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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 02-11-2007, 03:51 PM Thread Starter
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Liberry Wars

In Books, a Clash of Europe and Islam

Award nominations are generally occasions for exaggerated compliments and air kisses, so it was something of a surprise when Eliot Weinberger, a previous finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, announced the newest nominees for the criticism category two weeks ago and said one of the authors, Bruce Bawer, had engaged in “racism as criticism.”

The resulting stir within the usually well-mannered book world spiked this week when the president of the Circle’s board, John Freeman, wrote on the organization’s blog ( “I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer’s ‘While Europe Slept,’ he wrote. “It’s hyperventilated rhetoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia.”

The fusillade of e-mail messages on the subject circulating among the Circle’s 24 board members mirrors a larger debate over a string of recently published books that ominously warn of a catastrophic culture clash between Europeans with traditional Western values and fundamentalist Muslims — books including “Londonistan” by Melanie Phillips, “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion” by Robert Spencer, and “America Alone” by Mark Steyn.

Most have been written by conservative authors and published by conservative presses, but not all: the celebrated Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who died last year, so angered Muslims with her strident books, like “The Force of Reason,” that she was sued for defaming Islam. The publication of such books coincides with a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and reports of violent attacks and plots by radical Muslims in Europe. Bombings in London and Madrid, heated disputes over bans on women wearing the veil, gang attacks on young Muslims, rioting in Paris and violence in Berlin by disaffected Arab immigrants have brought to the surface anxieties over the growing number of Muslims in Europe. In December the European Union reported that Muslims faced deep-seated discrimination in education, housing and jobs, but that they should also do more to integrate into society. In this environment, it is no surprise that the books have elicited a mixture of praise and contempt, raising the question of where the line is between legitimate criticism and bigotry.

For Mr. Bawer, the condemnations are more evidence of liberals’ one-sided blindness. “One of the most disgraceful developments of our time is that many Western authors and intellectuals who pride themselves on being liberals have effectively aligned themselves with an outrageously illiberal movement that rejects equal rights for women, that believes gays and Jews should be executed, that supports the coldblooded murder of one’s own children in the name of honor, etc., etc.,” he wrote on his own blog, In an e-mail message yesterday he said he did not have anything to add to his posts.

Mr. Bawer’s book jacket is covered with admiring blurbs from well-known conservatives, but he does not fit the typical red-state mold. An openly gay cultural critic from New York who has lived in Europe since 1998, Mr. Bawer has published books like “Stealing Jesus,” a harsh critique of Christian fundamentalism. “Some people think it’s terrific for writers to expose the offenses and perils of religious fundamentalism — just as long as it’s Christian fundamentalism,” he wrote on his blog.

“While Europe Slept” warns that “Europe is at a Weimar moment,” and that “by appeasing a totalitarian ideology” it “was imperiling its liberty.” “Political correctness”, he writes, is keeping Europeans from defending themselves, resulting in Europe’s “self-destructive passivity, its softness towards tyranny, its reflexive inclination to appease.” Reviews have offered plaudits and condemnations, acknowledging that Mr. Bawer has focused on a real problem, but complaining, as did a review in The Economist, that Mr. Bawer “weakens his argument by casting too wide a net.”

Imam Fatih Alev, a board member of the Islamic-Christian Study Center in Copenhagen, has not read Mr. Bawer’s book, but referring to the general level of tension, he said in a telephone interview, “I think there is of course a legitimate concern with regard to the differences of culture.” But he added, “The real problem is that the ones who ought to know better, who are well educated and well informed on the diversity of culture,” are manipulating the debate.

“In many senses it is a constructed idea that there is this very severe difference between Western values and Muslim values,” he continued.

Rushy Rashid, who has written a three-part memoir about growing up as a Muslim girl in Denmark, said that the biggest clash is not between Westerners and Muslims but “inside the small groups of immigrants all over Europe.” Speaking generally about the cultural divide in Europe, she said she does not believe in a “clash of civilizations.” When it comes to Muslim immigrants, she said, “the clash between the first, the second and third generations is huge.” She added, “If you can digest that kind of a clash, then you can overcome and integrate into the society you are living in.”

Other authors, like Ian Buruma in “Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance,” have taken a less apocalyptic tone than some of the other books, while Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali immigrant who settled in the Netherlands and worked with Mr. Van Gogh, a film director, offers harsh criticism of Islam from an insider’s perspective in her memoir “Infidel.”

J. Peder Zane, the book review editor and books columnist at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., was on the eight-member committee that nominated Mr. Bawer’s book. He said it “was not a contentious selection.” Mr. Zane was furious at the way Mr. Weinberger used the nominating ceremony on Jan. 20 as a platform for his views. “He not only was completely unfair to Bruce Bawer,” he said in a telephone interview, “he’s also saying that those of us who put the book on the finalist list are racist or too stupid to know we’re racist.”

Mr. Zane said he and four or five others booed when Mr. Weinberger, who was nominated last year for his 2005 collection of essays, “What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles,” made his comment to more than 200 people from the publishing world. Mr. Zane then threaded his way through the crowd to tell Mr. Weinberger he thought his comments in that setting were “completely inappropriate.” Mr. Zane recalled, “He flicked his hand at me like I was a flea and walked away.”

Mr. Weinberger could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Freeman, who said in an interview that he felt a “moral responsibility” to speak out about Mr. Bawer’s book, added that he expected further debate as more board members read the book before casting a final vote for the Circle’s award winner on March 8. Of the five nominees in each category, the book with the majority of board votes wins the award.
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 02-11-2007, 04:29 PM
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Sounds like a normal intellectual get together.
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