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Written by: Diana West
Sunday, August 02, 2009 2:10 PM 

Today's NYT Sunday Books Section has an enthusiastic, if less-than-informative front-cover review by Fouad Ajami of Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, a new book I have not yet had a chance to read. It is one of those reviews in which the reader learns more about what the reviewer thinks of the subject at hand -- Islam in Europe -- than the author. Ajami writes:

In his “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe,” Christopher Caldwell, a meticulous journalist who writes for The New York Times Magazine and other publications, gives this subject its most sustained and thoughtful treatment to date.

My first thought: What is it about this book that supasses all such work before it in the sustained and thinking department? Ajami's explanation:

The question of Islam in Europe has occasioned calls of alarm about “Eurabia,” as well as works of evasion and apology by those who insist Islam is making its peace with European norms. Caldwell’s account is subtle, but quite honest and forthright in its reading of this history.

As an aside, this reading of Caldwell as the "subtle" alternative is catching on. Andrew Sullivan, in urging people to read both Caldwell and Bruce Bawer, who also has a new book on Islam in Europe, writes today:

I'm biased since they are both old friends. But they are not Steynian hysterics; and not authoritarian conservatives. They are, at core, liberal-minded conservatives who are deeply alarmed at the enabling of Islamist illiberalism in Europe.

"Steynian hysterics" vs. the "deeply alarmed." I find this unpleasant, though still risible distinction quite intriguing -- not that there is something Sulivan is illuminating for the world in making it, but rather because there is something Sullivan, and by extension Ajami, are illuminating about themselves. There is something about Caldwell's book that strikes them as OK because it is only "deeply alarmed" and  "subtle." Call me a Steynian hysteric (please), but I want to find out what it is. 

Back to Ajami's review and his dismissal of "Eurabia."  

Putting "Eurabia" in scare quotes is, of course, a way of conjuring up historian Bat Ye'or, author of "Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis. The title of this  pioneering work harkens back to the journal "Eurabia," the mid-1970s publication of the European Committee for Coordination of Friendship Associations with the Arab World. In a nutshell, "Eurabia" is no figment of the contemporary imagination; for decades, a  Euro-Arab axis has been a political dream on the anti-Western Left in Europe, with even a short-lived journal. In Ajami's view, however, "alarm" about such an axis, about Islam in Europe -- about "Eurabia" -- is no more credible than "works of evasion and apology."

And according to Ajami, Caldwell has split the difference with his book's "reading of this history." How? Let's put Ajami's whole paragraph back together, with his own answer by way of a quotation of Caldwell's. Ajami writes:

The question of Islam in Europe has occasioned calls of alarm about “Eurabia,” as well as works of evasion and apology by those who insist Islam is making its peace with European norms. Caldwell’s account is subtle, but quite honest and forthright in its reading of this history.“Islam is a magnificent religion that has also been, at times over the centuries, a glorious and generous culture. But, all cant to the contrary, it is in no sense Europe’s religion and it is in no sense Europe’s culture,” he writes.

So, depicting Islam as "magnificent," "glorious" and "generous" -- but just not  Europe's cup of tea -- rates as "subtle," "quite honest" and "forthright" with Ajami. Guess I'll have the read the Caldwell book to see if that's what the author really meant.  

 

 

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