradoxically, the country that has felt the lash of globalisation least. The president’s trip to the Middle East gave an inkling of what diplomacy is like when someone else has the upper hand. In part it was the atmospherics: the state department memo warning journalists accompanying Mr Obama to Saudi Arabia that they were “expressly prohibited from leaving the hotel or engaging in any journalistic activities outside of coverage of the Potus visit”; the photos of Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, in a headscarf; the invitations extended to members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
In part it was the president’s oratorical tics: the greeting of assalum alaykum; describing the Middle East as the region in which Islam was first “revealed” (a formulation usually used by believers, not outsiders); or “peace be upon them” (a phrase many Americans know only from Osama bin Laden’s internet videos). What looks polite to most of the world looks obsequious to American voters. The carefully vetted Cairo audience clapped primarily for Koranic citations or concrete concessions (“I have ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed”), and rarely for the soaring sentiments of which a US listener would be proudest.
“Turning the page on the Bush era” means partly a change in tone. Mr Obama distinguishes the Iraq war (which he opposed) from the Afghan one (of which he plans a major escalation this summer) by calling Iraq a “war of choice”. That is an artificial distinction. The US had other choices at its disposal after 9/11 besides invading Afghanistan. They may have been foolish or ineffective or cowardly, but they were choices. Choosing to invade, even after 9/11, provoked fury in the Muslim world. On Thursday, Mr Obama made important concessions to this fury. The US, he said, would seek no permanent bases in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
But the key point of the speech was to downgrade the US alliance with Israel, to shift US support from the Israeli position to the Muslim one. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements [in the West Bank],” Mr Obama said. The US suddenly finds itself with roughly the same Middle East policy as the European Union. Israelis will not find the blow much softened by a few tough remarks about Holocaust denial and some warnings to Palestinians against terrorism – a word Mr Obama did not use.
Mr Obama’s criticism of terrorism is two-pronged. On the one hand he sees terrorism as morally wrong, and here he was most eloquent: “It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,” he said. On the other hand, he sees terrorism as ineffective, and here he is far less persuasive. “For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation,” Mr Obama said. “But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.”
You can say it was not violence alone that won black people their rights. But an American should not need reminding that the US civil war – fought over nothing but slavery and its constitutional implications – was spectacularly bloody, complete with starvation camps, torched cities and actual terrorism, too. Even the last century’s civil rights movement required not just the marches of Martin Luther King, but federal troops.
What is most inspiring about Mr Obama’s oratory is also what is most disturbing about it. In his oratorical universe, the right thing and the effective thing tend to coincide. In his discussion of the Muslim headscarf he displayed the same highly appealing libertarian conservatism that won him many votes in the centre of the American electorate last fall. “I reject the view of some in the west that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal,” he said. “I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.”
If “choice” is the way forward, then Mr Obama is addressing his audience not as Muslims but as citizens. Politics is about choice. Religion is not – it is about truth. As soon as there are meaningful free choices about whether to be liberated or traditional, the problem defines itself away. The point of the Cairo speech was to break faith with Israel on peace negotiations, in hope that the move will provoke concessions from Muslims. Wrapped around that realpolitik was an oration which was heartfelt and subtle – but which neither made the US stronger than before, nor made the world safer.
The writer is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. His book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, was published in May
More columns at www.ft.com/caldwell
© The Financial Times Limited 2009
Published: June 5 2009 20:57 | Last updated: June 5 2009 20:57