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A Muslim Identity Crisis

Rotherham and the failure of multiculturalism

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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How to confront this alternative moral universe is confoundedly difficult. When it comes to criminality like that in Rotherham, however, it’s not that difficult: The predators need to be locked up, and all those who looked away, who feared the animadversions of the politically correct or thought less of good English girls who talked about sexual encounters with “Pakis,” should be fired. The Labour party, which controls Rotherham, and is more sensitive to, partly because it is more successful with, the “Asian vote,” ought to do some brutal soul-searching. Non-Muslim Europeans and Americans ought to have the basic decency to criticize Muslim citizens and denizens within their lands as they would criticize themselves. If Muslim immigrants to Western lands refuse to adopt the standards that Westerners consider fundamental to their identity, both cultural and political, then Westerners should rise in high dudgeon.

This doesn’t preclude a generous spirit toward the travails that these immigrants, and the children of these immigrants, face. European cultures are heavy and often unforgiving, and the Western progressive ethic keeps liberating new corners of the human soul that many more traditional peoples find troubling, if not revolting. But kindness should never become a slippery slope for a cruel multiculturalism that leaves Muslims in Western lands bereft of a solid Western identity. We may already be in the absurd situation where the grandchildren of Muslim immigrants to Europe have become jihadists who proudly decapitate Americans.

Since the July 7, 2005, suicide-bombings in London, the British government under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and now David Cameron has deployed fairly aggressive outreach programs to British Muslims. These were essentially just an extension and amplification of a philosophy that had gained broad currency on both the British left and right. To wit: A multicultural Great Britain offered a welcoming home to Muslims. They could find a place in the United Kingdom without forsaking all that much from their Muslim past. Points of friction were downplayed, common bonds were played up. Extremist Muslims were the rare rotten eggs (who ought to be pinpointed to Scotland Yard and the domestic intelligence service MI-5) despoiling the happy moderate British Muslim basket. 

The British might be wise to review this analysis. There is a lot to be said for multicultural Britain. London is an incomparably more exciting place now than it was when it was more English, aristocratic, and pub-and-club-ridden. But there need to be standards that don’t slip, especially about women. Muslims should be able to lock onto a British dream with pride and dignity, knowing that what they’ve gained is greater than what they’ve lost. Outreach programs shouldn’t be chucked. But they should probably be recast, especially at the highest levels of government, where the bully-pulpit can do the most good. It’s a bit of a mind-bender to imagine David Cameron making an appealing argument in favor of a clearer British culture, but that is surely the direction that he and others ought to go. Doing so, of course, when economic growth is precarious and Britain’s massive welfare state may do as much harm to Muslim immigrants and their children as it does good, is a challenge.

Americans should pay attention to our British cousins, and the rest of our European friends who have large Muslim populations, proportionately much greater than our own. The Europeans have, knowingly or not, undertaken a great experiment in absorption, vastly more daunting than anything that they have tried before. They—at least the British and the French, the two former great imperial powers—have done better in transforming Muslim immigrants into citizens than most Europeans de souche believe. But the predators of Rotherham, like the hundreds of young European Muslims who’ve gone to join Islamic radical groups in Syria and Iraq, ought to signal that there is a serious illness within that needs to be more aggressively treated.

Like the last three British prime ministers, Barack Obama has had a philosophy and plan to win the hearts and minds of Muslims, both overseas and at home. It has been an American variant of British multiculturalism. Beyond withdrawing from the Muslim Middle East, he stressed his reverence for Islam and Islamic civilization, and the (mostly illusory) bonds between Americans and Muslims around the world. In Cairo in 2009, he even said that it was “part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” He suggested that Americans would not interfere in how Muslims (that is, Muslim rulers) ran their own affairs.

This fraternal and felicitous experiment doesn’t seem to be going well. It might be wise if he, too, considered an alternative approach. A good first step might be to say unequivocally that there is a serious problem within the House of Islam. And it’s not incidental to the faith.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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