Monday, July 25, 2005

Demographic change could turn the heartland of Western culture into an Islamic redoubt

Peter Grier:

Europe today is about five percent Muslim (excluding Turkey), but the Islamic population is growing rapidly. Moreover, Europe’s 23 million Muslims are concentrated in a handful of nations and in a few urban areas within those nations. The number of European Muslims might double by 2015

For well more than half a century, America has enjoyed exceptionally close security ties to Europe. The relationship has been strained at times—recall the Suez Crisis of 1956 and Euro-missile fight of 1983—but common political and cultural values have always helped heal the wounds.

As a result, the Old and New Worlds have stood together when it counted.

However, this Atlantic partnership might not survive a radical change in Europe’s basic nature. Few ever believed such a thing could happen, but, within the next several decades, Europe could well undergo such a change. The Continent’s restive Islamic minority is poised to grow in numbers and hence political power, and it is overwhelmingly anti-American.

Incredible as it might seem, some experts predict that Europe will have an Islamic majority sometime well before the end of this century. Thus, the US may at some point look across the Atlantic and see not the familiar, nominally Christian, and largely secular partner it has known for many decades but something else entirely: an Islamic Europe.

Historian Niall Ferguson of New York University notes, “The whole of Western Europe is entering a new era of demographic transformation without parallel in modern times.”

Some perspective is in order. Fear that a Muslim flood is about to overwhelm the Continent has long been a theme of fringe political activists and polemicists in Europe. It is anything but inevitable; today’s population trends might shift dramatically, and the dire predictions of the death of Western civilization could well prove unfounded.

Even so, many of Europe’s domestic political problems already stem from conflict between resident Muslims and the rest of society. Just look at the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant political parties in such historically tolerant nations as the Netherlands. These cultural tensions often erupt into violence, such as the grisly murder last November of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had directed a movie critical of Islam’s treatment of women. Van Gogh was slain on an Amsterdam street by a self-proclaimed jihadi of Dutch-Moroccan nationality.

These cultural strains have been aggravated by the debate about admitting Islamic Turkey to the European Union. The March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, meanwhile, shocked many Europeans into a realization that they are not immune to the threat of Islamist terrorism.

This uneasiness was stoked further last summer by Bernard Lewis of Prince­ton University, the eminent scholar of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. In an interview with Germany’s Die Welt, Lewis predicted, “Europe will be part of the Arabic west, of the Maghreb,” and added that Europe would be Islamic by the end of this century “at the very latest.” The furor, at least on European editorial pages, has yet to abate.

Current overall population figures hardly seem indicative of a coming cultural phase shift. According to the State Department, Europe today is home to some 23 million Muslims. That is about five percent of the Continent’s population.

These numbers, however, do not include Turkey, with its 67 million Muslims. Add Turkey to the mix and Islam’s share of the European population bumps up to 15 percent. Furthermore, European Muslims are concentrated mostly in a few nations—France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands—and, within these states, they are further concentrated into a few urban areas. Muslims now make up more than a quarter of the population of Marseilles, for instance. They are 15 percent of Brussels and Paris, and 10 percent of Amsterdam. For the most part, they live in enclaves in poorer sections of town, such as Berlin’s Kreuzberg district.

Recruiters for radical strains of Islam find their work made easy by the poverty and prejudice many young Muslims face.

What is important, say analysts, is not so much the raw population totals but rather the demographic trends. Over the last 30 years, Europe’s Muslim population has more than doubled, and its growth rate continues to accelerate. Current projections hold that the number of Muslims living in Europe might double again by 2015.

One major reason: immigration. Upward of 900,000 legal immigrants enter Europe each year; most of them are Muslim. The same is true of for­eigners immigrating illegally into Europe, estimated to number 500,000 per year.

Immigration is only one factor in the emergence of Islamic Europe, however. In Muslim communities already there, high birth rates are the norm.

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