Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The wines of Muslim Europe?

I only visited Europe once, twenty-five years ago, and I was too young at the time to understand remotely where I was or what I was looking at. As a matter of fact I was near the German wine heartlands, but didn't know it. We all drank white wine with everything because Europeans didn't drink or serve water or milk, and because we could drink -- there was no drinking age and nobody "carded" us. I thought it all tasted terrible.

In the succeeding years I've been reading eyewitness reports which insist that the Europe I glanced at, certainly the Europe of a generation ago and the Europe recorded in books and movies from yesteryear, is imploding. Low birthrates and generous welfare state policies -- designed partly to encourage people to have children -- have created a vacuum into which have poured millions of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle and Near East. They do the work that there aren't enough Europeans to do, and/or they sign up for the welfare benefits that European nations are taxed so heavily to provide. And they are all Muslim.

The word Muslim doesn't imply that we instantly suck in our breath and draw our skirts aside as if from something awful. What it does mean, according to the eyewitness reports that ring louder each year, is the presence in Europe of a new demographic, eager to live better than it did in Nigeria, Egypt, or Pakistan, but also passionately religious and filled with real loathing for a civilization which it considers absurd and infidel.

We don't hear much of this in our mainstream newspapers and TV broadcasts. I'm not sure why. Fear. Disbelief. The fact of the implosion's not happening in our own backyard, at least not yet. Miseducation or over-education, perhaps. From high school on we're all taught to be open-minded and to recognize the flaws and brutalities in American history, in Western history, we're taught to admit imperialism's and aggression's force anywhere except where they simply can't be: permeating a worldview different from ours. We've been bad. If the other is truly different, diverse, then the other must be good or at least neutral, and in need of tolerance and understanding.

Anyway I have not seen, with my own eyes, evidence that Europe is becoming Muslim. I have not seen a thousand mosques in London alone, I haven't seen the rings of grim, violent "immigrant" suburbs around every major city in France, where -- so I read -- French law no longer exists and French police do not venture. The historian Bernard Lewis says that Europe absolutely will be a Muslim subcontinent by the end of the century at the very latest. An eyewitness like Bruce Bawer actually predicts that very soon, perhaps in twenty years or less, some Western European nation will cross the threshhold and be the first to live under sharia, Islamic law, because a simple majority of its population will wish it so. He thinks it will be France, but suggests the Netherlands, Britain, and Sweden are all in the running. In his book While Europe Slept he claims that young Muslims in Sweden wear t-shirts announcing "2030: we take over."

To the American who grew up with even a cursory acquaintance with the sunny tales of Robin Hood, and misty Jane Austen, and gemlike Renaissance art, and all sorts of other wonderful things, this is beyond incredible. I asked an eyewitness two years ago, my college instructor in French who visits France at length several times a year and was then in the process of buying an apartment in Paris, whether she agreed the nation was becoming Muslim. She shook her head firmly. "No."

I wouldn't know. I don't trust her firm "No" because it doesn't explain where all the other eyewitness reports are coming from. It seems unlikely they're all made up out of whole cloth and agree with each other, too. But if the other eyewitnesses are right, if they are not exaggerating because they are filled with hate and "Islamophobia," then it seems obvious that Europe is soon going to have -- among other things -- a problem with its wine industry. Islam forbids alcohol.

Thirty-five years ago, in tracing the history of wine production in the former French colony of Algeria -- which had made oceans of the stuff, under French supervision, for French vin ordinaire -- Frank Schoonmaker wrote of what might be hoped from the now-independent nation's vineyards. His prose turned positively Gibbonesque.

It is an unprecedented problem, to say the least, and if the Algerians succeed (as is to be hoped), it will surely be one of the few times in human history that a people manages to produce, in world competition and on an enormous scale, something that they are unwilling, on account of religious scruples, to consume. (Frank Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia of Wine, fifth edition, 1973).

Ah-so. Are we to say the same, soon, of the wine trade in a majority-Muslim Italy, France, or Germany? -- shall we speak in terms of an "unprecedented problem" in those countries? Can we envisage a time, perhaps in our lifetimes, when the vineyards of the Haut Medoc (Bordeaux), the Cote de Beaune (Burgundy), or Chianti go unharvested or are even torn up for religious reasons?
This sounds so ridiculous as to not even merit the dignity of being called alarmist. There are still vineyards in Algeria, and they seem to be doing fairly well, thank you. Wine is made in Lebanon -- one pertinent website notes delicately that wine was a normal consumable in this part of the world, from remote antiquity until the 8th century, "when wars stormed over the area." Wars launched by whom against whom, for what reason, is not explained. Wine and beer are made in Egypt. Production is increasing elsewhere in the Arab world.

But there's a strange and chilly feeling surrounding comparisons of French or German wine making to Lebanese or Algerian wine making. Cold comfort would be the expression, I think. It's cold comfort, too, to remember one Muslim poet, Omar Khayyam, who nine hundred years ago wrote lovingly of wine and other pleasures. This is now. I wonder if the owners of vineyards and the makers of wine in Piedmont now, in the Loire Valley, along the Mosel or in Rioja, are looking ahead twenty years and seriously considering what to do when all this is ... what? Illegal? Taxed to destruction? Poured out righteously on the streets?

It's possible to imagine sunnier alternatives. Maybe wine, on its ancient native ground, will prove so delightful to the new demographic that it will take to it with refreshment and joy, and Bordeaux and Burgundy will thrive as usual among customers a simple majority of whom happen to be named Mohammed and Noor. Maybe Europe, "taken over" or not, will never allow one of its noblest products to be stamped out, vines, casks, knowledge, skills, terroir, millenia of history, and all. Maybe at the worst, their winemakers would emigrate, and bring their traditions to the New World. But that's cold comfort, too. One becomes alarmist, and imagines empty chateaux, and birds fluttering among untended pinot and riesling vines, gorging on the harvest of the quiet, abandoned slopes. Sharia is sharia.

We'll see. It is beyond incredible to have to conclude with a phrase so trite, but really I can light on no more logical conclusion. I search other wine websites for thoughts on wine in Muslim Europe, but I find little or nothing. Maybe better-informed people than me know it's a non-issue. We'll see.

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