Michael Ley, Der Selbstmord des Abendlandes: Die Islamisierung Europas. Osnabrück: Hintergrund-Verlag, 2015. Pp. 254.
In his account of the impact of Islam on Europe, Michael Ley pulls no punches, especially for all those readers, like the present reviewer, who still hope that a Muslim humanism and not Islamist terrorism will become the primary social movement in global Islam in the years to come. In a nutshell, Ley’s main theses are the following: Orthodox and radical Islam are the scourge of humanity. Ley calls Sharia Islam “the worst danger for democracy and human rights in the 21st Century.” Only an Islam without Sharia is compatible with human rights. Yet that is a vision for the future; current reality, according to Ley, is different.
The Islamization of Europe is, according to Ley, the most visible change in most European societies. While liberal and educated citizens consider the increasing influence of conservative and radical Islam with great concern and regard the future of the continent as rather bleak, their so-called progressive opponents interpret the ongoing Islamization as a cultural enrichment that contributes to the historical overcoming of the obsolete nation-state. Ley goes as far as to say that today the pioneers of radical post-national Europe would prefer to abolish all symbols of national identity: indigenous Europeans should waive all national, cultural, religious, and ultimately also traditional sexual identities.
Ley also asserts that even the most radical Communist intellectuals never went this far with their demands. Ley points relentlessly at what he perceives as the grotesque forms of contemporary European discussions. The elites of society do not tire, in Ley’s opinion, of accusing large parts of their own populations of racism and xenophobia, while large parts of the population have already lost any confidence in their supposed political leaders.
But, passionate followers of such concepts as “diversity” and “multiculturalism” should note that the author of these hypotheses is not a representative of the German far-right wing or the anti-immigrant organizations AfD (Alternative for Germany) or Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamizaiton of the West), but a well-known political scientist at the University of Innsburck, who previously published such well-received books on anti-Semitism as Genozid und Heilserwartung: zum nationalsozialistischen Mord am europäischen Judentum (Vienna: Picus, 1993) and Holokaust als Menschenopfer: Vom Christentum zur politischen Religion des Nationalsozialismus (Münster: Lit, 2002). Ley presents a profound and well-informed critique of the role of Islam in world society, multiculturalism, and continued Muslim mass migration into Europe from an Enlightenment perspective. The reviewer might differ with Ley’s perspectives on many points, but one has to admit that this is one of the most well-informed German-language critical perspectives on contemporary Islam in world society written in a long time.
With an increasingly bitter debate over what to do next in the “European refugee crisis” since late summer 2015, his book—whether we like it or not—must be considered as an important contribution to the entire debate. Why? Because Ley, a knowledgable contributor on the history of anti-Semitism, joins the debate not from the sidelines of the political ultra-right, but from his analysis of the trajectories of global anti-Semitism and his conviction that the European Enlightenment is now in danger. His analysis of the origins of Muslim anti-Semitism is one of the strongest points of the entire book. Readers skeptical of his analysis should read this well-presented and also well-documented book, which deserves to be translated into English, especially his eighth chapter on how Reform Judaism could serve as a role model for how Islam and Enlightenment could be combined in future.
Critics of all those who question the compatibility of Islamism and a modern and open society will perhaps react with the word “Islamophobia.” But Ley’s points really deserve careful consideration in the debate about mass migration to Europe, and his book needs to be studied closely by those who still think that another way of living and interpreting Islamic religion is possible, and that peace, cooperation, and dialogue, and not endless terrorism and global cultural warfare, are on the agenda.
One of Ley’s strongest points is his analysis of the myth of al Andalus, and his compelling account of the fact that the greatest intellectual figures of Muslim Spain until 1492, which is so often presented today as a role model of inter-religious cooperation and dialogue, like Maimonides and Averroes, were persecuted by their Muslim rulers (chapter 1). On the sidelines of chapter 2, which is dedicated to the analysis of the relationship between Eastern Christianity and early Islam, we learn about the close relationship between Arabic studies and the National Socialist authorities in Germany from 1933 to 1945, which tainted the trajectory of Arabic studies in Germany and Austria. With some researchers on early Islam, Ley maintains that only with al-Ghazali (who totally criticized the Muslim philosophers, 1058 to 1111) did the consolidation of Islam as a doctrinal system separate from Eastern Christianity take shape. The present reviewer notes here that Ley doubts the very existence of the Prophet Mohammed; this radical position will most probably blur the reception of Ley’s work in the Muslim world and among liberal Muslim publics in the West, although so many other points in his study would especially well deserve their attention—from Ley’s important reception of the works of the Hungarian Jewish Arabist Ignác Goldziher (1850–1921) to his critical analysis of Islam as a political religion (chapter 3).
In the rest of his book, Ley presents his main thesis that an Islamic modernity could not arise because by the tenth century, “the gateway to the interpretation” was largely closed, and with that, the enforcement of an orthodox Islamic theology took place. In an age of mass migration, Europe will bear the consequences. Islam closed itself off from the rest of the world theologically and intellectually to this day, in contrast to Christianity, in which since the days of Augustine, a distinction was made between divine salvation history and secular world history. Throughout the book, Ley alerts his readers to what he designates as Muslim religious requirements to fight the infidels. Coexistence is only allowed for a limited time. The rejection of secular laws means the rejection of the democratic rule of law and human rights. Islam therefore does not meet the minimal requirements of a modern, democratic society: religious and political pluralism do not exist. In addition, according to Ley, the historic destruction of Islamic civilization cannot be attributed to postmodern crusades, neo-imperialist or neo-colonialist ambitions of the West. Instead, the reasons must be sought in the religion and the civilization of Islamic societies themselves.
Against this background, for Ley an ultimately self-destructive Islamization of European society and culture is the greatest threat: demographic shifts between the indigenous populations and the Muslim immigrants will mean that most European societies will not be able to correct these developments. Collective aberrations like communism, fascism, or Nazism were reversible: After their failure one could again draw on the cultural and religious heritage of Europe, and new civilized, democratic polities emerged. However, with traditional European populations in a future minority, this route to civilizational regeneration is blocked.
Italy and Germany will exist as divided nations. In addition to the indigenous populations, there will be a large Muslim proportion, which will of course be neither ethnically nor religiously homogeneous. However, in Ley’s opinion this means that many regions will no longer have a purely secular legal system anymore, but instead a mixed system. Where Muslim citizens are in the majority, parts of Sharia law will become institutionalized in the Constitution and legislation.
Ley also predicts that there will a rude awakening for gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and adherents of gender ideologies of all sorts: they will disappear from the landscape of an impending European Caliphate. The political future of Europe will instead mirror the present day realities of Lebanon, parts of the former Yugoslavia, the present states of the Middle East, and parts of Africa. In regions where a Muslim majority exists, the demand for political and cultural autonomy will arise. Many traditional Europeans discover that they will have become a minority on their own soil.
The solution can therefore only lie, according to Ley, in a return to the basics of European cultures: the national, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity and the European values of humanism and the Enlightenment. The future may seem very bleak: Europe faces a choice between a reconquista—a reclaiming of its own civilization—and its suicide. One of the most important works of the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb (1906–66) is entitled Milestones. Ley’s book, although it will provoke—and on certain points, justly provoke dissent—must be considered as an important additional type of “Milestone” in the entire debate.
Arno Tausch is Honorary Professor of Economics at Corvinus University Budapest, Hungary, and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Innsbruck University, Austria.