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.
These warnings chime with public fears that Europe has already become an incubator for worldwide terrorism. After all, the September 11 hijackers plotted in Germany, and homegrown terrorists were involved in the Madrid and London attacks. Concern is growing that a swelling immigrant population resistant to assimilation or integration will steal jobs and strain public services. Last year a Pew poll found that about half of respondents in Spain and Germany held negative views of Muslims. In Spain the figure had climbed 15 points, to 52 percent, since 2004. In the June elections to the European Parliament, Wilders’s party won 17 percent of the national vote in the Netherlands. The anti-immigrant British National Party, which warned of the “creeping Islamification” of British society, won its first two seats. In Austria the right-wing Freedom Party almost doubled its share of the vote, at 13 percent.
Alert to the public mood, European governments, which are now almost entirely center-right, have been slamming doors to further immigration from Muslim countries and elsewhere, and have reinforced the message that Muslim Turkey is not welcome in the European Union. Italy is now in the process of approving a bill that will jail landlords for leasing properties to undocumented immigrants. Last month French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared the burqa to be “a sign of subservience” that “would not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”
But all this obscures a simple fact: the rise of a Eurabia is predicated on limited and dubious evidence. A much-cited 2004 study from the U.S. National Intelligence Council outlines a number of possible scenarios. Its most aggressive is that the number of Muslims in Europe could increase from roughly 20 million today—about 5 percent of the population—to 38 million by 2025. But that projection turns out to be attributed to “diplomatic and media reporting as well as government, academic, and other sources.” In other words, it’s all speculation based on speculation—and even if it’s accurate, it would still mean the number of Muslims will represent just 8 percent of the European population, estimated by the EU to be 470 million in 2025. Indeed, if there is a surge ahead, its scale looks overstated. “There is a quite deliberate exaggeration, as has often been pointed out—but the figures are still being cited,” says Jytte Klausen, an authority on Islam in Europe at Boston’s Brandeis University.
Coming up with a reasonable estimate for the percentage of Muslims now living in Europe, let alone making projections for the future, is a virtually impossible task. The number of illegal immigrants is unknown and, in a sign of the sensitivity of the issue, many countries including France and Germany do not even tally census data on the religion of legal residents. It is true that the Muslim minority is destined to grow steadily in Europe, especially given the youthful profile of today’s immigrants. Fertility rates remain higher among Muslim immigrants than among other Europeans, and Muslims may continue to arrive in Europe in large numbers. But the alarmists assume that past patterns are sure to hold. “The worst of the scaremongering is based on the assumption that current behavior will continue,” says Grace Davie, an expert on Europe and Islam at the University of Exeter in Britain.
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.