For over two weeks now, politically correct bullies have been making yet another legitimate topic off-limits.
Anyone who dares suggest that some Muslim-dominated neighborhoods in Europe are hostile to non-Muslims risks mass mockery. I’m not a Europeanist, a sociologist, a criminologist or an urban anthropologist, but I know an intellectual mugging when I see one: Muslim “no-go zones” are becoming conversational no-go zones.
Such thought suppression is all too familiar. In the 1960s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan dared to admit that the black family was in crisis. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and pope John Paul dared to suggest that the Soviet Union might fall. In the 1990s, Dan Quayle dared to question encouraging single parenthood by attacking the television character Murphy Brown’s decision to become an unwed mother. Each time, these truth-telling deviants from the conventional wisdom were called not just wrong, but stupid and racist. Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and many acknowledge the growing gap, overall, between kids raised in single-parent homes and traditional homes, black or white.
The pile-on began on January 10, when Steven Emerson appeared on Fox News. Emerson has the annoying habit of anticipating problems most of us prefer to ignore.
Long before 9/11, this award-winning investigative reporter warned about the dangers radical Islamist terrorism posed.
Now, discussing the underlying causes of the Parisian massacres, Emerson described the alienated, marginalized, majority-Muslim and dangerous neighborhoods that breed radicals, as “no-go zones.”
“They’re sort of amorphous, they’re not contiguous necessarily, but they’re sort of safe havens, and they’re places where the governments like France, Britain, Sweden, Germany, they don’t exercise any sovereignty,” Emerson said. Overstating the problem, Emerson added: “And in Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in!” Simultaneously, other Fox commentators, and Rupert Murdoch, discussed “no-go zones” in categorical, occasionally judgmental, ways.
Within 24 hours, Emerson had apologized for using exaggerations such as “totally,” and had made a charitable donation to Birmingham Hospital as an act of good faith.
His efforts were ignored. The New York Times, diminishing more than three decades of investigative journalism, including a prestigious George Polk Award, repeatedly called him “a self-described” terrorism expert. The prime minister of Britain, who should have more pressing concerns, called Emerson an “idiot.”
Suddenly, the artificially high, absolutist standard Emerson quickly repudiated became the baseline: just because there are no areas of total Muslim domination and total French, British, or Belgian, abdication, the “no-go zones” characterization became a “blunder” and a “myth.” Fox News and CNN apologized for broaching such topics.
Then, shamelessly, after celebrating France’s commitment to free speech, including politically-incorrect cartooning, Paris’s mayor threatened to sue Fox News for defaming her city.
Meanwhile, the self-described “newspaper of record,” used “self-described” to insult this serious expert. The Times has only used the phrase pejoratively, with “self-described” snipers, pedophiles and slackers. We never see Jane Fonda called a “self-described” fitness expert; Michael Beschloss called a “self-described” presidential historian – a profession that has no formal designation; or Al Sharpton called a “self-described” civil rights activist. The Times stylebook – and that of every serious journalistic enterprise – should ban the phrase in news reports, unless quoting some critic mocking a rival’s credentials.
The backlash has stifled an important discussion. Boston’s “combat zone” has no soldiers. Most red-light districts have no crimson illumination. Similarly, no-go zones are threatening and dangerous, not formally separate and necessarily lethal. Scary, crime-ridden immigrant neighborhoods are not a new phenomenon, nor are they limited to Europe or Europe’s Muslim immigrants.
But normal patterns of urban and suburban dysfunction are superimposed on the sensitive European Islamist issue, and now filtered through a mechanism of denial. The challenges of unemployment, crime and other structural forms of marginalization, mixed with some radical Muslims’ desire for self-segregation, caused the problems demonstrated most dramatically with the riots that began on October 27, 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois.
Anecdotally, there are certain neighborhoods where, as one retired French immigrant to Israel with close family still in Paris reports, “a non-Muslim would be very uncomfortable,” out of fear of being “hassled and possibly attacked.” My British friends feel it less. The French government apparently has an official list of “sensitive urban zones,” known by the French shorthand, ZUS.
Without degenerating into anti-Muslim bigotry, Europe is not America and many Muslim immigrants to European are not like America’s Irish, Italians, or Jews. America still values the melting pot while Europe prefers the salad bowl.
Some – emphasize some – radical Muslim clerics and their followers reject the multicultural mutual love-in. These Islamist extremists take a salad-dressing approach, emphasizing that just as oil and water don’t mix, neither should Muslims and non-Muslims. European multiculturalists are so tolerant they even tolerate Islamist intolerance.
Given the Islamist terrorist menace, considering the thousands fighting for Islamist fundamentalists like Islamic State, analyzing the separate Muslim enclaves is legitimate, even using the sloppy “no-go zones” shorthand.
Citizens in pluralistic democratic societies are constantly debating the different balance for ethnic and religious group identities amid broader nationalist and humanistic visions. Jews in particular have spent three centuries vacillating between assimilation and integration.
This sorry episode reflects the partisan nature of too much political discourse today. From climate change to no-go zones, where you stand politically often shapes your perception of reality. The question of Islamism’s relationship to Islamist terrorism – obscured by America’s president, among others – stirs worries about other important issues suppressed by the PC thought police.
In the 1990s, the problem of radical Islamist terrorism didn’t disappear even as many ignored Steven Emerson’s warnings. Similarly, the problem of marginalized and radicalized Islamists in these neighborhoods won’t disappear, even if people mock Emerson and others for raising it.
The author is a professor of history at McGill University and a Visiting Professor at the IDC in Herzliya. The author of eight books on American history, his most recent,
Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, won the J.I. Segal award for best non-fiction Jewish book.
Watch the new Moynihan’s Moment video!