Book Review: 'Surrender' by Bruce Bawer

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By Paul M. Barrett
Sunday, June 7, 2009

SURRENDER

Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom

By Bruce Bawer

Doubleday. 321 pp. $24.95

Bruce Bawer's latest book comes wrapped in the American flag or, more precisely, wrapped in a jacket depicting the Statue of Liberty gagged with an American flag. It's an arresting image meant to convey an alarming message: Muslims on a "cultural jihad" intend to stifle free speech in the United States and destroy our liberty. They may succeed, Bawer warns, because they receive aid and comfort from liberal dupes flying the banner of "multiculturalism."

Bawer, an accomplished literary critic, has addressed this subject before, in a book published in 2006 called "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within." There he wrote about the increasing tension between majority populations in cities such as London, Paris and Amsterdam and their often alienated Muslim immigrant neighbors. Bawer stirred controversy by painting Muslims with crude brushstrokes suggesting ubiquitous and intrinsic Islamic extremism.

Much of "Surrender" merely updates that earlier volume. In his new book, Bawer indulges in such unsubstantiated declarations as: "While there are such things as moderate and liberal Christianity, there is no such thing as a moderate or liberal Islam." And: "To put it briefly and nakedly, the West is on the road to sharia," or the rule of Islamic religious law.

Forgoing the temptation to dismiss Bawer's latest work as a polemical retread (because most of it actually deals, again, with events in Europe), one might focus on his depiction of Muslims in America. "Surrender" 's cover, after all, advertises a book about the United States, and the author expends considerable energy extolling the First Amendment in contrast to less tolerant-sounding words from the Koran. Training his gaze on the United States, Bawer produces a muddled picture. He neglects to take note of the fact that, on average, the American Muslim population is better educated, better off economically and better integrated socially than its Western European counterparts. Not surprisingly, American Muslims have been implicated in far fewer terrorist plots since 9/11 -- and no successful ones.

This is not to say that the toxic mixture of religious zealotry and anti-Western ideology that poisons some European Muslim enclaves is altogether absent from the United States. Bawer could have looked at the tiny minority of American Muslims who harbor real hostility to the mainstream: men like the three Muslim brothers from Albania who were sentenced to life in prison in April for conspiring to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix, N.J., military base or the four men arrested in New York last month in an alleged plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx.

Instead, he implies that innocuous Muslim social and spiritual organizations favor religiously inspired violence. One he singles out for condemnation as an extremist "front group" is the Islamic Society of North America. I happen to have interviewed numerous members of ISNA and attended their gatherings. Bawer provides no evidence that he has first-hand experience with the group, but, in any event, his attack seems wildly misleading. ISNA has tens of thousands of members who are led by middle-class immigrant engineers, physicians, academics and entrepreneurs. Its current president is Ingrid Mattson, a moderate-minded scholar born in Canada who years ago converted to Islam. Most ISNA members, it's fair to say, disagree with most American Jews on relations with Israel. But by and large, these are Muslims seeking a constructive role in American society. They adhere to various strains of Islam: some orthodox, some less so. They are increasingly engaged politically. Many supported George W. Bush in 2000; in 2008, they rallied to Barack Obama.

Bawer veers into self-parody when he asserts that Muslims have cowed skeptics into self-censorship and inaction: "Artists and writers avoid Islamic themes and settings; police officers avoid Muslim neighborhoods." His own work shows that critics of Islam have no trouble publishing. I counted references in "Surrender" to more than 15 of his allies: prominent columnists, bloggers and authors. As for the notion that the police, FBI and immigration authorities steer clear of Muslim neighborhoods, one need only consider the thousands of Muslims who have been arrested and deported from the United States since 9/11 -- some justly, some unjustly -- to verify that Bawer has lost his bearings on this topic.

Paul M. Barrett is a journalist in New York and the author, most recently, of "American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion."


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