Reviewed by Garth Stevenson
Doug Saunders, the European bureau chief of the Toronto Globe and Mail, has written an interesting book with the intention of dispelling some of the anxiety about Muslims and their religion that has flourished in North America and Europe, particularly since September 11, 2001. The book is divided into four chapters, each of which is divided into subchapters designated by Roman numerals, and is brief enough to be read in three or four hours. Saunders has previously written a book entitled Arrival City, which deals with the experience of migrants from rural areas who settle in large cities throughout the world, and which is referred to occasionally in the present work.
Islamophobia is a subject that can be approached from different points of view. In various forms it has existed in the Western world at least since 1453, when the expanding Ottoman empire captured the Greek city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and thus put an end to the Byzantine empire. In its modern form it is closely associated with more recent events such as the wars between Israel and its Muslim neighbours, the Iranian revolution of 1979, and of course the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. While these events have kept Islam in the news, large numbers of Muslims have migrated from Asia and Africa to Europe and North America, part of the general mass migration of people from poor countries to richer countries where they can hope to achieve a higher standard of living for themselves and their children.
Saunders’s first chapter, entitled “Popular Fiction,” describes some of the myths and misunderstandings about Muslims that have flourished in the Western world, as represented by an extensive anti-Muslim literature of varying quality, by certain European and American politicians, and also by criminal acts like that of the Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Brievek, whose senseless murder of 77 other Norwegians in 2011 was ostensibly a protest against “multiculturalism.” This chapter provides a useful overview of the anti-Muslim backlash in both its extreme and relatively moderate manifestations. It is unfortunate, however, that Saunders chose to stigmatize two very distinguished scholars, Niall Ferguson and Martin Gilbert, neither of whom has devoted much of his scholarly career to the study of Islam, as “conservative popular historians.” The word conservative has become more an epithet than a useful description of anyone’s political beliefs, and calling someone a “popular historian” is a subtle way of implying that he doesn’t do original research, which is grossly unfair to both Ferguson and Gilbert.
The second chapter, entitled “The Facts,” accounts for nearly half of the book’s pages and is by far the most interesting and important. With facts and figures Saunders convincingly demolishes 13 myths that have contributed to Islamophobia. He demonstrates that Muslims are not going to become a majority of Europe’s population in any foreseeable future; that most Muslim immigrants, like most immigrants in general, want to integrate with their new country of residence; that they are not trying to impose