January 16, 2006
Europe, Islam, and Demographics
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.
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.
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
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.
not overwhelm the world demographically; if anything, the world
will grow less Muslim in the forseeable future.
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.
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.
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.
may be flawed, but his urgent advice that the West must awaken
to this problem is nevertheless entirely on the mark.