January 16, 2006
Europe, Islam, and Demographics

By Matthew Stubbs

Last week, columnist Mark Steyn wrote a dire-sounding piece in the Wall Street Journal expressing a fear that declining Western fertility, combined with rapid Muslim growth, will eventually lead to a radical Islamic takeover of the West (especially Europe) and the decline of our modern liberal society. Steyn backs his claims with numerous alarming statistics, such as Western fertility rates below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman; Muslim rates far higher (over 6 children per woman) in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Niger; continued Muslim immigration into Western nations; and those Muslims' propensity towards extremism. Islamic dominance, according the piece, is practically inevitable; as Steyn writes, "It's the demography, stupid."

But I wouldn't be so sure. Steyn is usually on the mark geopolitically, but here I believe his conclusions are premature.

Why? Factually, the numbers he cites are correct. But upon closer examination, he actually leaves out a number of key points that reveal a far weaker Islam than he describes.

First, Western nations aren't the only ones with falling birthrates. The Muslim world is seriously declining as well. Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Lebanon, and Malaysia are all below the 2.1 replacement line, while Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Muslim parts of India are close behind and falling rapidly. A few Muslim nations do indeed have high fertility, but the common denominator is not Islam itself, as Steyn implies, but a lack of modernization. Many non-Muslim countries that also haven't fully modernized have high rates as well, such as Laos, Uganda, and Paraguay.

Steyn mentions that developed nations have declined from 30% to 15% of the world's population in the last 35 years, while Muslims have increased from 15% to 20%. True enough, but that also means the non-developed, non-Muslim world has increased its share at a greater rate: from 55% to 65%. And this growth has come largely at Muslim, and not Western, expense.

You see, Islam's recent growth has come almost fully from natural increase (which is now falling), and not from conversions. On the other hand, Christianity is growing just as fast by gaining far more converts. These aren't coming from the developed world, which is already predominantly Christian, but from places like China, India, and especially Africa, where over 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity each year.

Muslims will not overwhelm the world demographically; if anything, the world will grow less Muslim in the forseeable future.

Europe, on the other hand, is admittedly a trickier case. Native fertility is indeed low, while Muslim growth rates and levels of extremism have remained high. Over the next 50 years, Europe projects to lose about 100 million people, while European Muslims will double their numbers to about 20% of the total European population. If Turkey joins the EU, Muslim numbers will rise even further.

But will this bring Sharia law, as Steyn fears? I don't think so. Even under the most high-growth projection (which is by no means certain), Muslims will remain a minority on the Continent. Their radicals may want Sharia law, but they won't get it at the ballot box.

Much more worrisome, though, is the prospect of increased terror and violence as the Muslim population expands. Best case, they'll assimilate smoothly, but based on recent history, I'm concerned that Europe could end up in a horrible civil war. A war, I might add, that radical Muslims will most certainly lose, but a war nevertheless, with possibly devastating loss of life and destruction.

Europeans can, of course, easily avoid this scenario by taking a few basic steps: limit Muslim immigration, export radicals who preach violence, and cut off the Saudi petrodollars financing extremism. These actions alone won't solve the Continent's fertility-based worker shortage problem (although this might), but should at least prevent Islamists from taking advantage.

Steyn's conclusions may be flawed, but his urgent advice that the West must awaken to this problem is nevertheless entirely on the mark.


Matthew Stubbs

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