I have to say that my interview with Chris Caldwell went very differently from what I had expected after reading his book, ‘Reflections on the Revolution in Europe’. My opinion of the book was similar to that expressed by historian Mark Mazower (via Clive Davis), who said that;
“Caldwell is an American journalist, an editor at The Weekly Standard and a columnist for this newspaper. He knows the banlieues and has talked to more than his fair share of extremists of all persuasions. But Reflections on the Revolution in Europe provides less an analysis than a call to arms to a continent supposedly already capitulating to the new enemy in its midst.
His argument, baldly put, is that Enoch Powell was more right than wrong. Europe is in decline from an â€œadversary cultureâ€, and Muslim immigration, in particular, poses a mortal threat. He fails, however, to deliver the Burkean tour de force implied by his title”
In other words, that Caldwell had written a polemic which was overly broad in its characterisations of the impact of immigration into Europe, and in particular the role of Islam in shaping its future.
However the interview he gave me provided a different insight into his opinions and got me to understand Clive’s initial comment better, that he was looking forward to the book because, “Caldwell is one of the few American conservatives who knows what’s going on here”.
I questioned him about the fact that in almost all European countries, Muslims make up much less than 10% of the native born population, and that even allowing for more immigration and different birth rates, the ‘threat’ was overstated. To this Caldwell replied, that perhaps being an American he was influenced by the fact that issues relating to African Americans had dominated politics despite them being only 10% of the population. Furthermore, he said that;
“Apart from that he said that the key thing as far as he was concerned was that ‘the important thing about demographics is that Europe will have a large and continuing need for labour in the future. The economic collapse might change that, but it appears as if Europe is dependant on a stream of labour migration. So I don’t think that its alarmist to look at that.’
As Caldwell told me, one of the key points of the book is that although different European countries may think that their problems and policy approaches are different, immigration issues are very similar across Europe. (Unfortunately, we didn’t touch upon the implications this has for a more coordinated Europe wide immigration policy.)
This is an interesting point because I would have made the point which Monica Ali did on ‘start the week’ that a lot of Britain’s issues with migration have to do with the effects of a very deregulated labour market in which cheap and flexible labour is king. However he gave the example of Sweden (which I’m generally a fan of as a centre-lefty) where immigration policy has also had its flaws. In particular, that immigrants have essentially been clustered into a million extra homes that had been built in the 1960′s, and in many ways have become isolated from mainstream Swedish society, and that many Swedes didn’t realise that 20% of the population weren’t native.
I thought that was a fair point as in particular his argument that a lot of immigrants who came to work in factories weren’t doing jobs that were necessary, but they were unnecessarily propping up dying industries. Again, this is interesting given the problems we’ve seen with migration into Britain’s faded industrial north.
I thought perhaps his most interesting point was to do with the impact of Irish immigration into America. Caldwell responded to my point that looking back at things, the Irish are perfectly well integrated into America, by saying that in a 100 years from now, whatever has happened now will look fine because those people will be our descendants, but that from the perspective of Americans in that period, Irish immigration wasn’t necessarily pleasant.
So on the whole what to make of the book? Caldwell asked me that he didn’t want the book to fit in with one of the two types of immigration book – namely the Islamic reconquest of Europe book or the brotherhood of man book. I think that I’d only partially agree with this because there elements in the book which presents Islam as a bogeyman hovering over Europe. This is slightly weird because I also think that Caldwell is being honest when he said on ‘start the week’ that he is instinctively pro-immigration and he was sympathetic to the argument that a lot of problem with the discourse is that the media sensationalises stories against Muslims.
However, If you read it for the pure reporting parts of it such as the rise of Pim Fortyn and his anti-migration stance fitting in with a defence of liberal traditions, and ignore the polemical bit, it is quite interesting and as Caldwell told me, something that he hopes 2nd and 3rd generation citizens can engage with.
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Filed in: British Identity,Current affairs,Economy