Doug Saunders is a journalist of the rare kind these days. He actually researches, explores, investigates and only then reports on the major trends of our global community. His earlier book, Arrival City, explored “the final shift of human populations from agricultural life to cities… —from Maryland to Shenzhen, from the favelas of Rio to the shanty towns of Mumbai, from Los Angeles to Nairobi. “ His new book The Myth of the Muslim Tide addresses the fearful response of so many Americans and Europeans to one key constituency of that shift, Muslim immigrants.
While explicitly addressing the extreme views of a Geert Wilders or Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann about Islamic immigrants, Saunders points to so many of the attacks on those communities that also resonate – without acknowledgement – in much of “liberal” society. For all the claims of openness and tolerance, so often the comments and attitudes we hear are reminiscent of the “liberal” racism embodied in the old “some of my best friends are ….”
In responding to either school of bigotry, Saunders sensible, fact-driven book is especially helpful. The Myth of the Muslim Tide begins with a section titled “Popular Fiction” which profiles the right-wing Eurabia myth as well as the various groups and parties allied to it. The author shows us just how very close the writings of “legitimate” politicians can be to the manifesto of an Anders Breivik – and how widespread such attitudes are in Europe, Canada, and in the US.
Once Saunders has laid this out, he begins to methodically tear down the myths used to support those attitudes. In The Facts, he takes us through the standard “beliefs” about Islamic population, integration and extremism, framing each as a series of statements followed by detailed, research based rebuttals. It is marvelous to see a book like this shift away from the polemical to social science and very effectively. Here’s one example:
When a terrorist attack occurs in the West, it’s sometimes hard to avoid wondering if our Muslim neighbours might be watching in silent approval…
It is chilling to learn that 7% of American Muslims say that acts of violence against civilian targets, such as bombings, are ‘sometimes justified’ if the cause is right, and that an additional 1% say they are ‘often justified.’ … Taken in isolation, such poll results have become fodder for a widespread belief that that ordinary Muslims condone terrorist violence. But those numbers leave out the larger context. When the same question was asked of Americans in general, an astounding 24% said they believe bomb attacks aimed at civilians are ‘often or sometimes justified’ and 6% feel they are ‘completely justified.’ In other words, American Muslims are between four and six times less likely than other Americans to endorse violent acts against civilians.
In addition to this debunking of the Myth, Saunders reminds us of the popular fears common during the height of Catholic and Jewish immigration and assimilation. I’m old enough (and Irish Catholic enough!) to remember well the comments heard in the 50s and the arguments against electing John Kennedy since he would obviously be beholden to the Vatican rather than the American people. And the more one explores the information about those times – including the history of terrorism and violence – the more one can begin to view the current bigotry as the latest wave of a social problem we need to work to overcome.
European bureau chief for The Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders has won the National Newspaper Award, (Canada’s Pulitzer) four times and you can follow him on twitter @DougSaunders. Happily today we can discuss this fascinating book with him here and learn what steps he hopes we’ll see to counter the hysteria of the Muslim Tide myth.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]