Author’s hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to immigration


When I first picked up The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?, I couldn’t help but sigh. I thought, “Great — here’s yet another paranoid Western semi-conspiracy theory on the evil beast of the East.” That cold first impression, however, changed rapidly once I saw the title of the first chapter: “Popular Fiction.”

The question asked in the book’s subtitle is not a rhetorical one. Author Doug Saunders is out to find definitive answers. He tests every claim in the anti-Islam arsenal (such as the argument that birth rates among Muslims are so high that they will become a majority of the population in the near future, or that Muslim immigrants are not loyal to their host countries but instead to their religion) to see if they hold any truth.

Saunders opens with a scene from a London neighbourhood. Women covered in black, signs in Arabic on shop windows. A bit sketchy, right? Not at all, according to Saunders. And that’s the second — and most crucial — argument he makes in the book. That we’ve all been here before; we’ve seen the newcomer and thought the worst of this cultural unknown.

Saunders’ greatest asset is his ability to keep an emotional distance from this volatile subject matter.  Just as I didn’t want his book to be an anti-Islam tirade, I didn’t want it to turn into apologetic Islamic propaganda either. While he debunks most of the anti-Islam claims, he does admit that there are some situations that call for worry, such as the creeping threat of Sharia law, a legal code based on the Koran. He provides an example from Britain’s controversial Sharia tribunals, which many have argued give official recognition to discriminatory practices such as the Islamic divorce, where the husband can simply renounce his wife.

That being said, the voices behind the claims that Saunders chooses to highlight are at times too extreme. He quotes Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist known for her controversial views on Islam, as saying, “The sons of Allah . . . they multiply like rats.” Brash and provocative quotes like this do not merit a response. They take away from the author’s well-thought-out argument.

While the statistics and survey data collected from the Muslim population in Western countries that Saunders uses to challenge these claims bring up fascinating insights (such as radical Islamic believers and radical Islamist terrorists being two entirely different groups), the main strength in Saunders’ book is his presentation of the parallels to the past. He reminds the reader of how it was once the Roman Catholics, emigrating from Europe to the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century, who were painted the same way as their Muslim contemporaries. Their religion was portrayed as an alien ideology that would keep them isolated and threaten the fabric of the country — up until the election of America’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy.

With the help of hindsight and knowledge of how the immigration situation was handled in the past, Saunders offers some solutions for how this wave of Muslim immigrants can be helped along in the move to their new countries. It does seem, however, that Saunders put less effort into discovering solutions than he did into  defining the problem, as most of the solutions read like vague diagnoses, such as governments’ responsibility to integrate immigrants or the issues involved in multiculturalism.

It’s true that we tend to exaggerate an issue when it’s right in front of us. In the case of the wave of Muslim immigration, we should listen to Saunders when he says, “We’ve been here before.”

The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?
Doug Saunders
Alfred A. Knopf Publishing Canada