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Europe’s Other Crisis

Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation
By Robert S. Leiken
(Oxford University Press, 354 pp., $27.95) 

After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent
By Walter Laqueur
(Thomas Dunne Books, 322 pp., $26.99) 

In two separate incidents in March, Mohammed Merah, a French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad, ambushed four soldiers around Toulouse, killing three of them. A week later, he shot dead three children arriving for morning classes at a nearby Jewish school, along with a young rabbi who was father to two of them. The children were aged eight, six, and three. Merah recorded the killings on a micro-camera mounted around his neck and sent the footage to Al Jazeera, which did not air it. Shortly before he died by gunfire, Merah told the soldiers who had surrounded his apartment that he regretted not having done more of what he did.

These were crazy deeds, and one can argue about what role insanity played in them, but something else needs to be candidly acknowledged: the killer was not a lone wolf. He had a measure of community support and a great deal of family support. His brother Abdelkader professed himself “proud” of his relation to the murderer. His mother refused to convince her son to surrender to police. His father threatened to file a wrongful-death suit against the French state. The contemporary culture of politicized Islam, as deracinated Internet-surfers understand it, is what Merah believed he was fighting for. He was upset about French laws that limit the wearing of the Muslim veil among schoolgirls. Someone had whipped him into a frenzy over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

France has been sickened, but not surprised, by the killings. They had an antecedent. In 1995, Khaled Kelkal, an Algerian-born petty criminal in the Lyon suburbs who had discovered radical Islam in jail, murdered a Parisian imam whose positions on the Algerian war were a bit moderate for his taste. Kelkal then set off a bomb in the Saint-Michel RER station, killing eight people. He detonated a car bomb in front of a Jewish school in Villeurbanne, outside Lyon, timed for the moment the children were scheduled to emerge. (A bloodbath was averted only because of a delay in the day’s dismissal.) He planted a bomb on a high-speed rail track that would have killed dozens or hundreds had it detonated. But it did not, and the police got Kelkal’s fingerprints. When he was killed by police in a shoot-out that was partly captured on television, there were riots in several immigrant neighborhoods around Lyon.

ALL WESTERN EUROPEAN countries have some version of this problem, which involves immigration, Islam, dissent from established European culture, and organized violence. Although it has been temporarily overshadowed by budgetary and currency woes, it is Europe’s most significant chronic problem. What to do about it depends on where one thinks the problem lies.

Some blame France for having shirked the work of turning foreigners into citizens. If they are right, then all that is now required to put an end to such incidents is that one finally address the problem in good faith. This, broadly speaking, was the reaction of François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for president and favorite to win in France’s two-round elections, which finish in May. Hollande sounded an Obama-esque note after the Ozar Hatorah killings, insisting that the French Republic can be made safe “without losing anything of its values against its worst adversaries.” That is true enough, at the simplest level. And given that the continent has spent the last six or seven decades trying to atone for, and prevent a return of, the sort of hatreds that tore Europe apart in World War II, people are rightly warned against tit-for-tat thinking. But there is a thin line between a refusal to escalate violence and a refusal to face reality. It sounded to many French people like Hollande was scolding them preemptively for merely taking such crimes seriously, rather than placing the blame where it belonged, with Merah and his sympathizers.

There is another way of explaining what went wrong. The grim fact is that no Western European country—not one— has managed even a marginally successful integration of its Muslim immigrants, despite half a century of vast treasury outlays, wholesale constitutional re-workings, and indefatigable excuse-making. One is drawn to the conclusion that no successful integration was ever to be expected. Larger historical currents were at play. Islam was on the rise. Europe had lost its élan vital, or its mojo, or whatever you choose to call it. The idea that Europe could handle a mass immigration of Muslims may have been a momentous historical mistake. As Roy Jenkins, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, remarked in 1989, “We might have been more cautious about allowing the creation in the 1950s of substantial Muslim communities.”

It ought to go without saying that Jenkins was assailing neither individual migrants seeking to improve their position nor the 1,400-year-old religion they practice. But those who speak this way have been accused of Islamophobia, of racial prejudice, and of ill will. They have even—especially in France—been taken to court. This has had a powerful disciplining effect on public discussion, and it has walled off most European countries’ immigration policies from the faintest breeze of common sense. By the time those Big-Events-of-the-Year-2012 shows get aired next December, French viewers may need their memory jogged about what happened in Toulouse in March.

PEOPLE WHO ASK whether better government policies could have made Muslim immigration to Europe less of a debacle tend to look at Britain and France as two ends of a spectrum of approaches. Britain has let immigrants go their own way. It has been multiculturalist, laissez-faire, tolerant of partial allegiances and unintegrated identities. If you are a Sikh policeman, you can wear your turban on duty. In immigration as in other matters, the United Kingdom is unusually disorderly and willing to run the risk that “parallel societies” will form; but it does offer immigrants more self-respect and freedom of religion. France, by contrast, favors the assimilatory pressures of the melting pot. It wants immigrants to embrace a single model of republican citizenship. France’s model may sound condescending and hypocritical, but at its best it can convince a newcomer that the country’s thousand-year-old history belongs to him as much as anyone. It is a fool’s errand to call either the French or the British approach “better.” Each is built out of thousand-year-old habits of political culture. But immigration experts tend to laud whichever of the two has led to riots less recently.

In his important book, Robert Leiken comes down decisively in favor of the French system (which he sees as only a partial failure) and against the British one (which he regards as an outright catastrophe). His bar for success is heartrendingly low: Leiken finds it encouraging that, in contrast to Britain, where 56 percent of Muslims believe the CIA or Mossad or someone other than Arab terrorists carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the corresponding figure for France is only 46 percent. Leiken’s book saw print before the Merah killings. Readers might question certain of his judgments in light of them. But it has a wealth of on-the-ground reporting and many virtues, particularly when it moves beyond France.

Subtlety is not just this book’s virtue but also its calling card, its analytical objective. Leiken bills the whole effort as a call for “nuance, specificity and complexity.” Razor-thin distinctions preoccupy him. He cares whether it was pietism or quietism that turned a ghetto kid into a suicide bomber. Such distinctions can sometimes be useful. It makes sense that the “portability” of a Koran-based fundamentalism should appeal more to second-generation migrants than a “folk” religion based on shrines, family ties and landscapes a continent or an ocean away.

But often these are distinctions without a difference. Leiken insists, for instance, that we differentiate between “political Islamists” who want reform, and “jihadis” who want to overturn the order by violence, but he adds that political Islamists “have endorsed ‘resistance’ in Soviet Afghanistan and in ‘occupied’ countries such as Iraq, Chechnya, and Kashmir and in Israel’s ‘occupied territories.’” That is a lot of exceptions. Political Islam, apparently, is non-violent, except in the five most important areas of conflict you can think of. A terrorist is just a Tablighi Jama’at Islamist in a hurry.

An undue fussiness about distinctions leads Leiken to follow the lead of the International Crisis Group (ICG), which, in its much-cited report on the causes of the French riots of 2005, found only a minimal role for political Islamism. Instead it was “‘sheikhist’ Salafism” that lit the spark—a current of purely religious fundamentalism. Salafists, the ICG found, did not care much about French laws on the veil or about rallying behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s Union of Islamic Organizations of France. That would be political Islamism. What the rioters were up in arms about, and cared enough about to throw rocks and burn cars for the better part of a month, was seeing their religious community dissed, whether on the battlefields of Israel, Afghanistan, or Iraq or on the editorial pages of Danish newspapers. And that is merely Salafism. (Phew!) The effect of these distinctions—and in debaters less honorable than Leiken, their intention—is to paralyze discussion.

Leiken believes that two French government reports on young women wearing the headscarf blew the controversy out of proportion, that a book compiling incidents of Islamist and especially anti-Semitic bullying in schools in 2002 was too narrowly focused, that descriptions of French unrest as a “low-level intifada” by such commentators as Mark Steyn cheapen the discussion, and that descriptions of the riots as a “civilizational struggle” are overreactions. All the same, two and a half weeks of nationwide riots by ethnic minorities is really something. It got the attention of a nation that has had centuries of experience with day-in, day-out political demonstrations.

Leiken himself is aware that Muslim immigrants often set little store by the distinctions that he so prizes. For instance, when British Pakistanis refer to Deobandi fundamentalists as “Wahhabis,” they are using shorthand. The Deobandi movement began in nineteenth-century India and now commands the allegiance of a majority of Pakistanis. Wahhabis follow an eighteenth-century Arabian school. It is true, though, that the proselytizers bankrolled by the Saudi royal family have given a Wahhabi cast to many Muslim organizations, including Deobandi ones. Europe’s countries are diverse, and its immigrant populations are diverse; but its immigrant problems are fairly uniform from country to country. None of them is managing to absorb the second generation.

LEIKEN’S CHAPTERS ON Britain—specifically on the four young men from the region of Leeds who set off bombs in London’s transport system in 2005—account for about half of his narrative and all of its most original thinking. Here the result of Leiken’s insistence on subtlety is not a slotting of the various actors into faddish theological categories but a rich, even novelistic history of English race relations and labor economics, in the context of which the terrorists’ own estimates of the costs and benefits of radicalization become crystal-clear. These pages are extraordinary. Leiken’s account of the “noble, gentle, kind, honorable” drug counselor and child-minder, Mohammed Sidique Khan who became the bombers’ heartless ringleader, is the match of any in-depth account that has so far appeared. Next to this remarkable narrative, his chapters on France read as a throat-clearing preamble and his later chapters on Germany look perfunctory.

Never before has a book conveyed more hard-headedly how unwanted the Muslim migration to Britain was—and remains—by almost all parties, the newcomers not excepted. The roots of the massive immigration that brought tens of millions of foreigners to Europe lay in an innocent-looking scam of industrialists to cut labor costs, which soon escaped their—or anybody’s—control. In the 1960s, Leeds made half the men’s suits in Britain, but its antiquated factories, staffed with the offspring of Irish migrants, found themselves in competition with firms from the European common market, which was the precursor of the European Union. This was a time when labor was thought to be inherently more mobile than capital. Rather than automate and fire people, the factories sought what Leiken calls “cheaper men.”

They drew them from Mirpur, a corner of Pakistan that had for generations provided British merchant ships with engine-room stokers. These workers were meant to be temporary, but it did not work out that way. “By the recession of the mid-1970s,” Leiken writes, “it had become clear that what was temporary was not the worker but the workplace. The migrant worker would stay; his factory went off to East Asia.”

It did not matter whether there were jobs to come to or not. The torrent of migration into Britain—and elsewhere in Europe—never ceased. Millions more South Asians have arrived, claiming family relations or political persecution. The poignant consequences for the typical immigrant’s children are laid out by Leiken with literary skill. “In Anatolia or Kabilya or the Rif, they can’t hold down the food,” he writes. “In Brussels, Paris, and Rotterdam, these young European Muslims can’t get past the bouncer at the nightclub entrance.” But the consequences were even worse for those who had inhabited Leeds before the influx of Third World labor. Leiken describes a graveyard in what was, as recently as the 1960s, a tight-knit Irish neighborhood of “back-to-back” houses:

The cemetery sits in disrepair, weeds having overgrown every plot without exception. Gravestones lie like fallen soldiers.... In their hundreds, not a single one marks a death after 1974. The graveyard is itself dead. The untended plots and the overturned headstones mark a demise and an exodus, signs that a community once inhabiting Beeston moved out as another, of a different faith, moved in. 

Civilizations get richer and they get poorer. But for many European communities, immigration meant disbandment.

You could even say it meant colonization. Taboos have long confined that word and its cognates to the vocabulary of extremist politicians. But the essayist Hans-Magnus Enzensberger has used it, and so, increasingly, have sociologists, starting with the religious scholar Rauf Ceylan, whose fascinating book on the Turkish “ethnic colonies” of Germany’s Rhine and Ruhr valleysappeared in 2006. When Leiken says that northwest Europe has “something like a Muslim internal colony,” and alleges that the migrant in Britain “becomes not so much a member of British society as a colonial of his clan and village,” one suspects that it is good manners, not accuracy, that requires him to couch it in a simile.

“COLONIZATION” really is a good word to describe what has been taking place in Britain’s cities, for two reasons. First is the scope of the change, measured demographically or institutionally. In 2009, one-quarter of British babies were born to foreign mothers. A study released last month by the British Department for Education showed that one-sixth of British schoolchildren did not speak English as a first language. A minority of students in inner London (just 79,000 of 177,000) are native English speakers. But there is a more important reason why “colonization” well describes the influx of the past half-century. It is that the terms governing this transformation are set by the immigrants and not by the natives, who started off not caring, and wound up not daring, to impose too many rules on their new neighbors.

By means of the welfare state, the host countries have even gone to some lengths to protect newcomers from some of the hard choices and rough lessons that come with life in an open economy. Leiken notes that the Iqra radical bookstore established by Sidique Khan and his accomplices as a meeting place, along with the closed-to-the-public “al-Qaeda gym” that they set up in the basement of a local mosque, owed their existence to taxpayer-provided development funding from the European Union and the Leeds City Council. The relative comfort in which Mohammed Bouyeri plotted the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was also provided by the state.

Immigrant assimilation tends to work through emulation, through keeping up with the Joneses. Leiken speaks often of izzat, an Urdu word for “honor” or “face,” and perhaps the greatest service of his book is to show how purely Asian are the moral codes against which Pakistani immigrants and even many of their offspring measure themselves. It would be hard, without resorting to expletives and colloquialisms, to convey the degree of contempt in which the Mirpuris whom Leiken describes hold the “host” country:

Migration, cousin marriage, seclusion of women, the return of remains ... these practices occur not in isolation but as part of a way of life, a culture. They are the threads of a fabric that binds the British Pakistani in general and the Mirpuri in particular, to his family place of origin.... The institutions of the Mirpuri village went along on the migrant journey in order to regulate behavior against the temptations of Western culture. 

As early as the 1970s, long before controversies over the veil arose, one anthropologist noted that Mirpuri women were subject to stricter rules of purdah in Britain than in their ancestral villages. Even when migrants appear to embrace “Britishness,” in matters from getting a U.K. passport to working hard at one’s job, they are (in Leiken’s words) “not building the spiritual foundations of thrift or asceticism but rather family prestige to be paraded back home.”

In the village of Chak-477, in Punjab, Leiken informs us, the remains of Shehzad Tanweer are buried. Tanweer, the suicide bomber who murdered seven Londoners traveling on a Circle Line train out of Liverpool Street Station on July 7, 2005, has the tallest headstone in the graveyard, with a solemn Koranic inscription. He is treated as a saint. The pride of Mohammed Merah’s family begins to look less and less like an exception. “If the opinion polls conducted in the U.K. since July 2005 are only broadly accurate,” said Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 a year afterward, “over 100,000 of our citizens consider that the July 2005 attacks in London were justified.” Peter Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for Scotland Yard, made a similar point: “I firmly believe that there are other people who have knowledge of what lay behind the attacks in July 2005—knowledge they have not shared with us. In fact, I don’t only believe it, I know it for a fact.”

It took Britain a long time to care about keeping tabs on the radicals in its midst. Omar Bakri Mohammed, the Syrian-born groomer of suicide bombers, announced during the Gulf war that Muslim law permitted the assassination of Prime Minister John Major, should he travel to the Arabian peninsula. Shortly thereafter Bakri successfully applied to Britain for political asylum. There was much talk of a “covenant of security”—a tacit agreement that terrorists would be left unmolested, so long as they did not plant any bombs in Britain. “London must have acted according to a well-studied and well-known international plan,” said the jihadi Abu Musab al-Suri, who was recently released by the government of Bashar al-Assad. But there was no such plan. It was just that the indulgence that Britain showed to those who had not only declared themselves its enemies but also shown a willingness to use violence strained the radicals’ credulity. Britain looked so pitifully stupid, so ignorant of history and heedless of geostrategic reality, that its passivity could be explained only as some kind of wily ambush.

WALTER LAQUEUR sees Europe’s Muslim migration in much the same way that Leiken sees England’s. Laqueur has been writing about the evolution of Europe’s institutions for almost seventy years now, in a roving life that has led him from central Europe to pre-war Palestine to the United States to Europe to Britain. This remarkable intellectual is well-read in English, French, German, Russian, Italian, and Spanish. His new book on Europe claims some of the license due a ninety-year-old man—it jumps from theme to theme, un-footnoted, and it is sometimes repetitive; but it has an undeniable authority to it. The tone is that of a rambling letter full of robust wisdom that all would do well to heed.

At first sight, it seems a bit odd that immigration should be of rising interest now. The economic crisis of 2008 might have been expected to put it on the back burner. Yet the years since have seen the rise of anti-immigrant—or, more accurately, anti-multicultural—parties in Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands. Laqueur knows a part of the reason why this is happening. You can call Muslim immigration an “enrichment” if you like, but a poll that appeared in Le Monde in December 2010 shows that only 22 percent of French people and 24 percent of Germans see it that way: 42 percent and 40 percent, respectively, see Muslim communities as a threat.

Like others who have written about the challenge of international migration, Laqueur notes that many Europeans today feel like “strangers in their own homelands.” Where he differs from most of these writers is in his belief that, while no one was watching, Europe’s migration problem came to exceed Europe’s capacity to address it. At roughly the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Laqueur observes, “it was suddenly realized that these newcomers constituted about a quarter (sometimes a third) of the population of the inner quarters of many European cities and that they were a majority among the youngest generation.” By that time the crisis was intractable. “It had been discovered too late.” How to assimilate immigrants into Europe’s culture is yesterday’s question. Today’s question is how to adapt Europe’s institutions to non-European communities that are so large, so powerful, and so various that non-assimilation is often the path of least resistance, both for them and for the broader society.

A longstanding loss of interest in bearing children brought Europe to this pass. Demographic decline fascinates Laqueur, who devoted much of his last book to it. He notes that, assuming no immigration, the United Nations projects Germany’s population to fall from 82 million to 61 million by mid-century, and Italy’s to fall from 57 million to 37 million. Even under the U.N.’s assumption of an uptick in the European birthrate, Europe is going to lose more than a hundred million people by then. By 2015 its working-age population will begin declining. Lord Grey warned at the start of World War I that the lamps were going out all over Europe. Laqueur has come to believe they were never re-lit. He grants that people have been prophesying decline for upward of a century, but he sees a difference: “Yesterday’s prophets were dealing with future trends, whereas those concerned with today’s Europe are dealing with developments that, for the most part, have already happened.”

At heart Laqueur is a liberal. He is not saying that a young man of, say, Sri Lankan descent cannot be just as good an Englishman as Churchill. He is saying only that when people of unambiguously foreign cultures make up majorities in many European cities, and where a kind of unwritten constitution has developed across two generations to permit them to abstain from the national culture that existed before their arrival, it becomes wrong to speak of Europe’s “national” cultures as if they are unchanged. The twenty-first-century metropolises to which migrants flock can be dynamic, rich, sophisticated, and interesting. But Amsterdam’s culture is no longer the “culture of Rembrandt,” and London’s culture has more in common with that of Los Angeles or Dallas than it does with that of the city that braved the Blitz.

LAQUEUR’S FOCUS is different from Leiken’s—not immigrant sociology but European institutions. In the manner of a nineteenth-century historian, Laqueur is also interested in buttressing with facts certain home truths about what happens when rising cultures meet declining ones. He is not keen to split theological hairs. Europe’s crumbling currency, its impotent social institutions, its rapidly changing demography—all these are part of a civilizational shift. “The present crisis is not primarily a crisis of financial debt,” Laqueur writes, “but a crisis of lack of will, inertia, tiredness, and self-doubt, and, however often ‘European values’ are invoked, a crisis of lack of self-confidence, a weak ego in psychoanalytic terms.”

The “European values” to which Laqueur alludes are those bound up with the European welfare state (which he defends) and the building of the European Union (which he sees as a dangerous self-delusion). Through its “frequent evocation of democracy and human rights,” he writes, the EU has sought to dress up Europe’s weakness as virtue. It amply deserves the “mixture of condescension and incredulity” with which the rising powers of Asia treat it. The EU is a project pursued with unstinting energy by a generation of utopians, to replace accountable national governments with a more distant authority that manages to be simultaneously sinister and naïve. For Laqueur a good symbol of its modus operandi came in late 2010, when the European Commission printed millions of calendar diaries to hand out to schoolchildren: they had the dates for Ramadan and for Hindu and Sikh feast days, but not for Christmas.

What is most dangerous about the European Union is not its politically correct bluster. It is that it breaks the main tool—the nation—through which people have traditionally defended themselves against the drift of history and brought common sense to bear on the folly and the vanity of their rulers. Quite naturally, the public is beginning to lose patience. Marine Le Pen’s rejuvenation of France’s National Front, which in 2007 looked rickety and passé, is one symptom; but so are the calls for “de-globalization” that have lately led voters to flock to Arnaud Montebourg, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and other populists on the French left. Meanwhile the EU’s leaders continue to insist that the solution to any problems, from exchange rates to mass migration, is “more Europe.”

Europe appears more likely to go out with a whimper than a bang. Grievances are not lacking, but energy is. The baby boomers who took to the streets in 1968 could sense their vast demographic power. They were on the verge of making up a third of the electorate (and of the market) in many European countries. Today’s youth generation is less than half as large as the postwar boomers, measured as a percentage of population. A pessimist could predict that they will have correspondingly little faith that their grievances can be redressed democratically. Youth rioting of one kind or another has broken out in Greece and Spain, mostly over plans for long-term austerity, and the Occupy movement is made up heavily of people in their teens and twenties. But the likelihood that this younger generation will be disruptive looks very low.

Europe is beginning to deploy for its domestic problems many of the tools the United States tried on its race problem: vast economic resources invested directly and indirectly in poverty-fighting schemes, controversial and morale-sapping exceptions to constitutional equal treatment (via affirmative action), and what Laqueur calls “appeasement,” by which he means a deference to immigrant communities on foreign policy questions and “a certain amount of self-censorship.” He mentions the decision of one European network to join Al Jazeera in not airing a program about the persecution of Christians in the Arab world. Laqueur has a disarming way of using understatement to impart grim news and dire warnings. “Tolerance toward minorities has not been one of the distinguishing features of Muslim societies in modern history,” he writes. “If this trend does not change in the course of the coming decades, the prospects for peaceful coexistence in Europe will be less than bright.”

Europe’s problem is that it believed its own legend. As Laqueur puts it, “Europe had become weak but the fact had not yet registered.” So little had this weakness registered that Europeans continued to view themselves as a model for emulation. The Italian politician Romano Prodi, chair of the European Commission, predicted in 2001 that Europe’s role would be that of “replicating the European experience on a global scale.” Europe continued to spit contempt at small Third World countries for human rights violations, long after it had ceased to cow them militarily, and at its protector, the United States, long after it had lost the ability to defend itself unaided. Britain, France, and Poland are the only countries in Europe that spend as much as 2 percent of their budget on defense. Yet the United States has only 65,000 soldiers left in Europe, and this “forward posture” can hardly continue.

For twenty years, European policymakers have wrung their hands and fretted that America’s attention was turning towards Asia. Only in the last two or three years has this actually been the case. For Europe, insoluble foreign policy problems await. Europe is not rich enough in natural resources to withdraw from the world, but for the first time in half a millennium it is not strong enough to engage with the world either. This being so, Laqueur is as mystified at the behavior of Europe’s leaders in the face of mass immigration as the terrorist al-Suri was at impunity for jihadists: “It is difficult even in retrospect to establish what the authorities in these countries were thinking—that uncontrolled immigration did not involve major problems; that the economic, social, and cultural problems would be solved; that the immigrants would one day disappear or be well integrated?”

One often has the sense in reading about contemporary Europe that one is reading about the period between the two world wars. Not the small outbursts of evil that prefigured cataclysmic war, but the small outbursts of naïveté that might well have been forgotten in light of what followed: the Kellogg-Briand pact to abolish war, the Oxford Union’s resolution never to fight for King and country in 1933, and so on. Europe’s problem is not that bad people have been indulging their animosities, but that good people have declined to observe that animosities exist in the first place. Over decades, Europe has undertaken high-stakes experiments with both demography and democracy. Breakdown has been the result. It is going to have to be faced squarely.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a columnist for the Financial Times, and the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Doubleday). This article appeared in the May 24, 2012 issue of the magazine.