Why Fears Of A Muslim Takeover Are All Wrong
Analyzing the forecasts of an emerging 'Eurabia,' hostile to America and western values.
By William Underhill | NEWSWEEK
Published Jul 11, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Jul 20, 2009
To listen to Europe's far right, it would be easy to conclude that the continent is poised for another round of bitter conflict with a centuries-old adversary. "The first Islamic invasion of Europe was stopped at [the battle of] Poitiers in 732. The second was halted at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Now we have to stop the current stealth invasion," argues Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, which claims that Islamic doctrine encourages terrorism.
It's rabble-rousing stuff. But underlying Wilders's polemic is an argument shared by many more mainstream right-leaning thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe, its will sapped by secularism and anything-goes tolerance, has allowed decades of mass immigration without serious challenge. Too feeble to defend their own values, governments have been ready to appease Muslim opinion and must expect the worst. The argument has been gaining ground for some time"fed by alarmist and highly speculative projections from writers like the Canadian Mark Steyn, author of the bestselling America Alone"that immigration and high birthrates could mean that Muslims will make up 40 percent of Europe's population by 2025. Similar and very public warnings have come from American diplomat Timothy Savage, who claimed that forecasts of a Muslim majority in Western Europe by midcentury "may not be far off the mark" if present trends continue, which would heighten the risk of conflict. The British historian Niall Ferguson has written that "a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonize"the term is not too strong"a sene-scent Europe." And the American journalist Christopher Caldwell forecasts that an "anchored" and "confident" Islam looks likely to impose its will on an "insecure" and "relativistic" European culture. The gloomiest commentators, including Steyn and the conservative Ameri-can writer Tony Blankley, talk of an emerging "Eurabia" hostile to American interests and in thrall to Islam.
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For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that's now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care. There is no Europewide data available, but one study says fertility rates among Turkish-born women in the Netherlands fell from 3.2 in 1990 to 1.9 in 2005, barely above the figure for native-born Dutch. Over the same period, the equivalent figure for Moroccan-born women in the Netherlands dropped from 4.9 to 2.9. Also, fertility rates are edging upward in some Northern European countries, which would offset some of the Muslim growth. Bottom line: given the number of variables, demographers are loath to make predictions about the number of Muslims in Europe in the years to come. "You would almost have to make it up," says Carl Haub, the senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington. And the idea of a Muslim majority any time soon? "Absolutely absurd."
Moreover, the myth of Eurabia implies the existence of a united Islam, a bloc capable of collective and potentially dangerous action. The truth is that there are no powerful Muslim political movements in Europe, either continentwide or at the national level, and the divisions that separate Muslims worldwide, most obviously between Sunnis and Shiites, are apparent in Europe as well. Each major nation in Europe has drawn Muslim immigrants from distinct regions of the Islamic world, often former colonies, with different traditions and outlooks. A British Muslim from Pakistan would struggle to communicate with a French Muslim from Algeria. A second-generation Muslim from Turkey living in Germany will have little in common with a newly arrived Moroccan across the border in Belgium. Sharp differences exist even within national frontiers. In Germany, more than one in 10 Muslims are Alawites, who aren't even recognized as coreligionists by the more orthodox.
In areas of personal morality, attitudes vary markedly, too. One recent Gallup poll found that more than 30 percent of French Muslims were ready to accept homosexuality, compared with zero in Britain. Almost half of French Muslims believed sex between unmarried people was morally acceptable, compared with 27 percent of German Muslims. And violent zealotry is for the tiny minority: polls repeatedly reaffirm that Muslims overwhelmingly disapprove of terrorism. In some countries, the mood is broadly secular. "The majority of Muslims in France are, in fact, decoupled from their religion. They just blend into an amorphous mass of brown or black people," says Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi defense minister and author of the The Crisis of Islamic Civilization. Jochen Hippler, a German political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, says he has had young Turks come up to him to ask what Islam is all about. "They have lost any connection with the religion of their parents and grandparents," he says. A recent government survey showed that 40 percent of Iranians living in Germany identified themselves as having no religion, as did 23 percent of North Africans. In the Netherlands, the proportion of Muslims who regularly attend the mosque"27 percent"is lower than the proportion of Protestants who go to church.
For that matter, there's little evidence that Muslims themselves see any contradiction between allegiance to the state and their religious faith. An overwhelming majority of Muslims in France and Germany told Gallup's pollsters that they believed Muslims were loyal to their country. British and German Muslims were more likely than their countrymen to say they were confident of the judicial system and financial institutions and the honesty of elections. It seems that if Europe is in the throes of revolution, many of the supposed combatants appear strangely content with the established order.