Outta This Place

Honor killing, cake, cattle prods: Why do expats and immigrants uproot?

Oslo was the last place Bruce Bawer’s boyfriend expected to be gay-bashed by a Muslim who chased him off a crowded tram, shrieking “Faggot,” punching and kicking him as passersby watched idly. Amsterdam was the last place the pair expected to field further assaults and learn about kids whose bookbags sport pictures of Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-born terrorist who slew filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004: kids taught in government-subsidized schools that their mission is to supplant democracy with a global caliphate, and that gays should be executed.

Bawer, an American journalist who writes for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, went expat in 1998 after writing a book skewering fundamentalist Christians. He relished secular, tolerant, unmacho Europe, marrying his Norwegian lover in 1999: “I felt I belonged in Europe.”

Today the Oslo-based Bawer fears his adopted continent is doomed: driven “to the gallows” by the elephant in its living room: millions of unintegrated, West-loathing immigrants bankrupting welfare systems while vowing violent takeover. “Europe is steadily committing suicide,” Bawer writes in While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within (Doubleday, $23.95), and he wonders if it’s too late to do anything but watch. Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killing, and bomb plots flourish under the cowed gaze of a populace whose “unprincipled spirit of compromise and capitulation” springs from its desperation to shed Hitler’s legacy of bigotry and to not resemble “racist Americans.”

Bawer uses interviews, archival research, statistics, and personal anecdotes to expose streetside post-9/11 celebrations; thousands marching through Copenhagen waving Moqtada al-Sadr’s picture; schoolboys in Sweden cheering together while watching Americans beheaded on DVD; an ex-guerrilla mullah wanted on drug and terrorism charges in three countries but awarded $50,000 and refugee status in Norway; a sixteen-year-old Londoner whose father slit her throat because she loved a Christian; crime rates rising as rapists and armed robbers call their miscreance “acts of war.” Specific incidents stack up against a backdrop of European press and politicians with radical pedigrees: The faculty at Norway’s sole journalism college, for instance, almost wholly comprises ex-members of a pro-Khmer Rouge party. This ensures “multiculturalism set to music,” self-hatred fueling the idea that “in case of conflict, it is invariably the West that is at fault.” But to suggest that “there exist cultural differences that can cast a dark shadow over this sunny ‘it’s a small world’ sensibility — is verboten.” Bawer charges that today’s native Europeans act like what Sharia law calls the dhimmi — a non-Muslim underclass denied legal protection and forced to pay special taxes.

Under the surface of what he sees as frogmarch multiculturalism, Bawer spies something else, another relic of a near-monocultural past. Europe, he asserts, “prefers its minorities unintegrated. … The supposed reason is that it respects differences; the real reason [is] a profound discomfort with the idea of ‘them’ becoming ‘us.’ Immigrants to Europe are allowed to perpetuate even the most atrocious aspects of their cultures, but the price for this is that no one, including themselves, will ever think of them as Dutch or German or Swedish.” (Thus he reports on “five-year-olds … scrawling ‘Fuck you Netherlands’ on scraps of paper.”) Bawer watches Europeans villainize an America with which they seem obsessed as they wave Iraqi flags at antiwar rallies. But who, he asks, are the real racists?

The Europe that he deems dozing, “in love with tyranny,” lulled by “a deadly pattern of passivity … born of life in a welfare state,” is a far cry from the bomb-scarred but optimistic continent where Julia Child and her diplomat husband arrived in 1948. Child’s unpretentious posthumous memoir My Life in France (Knopf, $25.95) introduces the cooking icon as a fumbling six-foot-tall newlywed who had never heard of shallots and could barely fry eggs. Awakening in a new world of “delicate, fugitive, sweet, ambrosial, and irresistible flavor” where Parisians sipped wine with their lunchtime tripe, horsemeat, kidneys, mussels, and frogs, Child was a yesteryear kind of expat: awhirl in a cobblestoned, castled wonderland whose cafetières breathed no hint of the France where Bruce Bawer now mourns synagogues aflame, and native-born soccer fans booing the Marseillaise.

Who belongs where? The expat uproot by choice, immigrants more by need. As a successful Beijing financier, a happily married mother and homeowner, Zeng Zheng never dreamed of decamping. Then she was arrested and served, sans lawyer or trial, a year of “forced re-education through labor” for joining Falun Gong, the spiritual sect officially deemed an “evil cult” by China’s government. Now an Australian citizen renamed Jennifer Zeng, she recounts in Witnessing History (Soho, $25) being beaten, starved on three rolls a day, blistered with electric prods, brainwashed, and kept awake nights in sixteen-hour shifts making clothing and toys for Western firms that wanted quick, cheap prison labor. “My prod is expert at punishing evil,” intoned one guard, who inserted said weapon in prisoners’ vaginas. Another wielded electrified acupuncture needles. Denied showers on 104-degree days, shivering unsweatered through icy months, sharing a crowded platform-bed, Zeng saw inmates clouted comatose, bones exposed, brain-damaged: It lends perspective to China’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, and to Guantánamo’s three daily square meals and twice-daily showers. Zeng calls her plight standard practice in a country where “people are no longer capable of choosing between what is honorable and what is evil … the eighty-year-long history of the Chinese Communist Party has been written in blood.” Seizing a postrelease visa, she fled. Her husband was then arrested.

These authors, and the millions of others whose stories we don’t see, moved abroad because, globalism aside, not all nations are yet alike. Nor are all equal. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side — although sometimes, as Bawer found, it won’t stay that way.

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