There is a large and growing Muslim population in Europe, but its growth does not begin to match the predictions of the panic-stricken
MUSLIMS | EUROPE
By Gwynne Dyer
“Every continental (European) under the age of 40—make that 60, if not 75—is all but guaranteed to end his days living in an Islamified Europe,” wrote polemicist Mark Steyn in 2006.
“Native populations on the continent are aging and fading and being supplanted remorselessly by a young Muslim demographic.”
So ‘Eurabia’, as Steyn called that Islamified Europe, ought to be a reality by now: people who were 75 when he wrote his book ‘America Alone’ in 2006 would be 87 now, if they were still alive, but at least half of them aren’t. Yet Europe’s population is still only 5% Muslim, which is a long way from a majority.
The hysterical discourse about Muslims taking over Europe and leaving the US ‘Alone’ in the world is a staple of far-right rhetoric in the US, and it has a devoted band of imitators on the racist, anti-immigrant right of European politics. There is a large and growing Muslim population in Europe, but its growth does not begin to match the predictions of the panic-stricken.
According to the calculations of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, by 2050, the Muslim share of Europe’s population would grow to 7.4% by natural increase even if there is no further migration. If migration reverted to its pre-2014 pattern, the Muslim population would be 11% of the total by 2050. And even if the huge flow of Muslim refugees in 2014-17 continued, it would only reach 14% by mid-century.
It was the surge in refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2014-17 that sparked rising support for racist and anti-immigrant policies in many European countries. Pictures of UKIP leader Nigel Farage standing in front of a huge poster showing a seemingly endless column of Syrian refugees and labelled ‘Breaking Point’ may have been the key event that gave the Brexit referendum a narrow ‘Leave’ majority in Britain.
In France, neo-fascist National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, got one-third of the vote in the presidential election of 2017 by blowing on the same dog-whistle. German Chancellor Angela Merkel saw her party’s vote shrink dramatically in last September’s election, probably because she let a million refugees into Germany in 2016. No good deed goes unpunished.
But the Iraq war is now over, and the Syrian war is staggering to an end. The Afghan war may drag on for years, but the refugee pressure on Europe is already declining. Twenty or thirty years from now, when global warming has destroyed agriculture in much of the Middle East and North Africa, there will be another, much bigger wave of refugees, but at that point Europe will certainly slam the door shut. There will never be a ‘Eurabia’.
There are some Western European countries – the UK, France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium – where the Muslim population is around the 10% level now, and could increase to as much as 18 or 19% by 2050, if the ‘high’ estimate of refugee intake applies. One country, Sweden, could go even higher, ending up 30% Muslim by 2050 on the ‘high’ assumption.
But these predictions may be underestimating the speed at which Muslim birth-rates fall to match those of their non-Muslim neighbours. (European Muslim women now have an average of 2.6 children, whereas non-Muslim women have 1.6.). And in any case, what is so bad about having a higher proportion of Muslims in your population?
The whole panic is built on the assumption that Muslim immigrants are fundamentally less likely than Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Sikh immigrants to give their loyalty to their new country, less able and willing to adopt its values and its ways. Why? Because Islam is an all-embracing way of life that is very resistant to change.
Many Muslims think that the beliefs and behaviours they are inherited are indeed uniquely resistant to change, but there is no evidence that this is true. For example, around a quarter of Americans who were raised as Muslims have left the faith and more than half of those people no longer identify with any faith. Almost exactly the same figures apply to Americans who were raised Christian.
Assimilation operates more quickly where immigrant communities are small and relatively new: American Muslims are only one percent of the population, Australian Muslims 2.6%, Canadian Muslims 3.2%.
In the UK and France, where Muslims now comprise 6.3% and 8.8% of the population respectively, assimilation proceeds more slowly: less than 5% of British Muslims marry outside the faith, for example. But it does proceed: The vast majority of Muslims in these countries identify as British or French, and share their democratic values.
The word ‘assimilation’ is unpopular in many quarters, as it is held to imply being absorbed into a dominant and somehow superior culture. ‘Integration’ is to be preferred, as it leaves the original cultures intact while integrating the immigrants into a splendidly diverse whole. In reality, the two processes operate together, integration more quickly and assimilation more slowly.
The integration of new immigrants always changes the general culture to some extent, and assimilation is always partial, because new immigrants keep arriving. But there is nothing to be feared here: the national identity and values are safe.