The thinker and commentator DOUGLAS MURRAY, on a visit to Belfast last week to promote his book about immigration and Islam, talks to Ben Lowry about the controversial new work, and his views on other matters:
Douglas Murray was in Myanmar when he finally decided to write his book about Islam, mass immigration, and the Europe’s cultural suicide.
Parts of the book had long been gestating in his head.
His interest in Islamic extremism, for example, had gathered pace at the turn of the millennium, when he was at Oxford university and was friendly with a Persian Muslim writer. “She was a very remarkable person and ... she had not been able to go back to Iran, and was still a very devout Muslim,” he recalls, speaking to the News Letter the morning after his appearance at the Crescent Arts Centre for the Belfast Book Festival.
Murray, 37, also saw that Islamists were emerging as a threat to free speech in the Netherlands (“a remarkable society which takes ideas seriously”). “This was around the time of [Pim] Fortuyn’s assassination in 2002 and [Theo] van Gogh’s assassination in 2004.”
Incidents there and in other parts of Europe were “early warning sirens”.
By the time of his Myanmar trip, more than a decade after those warning signs, the migrant crisis had swept across the continent.
“I’d sensed for a long time that we were doing something not just crazy, but very unusual and sometimes you have to be away ... to realise the picture of it. It was in Myanmar I realised what the first paragraph of the book had to be.”
Murray is critical of the failure to confront extremism or control borders but not dismissive of the impulse to help incomers: “I knew the complexity of our reactions. It wouldn’t be interesting to write or read about it if Angela Merkel’s instincts in opening the doors were either impossible to understand or wholly sympathetic.”
He says that “we all feel it within ourselves, the conflict of being generous and open to the world and the knowledge we may be screwing up the only home we have”.
But even EU data, “the Frontex figures, showed in the end that most people who arrived in 2015 ... were not asylum seekers, they were fleeing deprivation”.
Murray thinks European governments are still not confronting this fact.
At least Britain never signed up to the Schengen agreement on a passport-free travel area. “Schengen is a wonderful thing if you’re a European travelling around Europe but it’s a disaster for the continent,” he says. Now borders are going up again.
Terrorism and the scale of immigration mean “public attitudes are moving only in one direction everywhere”.
France has the biggest problem with Islamic extremism, he says: “... no doubt ... it’s got all sorts of things, even more wrong than everyone else has ...”
But it, like America, has a strong civic identity that has helped it cope with attacks – Britain, he says, does not have such an identity.
Asked what Europe must do, most of all, to tackle mass movement and extremism, he says: “The first thing is to stop or slow down the flow... we can’t possibly have a cohesive future at this rate.
“The second thing is to work on the people who are here better. Some of that is positive stuff, some negative, some of it will be saying you have to take responsibility for people within your communities.”
America faces similar problems but it “actually is a nation of immigrants whereas we are not. The movement in these islands for the last 1,000 years has been minimal – mainly from Ireland...”
Murray says immigrant identity and assimilation varies: “There are a lot of Muslims for instance who are grateful to Britain for the fact that they’re here.”
But asked by the News Letter if he senses that people are now less likely to say ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ after an atrocity, he says yes. “When that set of Isis beheadings occurred and it was a drip, drip of brutality, and every time, David Cameron would say, ‘this is nothing to do with Islam’ and I said to a mutual contact, you’ve got to tell him, something is going to happen and if he says that, no-one will believe him anymore.”
He adds: “So prepare for that, move a bit towards a more reasonable position. Of course it’s not all of Islam, of course you don’t blame all Muslims ... but yes, it comes from this religion.”
Murray, interviewed last Saturday before the Finsbury Mosque attack, says that overall there has been little anti-Muslim backlash. “Let’s be frank, it’s claimed by Muslim leaders who want to protect the faith really, and that’s totally understandable.”
He adds: “The Islamic extremism problem is a problem because our politicians imported it in recent decades, imported Islam, imported millions of Muslims. This is our problem now as well, and we may get through it and we may not, but the picture is very complex.”
• Link below to Monday’s News Letter, Murray on Northern Ireland: his book on Bloody Sunday, thoughts on Corbyn and the IRA, and why the DUP should not be ‘whores’ in a Tory deal
• Even atheists should call themselves Christian
Murray, who describes himself as “downstream” from Christianity, cites contemporary European thinkers who believe that we should call ourselves Christian regardless of belief in God “because whether we like it or not that’s what we are because we are the inheritors of a line of thought that’s come from that”.
He thinks that hysterical young outbursts of liberal anger are rooted in ignorance of that heritage.
“I worry that a lot of what we’re seeing at the moment with the sort of boycott, censorship, no platforms sort of tendency that’s everywhere in the West at the moment is a demonstration of young people who’ve been badly educated and are basically ignorant of history, and politics, and ideas and culture, and the basic premises upon which a free society is based. I mean, they’re actually ignorant about liberalism.”
As to the constant reference to ‘rights,’ he adds: “Even the one right I think we could all agree on, should be the most important right of all, the right to life is trampled upon daily across the world with what repercussion, with what punishment, by what right? ... and you have here [in Northern Ireland], of course, much better experience than the rest of the UK of the outrageous abuse of language, the way in which in the last 20 years anyone that objects to murderers is against peace (laughs) I mean that’s outrageous.”
• ‘The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam’ by Douglas Murray is published by Bloomsbury (RRP £18.99)
• Part two in Monday’s News Letter here: Murray on Northern Ireland – his book on Bloody Sunday, thoughts on Corbyn and the IRA, and why the DUP should not be ‘whores’ in a Tory deal