In books, a clash of Europe and Islam

Award nominations are generally occasions for exaggerated compliments and air kisses, so it was something of a surprise when Eliot Weinberger, a previous finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, announced the newest nominees for the criticism category two weeks ago and said one of the authors, Bruce Bawer, had engaged in “racism as criticism.”

The resulting stir within the usually well-mannered book world spiked this week when the president of the Circle’s board, John Freeman, wrote on the organization’s blog ( “I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept,” he wrote. “Its hyperventilated rhetoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia.”

The fusillade of e-mail messages on the subject circulating among the Circle’s 24 board members mirrors a larger debate over a string of recently published books that ominously warn of a catastrophic culture clash between Europeans with traditional Western values and fundamentalist Muslims – books including Londonistan by Melanie Phillips, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion by Robert Spencer, and America Alone by Mark Steyn.

New York Times, 8 February 2007