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Racism

The politics of well-being can turn into the politics of separatism

The dean of Claremont McKenna apologises and resigns for a racially insensitive email

This week, I read an interesting book that came out at the start of this year about the Black Lives Matter movement, called They Can’t Kill Us All, by Wesley Lowery. It tells the story of one of the defining protest movements of this decade, which shone a light (or, rather, a phone camera) on American police’s excessive use of force against black people. The BLM movement was a sort of citizen journalism network, sharing disturbing videos of police shootings, and on-the-ground reporting from protests.

The book taught me a lot, including the fact that a quarter of those fatally killed by police in the US are in the middle of an acute mental health crisis. A similar statistic exists in Canada. I came across several stories of families calling the police out of fear a mentally ill relative would harm themselves. The police arrive, and within minutes, the person is shot dead. We’re lucky to have less gung-ho cops in the UK, who are trained to tackle people in the grip of a psychotic episode.

Another thing which struck me was that what started as a street protest against police brutality turned into a wave of campus protests, which were to some extent a protest around feelings – feeling safe, feeling you belong in an institution or society.

The first Black Lives Matter campus protest took place an hour’s drive from Ferguson, in the University of Missouri, or Mizzou as it’s known. A group started by three Mizzou students – like the founders of BLM, they were all black queer women activists – protested the university’s lack of an official response to the police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, and also its perceived apathy towards incidents of racist hate speech on the campus.

The students felt awakened by the protests on the streets of Ferguson – the language of BLM is repeatedly one of spiritual and civic awakening. How would they join the fight against systemic oppression and white supremacy in the United States?

At a homecoming parade, the group surrounded the car of university president Tim Wolfe, but he failed to talk to them. A month later, when he did come to speak to the group, he failed to accurately define ‘systematic oppression’. That was when they started demanding his resignation. One of the group went on hunger strike, the football team joined the protest, and Wolfe finally resigned. Here’s one of their protests.

It was, suggests Lowery, ‘one of recent history’s most significant victories for student activism’. It hasn’t been a great victory for Mizzou, where freshmen enrolments have fallen by 35% in the two years since the protests. Students have been put off, apparently, by the sense Mizzou is either a hotbed of black radicalism or a swamp of white supremacy.

Throughout 2015 and 2016, Black Lives Matter chapters opened at many other universities, particularly liberal arts universities. They followed a similar pattern – a protest against a perceived moment of racist speech or stereotyping on campus and the insensitivity of response on the part of university authorities, which morphs into a more sustained protest against the racist history of the university (statues, founders, mascots) and the systemic racism of the United States.

The various chapters published their demands – you can read them online here. Sometimes, chapters would demand apologies or resignations from university presidents or deans for their insensitive response to racial incidents – in at least four universities, they did apologise and / or resign.   

Protestors would also often demand mandatory diversity training for all students and staff, as at Iowa State University:

While Iowa State currently enforces both an international and US diversity requirement for degree completion, we find that this is not sufficient to address racism on this campus. These approved courses often neglect intersectionality and are not uniformly assessed, meaning some people could pass a course by correctly guessing on multiple choice exams rather than engaging in meaningful dialogue. This course will educate students on the history of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the United States and on the structures of privilege that continue to perpetuate such systems today. Once this literacy is established, students will be asked how they can challenge oppressive systems in order to make the campus and the country more inclusive for marginalized groups.

Chapters also often demanded more funding for black faculty members, higher enrolment of black students, the overhaul of curricula to highlight the contribution of people of colour, and the creation of new centres or departments for African-American studies. This is from #liberateMSU, the chapter from Michigan State University:

We demand the establishment of a Department of African American and African Studies with an annual supplies, services, and equipment budget of at least $200,000, twenty graduate assistant lines for the doctoral program, and, at minimum, ten tenure-stream faculty members by Fall 2017. We demand the construction of a free-standing Multicultural Center with its own budget from the University to support social and academic programming by Spring 2017. We demand an increase in tenure-stream faculty whose research specializes in Black Politics, Black Linguistics, Black Sociology, Black Psychology, African politics, Black Queer Studies, Hip-Hop Studies, African American Literature, African Literature, and Decolonial Theory. All these faculty hires must be approved by a panel of Black student leaders and will be tenured in the Department of African American and African Studies.

Chapters frequently demanded more funding for counselling services for the trauma of black people. This from Emory University:

We need institutional, primarily, financial support, for black students in the face of trauma and other racial events on campus, nationally and in the world at large.

And, in connection with this, chapters often demanded the creation of black-only safe spaces, as at Michigan: ‘We ask for a safe space for black students on campus that is away from the daily stresses of navigating white spaces. This space will be a place of emotional and social support and a place to decompress from the daily stress of being a Black student at a Predominantly White Institution.’ Some colleges, including Harvard, have also introduced black-only graduation ceremonies.

Right-wing journalists and commentators have had a field day with all this, both in the US and beyond, calling the protesting students ‘coddled’, ‘snowflakes’, ‘hysterical’, ‘anti-white’ and so on. 

One liberal-turned-conservative commentator, Shelby Steele, who is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, thinks it’s an example of America’s inability to get over its ‘original sin’ of slavery and racial oppression. African-Americans have been encouraged for the last 50 years, he says, to embrace an identity of victimhood as a means to money, power and prominence, and white liberals, who feel guilty over America’s past, support that identity. White liberal America and black America are, in his estimate, two cultures locked in a Manichean ‘cold war’ in a single country’ , both stuck in ‘a moral manipulation that exaggerates inequality and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs’; its ‘enforcement arm’ is political correctness.  

The idea that African-Americans are systematically oppressed in contemporary America is, he says, a lie, which destroys African-Americans and American politics, but one cannot deny this lie without being labelled a racist or, in his case, an Uncle Tom.

He says:

The word that comes to mind is pathos. To be that profoundly out of tune with the freedoms and opportunities that almost smother you, and to continue to think of yourself as a victim, is suicidal. It’s a tragedy. If you want to scare the living hell out of the Black Lives Matter movement, look them in the eye and say ‘what would you do if you weren’t a victim? What are your career plans? What are you going to do to develop yourself?’ The black-as-victim mentality allows them to avoid that. So we get generations of mediocrity and failure.

I am too far removed from American culture to know if this rather startling critique is true (this review of his book in the New York Times makes some valid points in response). I am ignorant of the large scholarly debate over whether 60 years of affirmative action have worked. It seems strange to me – an ignorant foreigner – when a young protestor says to the dean of Princeton: ‘This university owes me everything. My people built this all.’ But she’s not alone in believing that – around 60% of African-Americans believe descendants of slaves are entitled to reparations (see the graphs below), which some economists estimate should amount to around $3 trillion. 

There are objective facts beyond feelings – African-Americans account for 12% of the American population but only 6% of the college population, and they are more likely to drop out. They are particularly under-represented in STEM subjects. There are white racists on university campuses. Many universities and their founders do have racist histories, and why not change a name or take down a statue? And university administrations can be clumsy and insensitive in their response to racist incidents.

In terms of feelings, do African-American students have worse mental health than other groups, particularly at Predominantly White Institutions? An organisation called Healthy Minds Network does an annual survey of 34,000 American students’ wellbeing, on 23 campuses. It found that African-Americans are twice as likely as Whites to feel they were treated unfairly because of their race. However, their sense of belonging on campus was roughly the same as other ethnic groups; the percentage of African Americans reporting depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation was roughly the same as other ethnic groups; and they were roughly as likely to seek counselling (Asians are the least likely ethnic group to seek counselling, because of a sense of stigma). 

 

Another survey by Gallup found that black graduates who went to Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCU) – which are usually predominantly African-American – had higher personal, social and financial wellbeing than black graduates who went to Predominantly White Institutions. The survey found that more than one in three black HBCU graduates (35%) strongly agree that they had a professor who cared about them as a person, a professor who made them excited about learning and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams; only 12% of black non-HBCU graduates strongly agree they had all three experiences. This connects to another recent finding – that black students who had at least one black teacher at school were significantly more likely to finish school and consider college. So ethnicity does matter when it comes to finding teachers you relate to and who you feel encouraged by. 

Being a minority and feeling like an outsider can be emotionally hard. It can lead to weariness and withdrawal. I imagine it’s somewhat alienating to be a right-wing college student – while people who identify as liberals account for one fifth of Americans, they account for half of American academics. One third of first-year students identify as ‘liberal’ or ‘far left’ – the highest figure since 1973. Republicans on campus report being physically attacked.

Our social networks don’t help – the internet was meant to bring people together, but it’s fragmented into Black Twitter and White Twitter, liberal blogs and right-wing blogs, which affirm rather than challenge our biases. We don’t talk to each other – the 2013 American Values Survey found that white people’s social circles are 93% white, while black Americans have social circles that are 65% black. Perhaps because of these bubbles, American views of BLM are sharply divided – only 35% of white Americans see the movement positively, compared to 83% of black Americans (only 22% of Americans approved of the diner sit-ins in 1961, by the by).

One gets a growing sense of pessimism and exhaustion from American culture, perhaps from western culture as a whole. A sense that conversation with ‘the Other’ is impossible, that withdrawal, separatism or angry denunciation is the best tactic. A sense that we should withdraw and surround ourselves with ‘our own’. A recent viral blog, now a book, by black British feminist Reni Eddo-Lodge, is called Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. One hears dark rumblings across the Atlantic about the need for white or black nationalism and the likelihood of another US civil war (it’s about 35% likely, according to a recent poll of security experts at Foreign Policy). 

Engaging with the Other – African-American, White, liberal, Republican, cis, LGBTQ, Christian, Muslim, male, female, rich and poor – is hard, awkward, discomforting, depressing, exhausting. But it’s necessary. It’s sometimes enriching. Occasionally, it leads to friendship and love. Above all, it’s essential to one’s education, one’s moral growth, and to the continued survival of liberalism.

We need to help students feel centred and secure in their identities, but we also need to raise people who are able to speak outside of their bubbles, to meet in that uncomfortable space and be able to bear it with patience, articulacy, courage and grace, as James Baldwin did while debating William Buckley at the Cambridge Union. And we need to be prepared to go into that space ourselves, to discover our own parochialism. ‘Are you uncomfortable?’ asks the young protestor at Mizzou in the video clip above. ‘Then I did my job.’ The same is true of university professors.

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Douglas Murray’s holy war on Islam

St James Matamoros (killer of Muslims), hero of the Spanish re-conquest

After the bombing in Manchester, prime minister Theresa May said, on the steps of Downing Street: ‘We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage.’

Really? After over 50 years of Islamic terrorism against the West, we still struggle to comprehend the mind of those violently opposed to us? That suggests a real failure and weakness on our part.

Douglas Murray, the author of The Strange Death of Europe, thinks that those who attack us are constantly trying to explain their motives to us. We’re just not listening. They are constantly explaining that they’re motivated by their reading of the Koran and their understanding of Islam.  But Western politicians and journalists won’t publcly acknowledge this, because it might seem racist to connect terrorism and Islam. Instead they insist terrorists have ‘nothing to do with Islam’, that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’.

Murray’s book – currently number 6 in the Amazon UK charts – is a rallying cry for Europeans, a last stand, like Childe Roland blowing his horn before falling beneath the moors’ swords. Europe is being rapidly transformed by waves of Muslim immigration, he says, and this threatens Europe as we know it. We must resist, he says, or liberal Europe will die.

Europe’s liberal universalist dream is that new arrivals will more or less share its liberal ideals. But that’s not necessarily so. A survey by ICM last year, for a Channel 4 documentary presented by Trevor Philips (the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission), found that 23% of British Muslims support the introduction of shariah law in some parts of Britain, 52% think homosexuality should be illegal, 40% believe wives should always obey their husbands, one in six want Muslims to live more separately from the rest of society. Philips said: “there is a correspondence between this desire to live separately and sympathy for terrorism. People who want to live separately are about twice as likely to say that they have sympathy for terrorist acts.” (Some criticized the methodology of this survey).

Murray thinks these illiberal attitudes will grow as Muslim populations grow in western Europe, from around 2% in 1990, to 6% in 2010, to a projected 10% in 2050. Eventually, he fears, liberals will be in the minority and Europe will become a shariah-state. It has a sort of tragic Nietzchean note to it, in common with other alt-right texts – his friend James Delingpole has a podcast which broadcasts from ‘occupied Europe’, while American alt-righters love to talk about how Europe is ‘lost’, ‘London is fallen’ and so on.  It’s simplistic and alarmist, but then so is a bomb.

Murray’s book does a sort of sleight-of-hand. It mixes a critique of Islam as an illiberal religion with a critique of mass migration in general. He mixes denunciations of Islam with reports of how London is now majority non-white, how the face of western Europe has been transformed in the last two decades, how mass migration is putting a strain on public resources and public sentiment.

It’s true that European populations have been utterly transformed in the last three decades. We are sometimes told that nothing has changed, that Britain has always been a ‘mongrel nation’ – like the Huguenots, right? No, something has changed. Rates of migration went up very rapidly under New Labour. Cities including London, Bradford, Birmingham and Slough have gone in 50 years from being almost entirely white to becoming majority non-white.

Office of National Statistics figures on UK migration

Is this sudden expansion of the immigrant population a good or bad thing, economically? It’s not clear. European populations are ageing, and migrants provide cheap labour. On the other hand, the rising numbers puts strain on schools, hospitals and housing. Some welcome the greater diversity in our culture – the arts, the music, the food, the cultural dialogue – while others blame increased diversity for lower levels of trust in communities (the evidence for this is, again, mixed).

Migration and rape

Murray’s most controversial point, and it’s one he returns to repeatedly, is that mass immigration has led to a rise in crime in European societies, and in particular of rape. He focuses on the awful incidents of gangs of Middle-Eastern, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men who groomed and abused thousands (yes, thousands) of white teenage girls in Rotherham, Halifax, Oxford and elsewhere. The local authorities in Rotherham apparently failed to spot and stop the abuse partly because they were afraid of appearing racist. One of the first investigators of grooming gangs, Julie Bindel, writes:

the police and social services appeared to be scared of intervening in these particular grooming gangs, because a large number of the men involved were of Pakistani Muslim origin. The professionals who were turning a blind eye did not want to be labelled as racist

Murray also covers the mass groping by migrant men that took place in Cologne’s main square on New Year’s Eve in 2015, as well as reports of mass groping and rape at a Swedish music festival, and rapes in asylum centres. He argues that Sweden has become the rape capital of Europe and blames this on its high level of immigration.

This linking of immigration and race to rape is an extremely old and powerful propaganda technique – which is why Donald Trump and Nigel Farage use it, why Steve Bannon’s alt-right website Breitbart seizes on any stories involving migrant rape. It’s why the Nazis dropped leaflets on French soldiers saying English troops were seducing their wives, why British posters in WWI showed the Kaiser as an ape carrying off a British woman. It was the main justification used by white Americans for violence against blacks in the 19th and 20th centuries – they’re raping our women! It pushes a very old monkey button in us, that says: ‘protect your women from the rapey foreigners’ (and yes, the button says ‘your women’). Historically, invading tribes really did – and do – rape and abduct women. The ancient rape-alarm button is still there in my limbic system – I remember reading about the Rotherham case and feeling horrified and vengeful, probably more so than if the perpetrators had been white.

‘They’re raping our women’ is a very old and effective propaganda technique. A British WWI propaganda poster, a Nazi anti-semitic cartoon, and a recent magazine cover, from Poland I think

 

Where sex crimes are committed by immigrants, we need to prosecute them without fear of appearing racist. However, Murray is guilty of exaggeration and inaccuracy – and that’s really unforgivable in such a contentious area.

He reports that in 2009, immigrants were responsible for all reported rapes in Oslo. I was horrified by this. Why weren’t we being told? Was there a politically-correct cover-up? It turned out to be true that from 2006 to 2009, all 41 reported incidents of ‘assault rapes’ (rapes committed by a stranger) were committed by immigrants. But there were many more incidents of domestic rape, committed by Norwegians. An Oslo police report in 2010 – also seized on by anti-immigrant journalists and politicians – found that 61% of rapes were perpetrated by Norwegians. Around 30% of Oslo’s population is foreign-born, so immigrants are over-represented in the rape statistics, but it’s a dangerous inaccuracy to say they’re responsible for all rapes – and they’re not all Muslims.

He’s guilty of the same exaggeration and inaccuracy (or, if you prefer, lies) on Sweden. Sweden has the highest level of rape in Europe, and one of the highest levels of migration. Murray, like Nigel Farage and President Trump, insists the two are connected. But Sweden’s high level of rape appears to be mainly because the country changed its laws to introduce a broader definition of rape than other European countries, and it has taken steps to try and encourage women to come forward to report if they’ve been raped.

I think there are genuine issues with migrant men coming, on their own, from highly conservative, highly patriarchal cultures to a permissive and (relatively) gender-equal culture like Western Europe. While most sex offenders in the UK are white (82%), data suggests that between 20% and 30% of grooming gangs are Asian (who make up 6% of the population) , while gang rape is apparently much more likely to be perpetrated by young black-British men.

But Murray undermines his case by misusing statistics. And this matters, because he’s trying to make a sober, rational and intelligent case against mass migration in general and Muslim migration in particular, and to distinguish himself from racist extremists. When he mishandles statistics to create alarming emotional narratives, he gives credibility to myths and provides fuel for the extremists.

Public opposition to immigration

On one point Murray is certainly right: there is a deep disjuncture between European public attitudes towards immigration, and the attitudes and policies of mainstream politicians and liberal journalists. The mass migration into the UK which began in the mid-1990s was passed without a public discussion. Any discussion was shut down – if you criticized mass immigration in politics, journalism or academia, you were a racist, a far-right loony.

At my own centre, our 2016 annual lecture by Canadian historian Stephen Brooke looked at the emotions of Asian immigrants moving into Tower Hamlets in the 1970s, specifically their fear of racial violence (their emotions were measured by the Greater London Council). He didn’t even bother looking at the emotions of the white East Enders, who felt their community identity was threatened (rightly – within 30 years Asians had become the largest ethnic group in the borough). The GLC didn’t ask white working class people how they felt, so there was no data. They were the inexplicable Other.

In fact, ever since they began measuring it in the 1960s, public opposition to immigration was high – it started at a high of around 80% and has dropped since then, but it remains over 50%. It’s become a much more pressing issue to voters in the last decade – before then, it was not a top five issue. Now it is. This may be because of Islamic terrorism, or because migration has become more visible, or because it’s become more OK for media and politicians to express opposition to immigration.

Today, many politicians express a concern that multiculturalism is not working – even Angela Merkel. But now we are told it’s too late. ‘The dam has burst’, Boris Johnson wrote in 2012. ‘There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible.’

European unease around the issue of immigration became acute in 2015, when a million migrants crossed the Mediterranean in boats, thousands of them drowning en route. Europeans were shocked by photos of dead children washing up on the shores of Greece and Italy. Europe’s leaders showed very different responses to the migrant crisis. In 2015, Chancellor Merkel said all asylum seekers were welcome in Germany (this year, trailing in the polls, she’s decided ‘what matters most is repatriation, repatriation and more repatriation’) while leaders in Eastern European countries expressed their opposition. ‘We are a Christian country’, said Slovakia’s PM. ‘Islam has no place here.’ What is the Christian response – to welcome in millions of migrants, or to resist mass Muslim immigration?

Murray makes the point that the million refugees of 2015 weren’t all Syrian asylum seekers – only around 40% were. Almost as many were economic migrants from Kosovo, Albania and Sub-Saharan Africa – single men looking to make money for their families back home. Should or could Europe simply accept anyone who wants to move there? Is that a serious policy? For the millions of Syrians fleeing the civil war, was it not better and cheaper to keep them in refugee camps nearer Syria, so they could move back home when the war was over?

At his most philosophical, Murray describes what he sees as Europe’s cultural exhaustion. We have become soft, decadent, pleasure-seeking, ‘without any unifying idea capable of ordering the present or approaching the future’. We’re suffering ‘an exhaustion caused by a loss of meaning, an awareness that the civilisation was ‘no longer accumulating’ but living off a dwindling cultural capital’.

Many Western Europeans – including Murray – have either lost their faith in Christianity or never had that faith in the first place. He writes: ‘Who knows what will step into this void, but for the time being the consensus appears to be that the answer lies in enjoying our consumerist culture, frequently buying things that do not last and then buying newer versions of the same to replace them. We can go on holiday, of course, and generally try to have as nice a time as possible.’

When Europeans have a moment of existential crisis – as most of us do now and then – what answers does our culture give?  ‘Nothing says, ‘Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfil you too.’ Instead, a voice at best says, ‘Find your meaning where you will.’’

We’ve become a culture of hedonism, expressive individualism, and shrill identity politics. It is a society, he says, ‘ripe for submission’. Islamic communities are beset by no-such crippling doubts, partly because anyone who publicly denounces Islam or even subjects its texts to historical criticism has to go into hiding. In an era of complexity and confusion, Islam gives clear, rigid certainty. That, Murray suggests rather pessimistically, is why it will probably win. Again, this note of cultural pessimism and critique of consumer capitalism is quite common in the alt-right.

But hey, maybe we’re not doomed! Blow your horn, Childe Roland. Show us a way forward before we kneel to the Prophet.

Neo-Christianity and the war on Islam

Murray actually spends more time criticizing the limp inaction of European politicians than he does suggesting practical solutions. But he suggests some. Firstly, listen to European publics when they say they don’t want more immigration. This seems fair enough to me. If the public doesn’t want more immigration, try to lower immigration. Otherwise you eventually lose all legitimacy as a political system and democracy breaks down. The 2015 migrant spike is just the start – the desire to migrate to Europe from poorer parts of the world is not going away. Either you say ‘come on over everyone’ or you try and discourage mass illegal migration – why not have a public campaign in countries like Kosovo and Albania explaining that western Europe is not the promised land?

Could one also have a ban on further Muslim immigration, as Donald Trump tried to introduce? A ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries is supported by a majority of Europeans. But an explicit anti-Muslim immigration policy would alienate the roughly 20 million Muslims living in Europe, and weaponize the minority of them prone to violence. It would play into the aim of groups like ISIS to ‘eliminate the Gray Zone’ between Muslims and infidels, and draw a stark line between Muslims and non-Muslims. What are you going to do – intern them? Deport them? Where to?

That’s why it’s not a good strategy to say ‘the problem is Islam’, as Murray does, even if there is a clear link between Islamic terrorism, certain passages in the Koran, and some Islamic fundamentalist cultures (specifically, Wahabbism and Salafism). I do think you can criticize sexist, homophobic or anti-democratic beliefs where they exist in Muslim cultures, as well as practices like female genital mutilation or honour killings, and you can raise textual and historical inconsistencies in Islam. I also think we should crack down on extremist preachers – chuck ’em out! But to say ‘Islam as a whole is a threat and has no place in Europe’ puts 20 million people into a state of existential threat. It makes them more likely to cling to rigid and extreme forms of Islam.

Are European governments so pathetic in their response to Islamic terrorism? No. I think they’ve done a very good job at reducing incidents, considering how easy it is to make a bomb or drive a truck into a crowd. Of course they understand there’s a link between Islamic terrorism and Islam. They also understand it’s a strategic error to criticize Islam in its entirety, as Donald Trump did to win votes (now as president he genuflects to Saudi Arabia, chief global exporter of extremism, while criticizing Iran, that well-known funder of global terror).

Murray’s broader solution is to urge a return to Christianity, even for the non-religious. He writes: ‘Unless the non-religious are able to work with, rather than against, the source from which their culture came, it is hard to see any way through.’ He doesn’t think it’s likely anyone will come up with a new religion (apparently he hasn’t attended Sunday Assembly), and he thinks the arts are not a sufficient substitute as they are ‘parasitic on Christianity’ – they offer a form of remixed Christian transcendence. He thinks liberalism also grew out of Christianity’s respect for the individual, and may not survive the decline of that religion in the West.

He writes: ‘A society that says we are defined exclusively by the bar and the nightclub, by self-indulgence and our sense of entitlement, cannot be said to have deep roots or much likelihood of survival. But a society which holds that our culture consists of the cathedral, the playhouse and the playing field, the shopping mall and Shakespeare, has a chance.’  Although he finds evangelical Christianity ‘uninformed’, he feels drawn to cathedrals or the music of Thomas Tallis. It’s Roger Scruton’s sort of aesthetic Anglicanism – when I asked Scruton if he was Christian he said ‘it has done nothing to offend me’. How’s that for a whoop of faith!

Murray’s neo-Christianity – like the neo-Christianity of alt-righter Steve Bannon – is a strange thing. It’s a Christianity more to do with Charlemagne than Jesus, with Christendom than Christ. It’s not a turning towards Jesus, but a turning against Muslims. It’s a sort of Christian nationalism, a civil religion, and apparently it’s on the rise – a new report suggests the number of those calling themselves Christian in the UK has stabilized because people increasingly see Christianity as an expression of English patriotism. Tommy Robinson, leader of the English Defence League, became a Christian last year.

But there are all sorts of paradoxes and inconsistencies in this neo-Christianity. First of all, there are twice as many Christians in the UK’s immigrant population as Muslims. The reason Christianity is growing in London, unlike the rest of the UK, is because of Christian migrants, mainly African Pentecostalists and Eastern European Catholics. If Murray thinks the only viable future for Europe is a return to Christianity, does he think the influx of foreign Christians is a good thing?

Secondly, he suggests Christianity is the best defence for liberalism, but Neo-Christianity or Christian nationalism can be just as illiberal as Islam, and sometimes just as violent. Yes, in some ways our liberalism emerged from Christianity, but in other ways it emerged by rejecting Christianity, and there’s still a tension between the two.

According to the Pew Centre, American Christians are becoming broadly more accepting of homosexuality, but over 90% of African Christians think it should be illegal. Half of evangelical leaders in the global south, and a quarter of evangelical leaders in the global north think the Bible should be made the law of the land – sort of a Christian version of shariah law. 71% of evangelical leaders around the world see secularlism as the greatest threat to society.

Breitbart columnist Milo wotshisname dismisses the idea of a ‘rape culture’ in America (unless it involves immigrants)

The Christian right may not insist on women wearing burkas, but 52% of American evangelical leaders think women should always obey their husbands, while Steve Bannon’s alt-right movement (an unholy alliance of Christian, Stoic, libertarian and white supremacist men) is violently anti-female rights and pro-patriarchy. It justifies marital and date rape and dismisses  ‘rape panics’ on American campuses. So, for the alt-right website Breitbart, it’s absolutely intolerable and horrific when migrants rape white women, but if white men are accused of rape, it’s femi-nazim and moral panic.

Still, Christians don’t detonate bombs do they? Most Christians don’t, but some Christian extremists do. In Norway, Anders Breivik killed 77 teenagers in his crusade against multiculturalism – he repeatedly called himself a Christian. In the US in the last two weeks, a far-right Christian killed a politician in Montana (in the same week a white supremacist fatally stabbed two men in Portland, and another far-right loon fatally stabbed a black man on the campus of Maryland University). Anti-abortion terrorists tend to self-identify as fundamentalist Christian. There have been over 200 incidents of bombing or arson against abortion clinics since the 1970s, the most recent is the shooting of three people in a US clinic in 2015 by a man who called himself Christian.

If we’re fine with the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘Islamist terrorism’, which I am, then we should also be fine with ‘Christian terrorism’. Yet 80% of Christians think Christian terrorists aren’t really Christian, while over half think Islamic terrorists are actually Muslim. Why won’t the media use the word ‘Christian’ or even ‘terrorist’ to describe violent hate crimes by Christian fundamentalist groups and individuals?

I feel that Murray has searched for an existential answer to life’s meaning, a grand narrative, and has decided his mission is to oppose Islam. This is the great war of our time, he reckons, and it is heroic to give one’s life to this mission (and it’s true that some outspoken critics of Islam have ended up being killed, like Pim Forteyn and Theo Van Gogh). Nuance and balance is the first victim of this grand war.  And this crusade is not Christianity. It’s militant tribalism, however much you dress it up with Shakespeare and Thomas Tallis. It’s closer to Fight Club than the Beatitudes – you give yourself a meaning by picking a fight.

In conclusion, I agree with Murray that European politicians have – by accident or design – imposed mass immigration onto their populations for two decades, against the wishes of their populations. I agree that if populations want to control or lower immigration, governments should try to do it rather than dismissing them as bigots. I agree that political correctness should not stand in the way of prosecuting crimes by immigrants. I also agree that Europe needs a greater sense of transcendence and meaning, beyond consumerism and hedonism.

However, it is a strategic error to say ‘the problem is Islam’ because it alienates and weaponizes the 20 million Muslims already living here, and pushes Muslims of all varieties towards more extreme variants of the faith. Circulating false but highly provocative statistics like ‘all rapes in Oslo are carried out by immigrants’ is deeply irresponsible and fans the flames of extremist fear and violence on the right.

Finally, I don’t think it’s a goer to embrace Christianity as the solution to Europe’s existential problem if you don’t actually believe in Jesus or even in God, but just see it as a useful cultural barrier to resist the barbarians. That is not a vital long-term solution – it’s an empty suit of armour, without a warm, beating heat within it. You end up perverting the faith you’re using as a military banner.

Christianity has an important role to play in our culture, but we’ve long been more pluralistic than that, influenced just as much by Greco-Roman culture, and today by other cultures like Indian, American, and, yes, Muslim culture. I think pluralism is not empty or morally hollow, but a reflection of the nature of God, and the dignity of human freedom. I know it’s uncomfortable not to have one official existential Meaning for our culture, but have a look at the countries that have that (Iran, Saudi Arabia) and ask yourself if we’re really in such bad shape.