The Road Ahead: Islam and Europe in the 21st Century
by Daniel Pipes
This talk was given as the third panel of a one-day conference on "Euro-Islam: The Dynamics of Effective Integration" in Washington, D.C. Sara Silvestri (University of Cambridge) and Kemal Silay (Indiana University) joined me on this panel, which Samuel Wells of the Wilson Center moderated.
This morning Dr. Cesari said, Muslims in Europe don't want to change the nature of Europe. In contrast, the distinguished German professor of Syrian origins, Bassam Tibi, posits a more open question: "Either Islam gets Europeanized, or Europe gets Islamized." I tend to agree with Tibi, seeing Europe's future vis-à-vis Islam remaining an open question.
At this early date, I will suggest, we don't know whether Muslims in Europe will be more changed by Europe or will more change Europe. In my few minutes, I shall provide arguments for each side of this topic – that Europe will be Islamized and that Islam will be Europeanized.
Some compelling arguments exist to believe Europe will be Islamized. I shall treat three of them - faith, demography, and a sense of heritage – first from both the European and then the Muslim standpoint.
This aggressive secularism in Europe is something with which we Americans are quite unfamiliar. Here is one illustration of the difference, as noted by Hugh Fitzgerald in 2003:
It's striking to note, by the way, that some 25 years ago, these and other differences between Europe and the United States were rather minor compared to what they are today. In other words, this difference results not from a historical pattern going back centuries, but is a distinctly post-1960s phenomenon. However deeply that decade affected the United States, it had a far deeper impact on Europe.
Demographic collapse suggests a second reason for Europe being Islamized. The total fertility rate in Europe today averages about 1.4 per woman, whereas sustaining one's population requires just over two children per couple, or 2.1 children per woman. The existing rate is just two-thirds of what it needs to be; one-third of the requisite population is not being born.
To avoid a severe diminution of population, with all the woes that implies – and specifically, an absence of workers to fund pension plans – Europe needs vast numbers of immigrants. That third of the population tends to be Muslim, in part because Muslims are close by – it's only thirteen kilometers from Morocco to Spain, only a couple of hundred to Italy from Albania or Libya; in part because, as was mentioned this morning, colonial ties continue to bind South Asia to Britain or the Maghrib to France; and in part because of the violence, tyranny, and poverty so prevalent in the Muslim world today that prompt large waves of emigration.
A third reason for Europe being Islamized concerns what is often called Europe's political correctness but what I believe is a deeper phenomenon, namely, the alienation of many Europeans from their heritage, a sense that their historic culture is not that worth fighting for or even saving. It's striking to note the differences within Europe in this regard. Perhaps the country least prone to this alienation is France, where traditional nationalism still holds sway, whereas the country most alienated is the United Kingdom, where the government actually has created a program, "ICONS - A Portrait of England," to connect Britons to their heritage.
This diffidence has had direct implications for Muslim immigrants, as Aatish Taseer explained in a Prospect magazine article, "A British jihadist."
On the Muslim side, three parallel arguments suggest why Europe will be Islamized. First, the buoyant faith of Muslims and their sense of superiority could not be more different form the lapsed European Christianity. We have all heard the outrageous supremacist claims, so I need not repeat them here. When combined with a jihadi sensibility, it leads many Muslims to see Europe is a continent ripe for conversion and domination.
Likewise, the high fertility of Muslims complements the paucity of children among indigenous Christians. As was rightly pointed out this morning, although the Muslim fertility rate is falling, it remains several times higher than that of European's indigenous population. No doubt, this has something to do with the premodern circumstances in which many Muslim women find themselves. One symbol: In Brussels, "Muhammad" has for some years been the most popular name given to infant boys, while Rotterdam is on track to be the first major European city with a majority Muslim population.
Third, immigrant Muslims widely disdain European civilization, focusing on such issues as pornography, divorce, and homosexuality. Here is one example: The mother of the notorious Khadr brood, known as Canada's first family of terrorism, returned to Canada from Afghanistan and Pakistan in April 2004 with one of her sons. Despite her seeking refuge in Canada, she publicly insisted just a month earlier that Al-Qaeda-sponsored training camps were the best place for her children. "Would you like me to raise my child in Canada to be, by the time he's 12 or 13 years old, to be on drugs or having some homosexual relationship? Is it better?"
By way of footnote, it's ironic to note that in centuries past, as Norman Daniel has extensively documented, it was the Christian Europeans who looked at Muslims with their multiple wives and harems as overly-sexualized, and felt morally far superior.
To sum up: this first argument holds that Europe will be Islamized because the yin of Europe and yang of Muslims fit quite perfectly: low and high religiosity, low and high fertility, low and high cultural confidence. Europe is an open door through which Muslims are walking right through. Europeans will quietly submit to the dhimmi status or convert to Islam.
Or will they? Islam might yet be Europeanized, that is to say, be turned into a European phenomenon. Or as Stephen Schwartz likes to use the metaphor in the U.S. context, Muslims might be induced to sit at the great table of American religions. Will Muslims sit at Europe's table of religions, as just one of many? Will it be reduced to a manageable phenomenon that fits in Europe?
The main argument in favor of expecting Islam to be tamed is that Europeans will one day wake up and demand this. They will say "Enough," and require Muslims to fit in or to leave. One already sees a chafing among Europeans, not so much among the elites as the wider populations, at the changes that are taking place in their countries. Illustrations of that include the anti-hijab legislation in France, unhappiness over the restrictions on the display overt Christian signs, the insistence of serving wine at state dinners, and so on. In reaction, for example, a movement developed this last winter to serve pork soup to the poor in several French cities, specifically seeking to exclude Muslims by the ingredients in the soup.
The beginnings of this demand are already evident in various nativist reactions. The Lega Nord in Italy was for years part of the ruling coalition. In Denmark, the Conservative Party came to power in 2001 after 72 years in the wilderness, basically because of anger concerning immigration. Jörg Haider and the Freiheits Partei Österreich was in office for a brief period. The presidential race in France in 2002 came down to a contest between Jacques Chirac and the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen. And insurgent anti-immigrant parties are developing in other countries.
Admittedly, the record so far is fairly meager, but these parties, some cases with neo-fascist backgrounds, have a huge potential. Their anti-Islamist and sometimes anti-Islamic messages resonate; they will undoubtedly grow stronger. Also, parties focused on immigration and Islam are growing more respectable over time, shedding their antisemitic origins and their dubious economic theories, focusing instead on the questions of faith, demography, and identity. They are learning about Islam and Muslims. The British National Party offers one example of such a move toward respectability, which may one day be followed by electability. That said, one cannot dismiss the fascistic and violent overtones, of some groups, and the possibility that the anti-Muslim backlash could take ominous forms.
Powerful forces pull in each direction – Islam taking over or Islam being tamed. I have no idea which way things will go. Other analysts, such as Bat Ye'or and Oriana Fallaci, see Islam taking over, but my crystal ball is cloudy.
This topic has no precedent. As a historian, I know of no prior analogy, whereby a large area shifts peacefully from one civilization to another through the collapse of one population, faith, and identity in the face of another, through immigration and assertiveness. Nothing comparable has ever occurred, so we lack guidelines. We march through terra nova without maps.
However the issue of Islam's career in Europe is resolved, we can all agree, has vast importance, and not just for Europe. Europe has served as the motor force of world history for the half-millennium, 1450-1950; while it' s certainly lost that position during the past half-century, it remains a vital continent in economic, political, and intellectual terms. Which direction it goes has huge implications for the rest of us, and for especially Americans.
Taking up a different subject, the role of poverty, unemployment, and criminality came up a few times this morning, with emphasis on these ghetto pathologies existing widely among Muslims in Europe but not in the United States. The American Muslim population does indeed enjoy a much higher socioeconomic standard and educational background; in brief, there are no Muslim ghettoes or banlieues in the United States. Therefore, Europeans tend to look at the United States as a model.
I agree that socioeconomically, the Muslim population of United States is better off and better integrated than that of Europe, but I dispute the notion that that is a way to obstruct the jihadi mentality. No evidence suggests that disaffection, unemployment, or other problems lead to jihadism and other forms of violence. Indeed, I would argue that sociology is nearly immaterial. Jihadism is a body of ideas, an ideology, that can attract anyone – poor or rich, male or female, old or young, European or American.
Here are some examples of American converts to Islam, none of whom were in particularly stressed circumstances, but who were arrested or are now in jail or fled the country because of terrorism or attempted terrorism: Ryan Anderson, a white convert in Washington state; David Belfield, a black convert who murdered an Iranian exile in the outskirts of Washington, D.C.; Rodney Hampton-El, a black convert who was part of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Mark Fidel Kools, a black convert who fragged his officers in Kuwait; John Walker Lindh, the white, Marin-county Talib; John Muhammad, the lead Beltway sniper; and Randall Royer, the Virginia paintball jihadi. All these are people who, from what we can tell, suffered no particular stress, and did not grow up in an antidemocratic environment.
There are many, many other examples of born-American Muslims who had no particular stresses in their lives. A recent case making this point is that of Mohammed Taheri-azar, a well-liked and successful graduate of the University of North Carolina who three months ago drove an SUV into a crowd of pedestrians at the university, hoping to kill as many of them as possible. Fortunately he killed none, but he 'd been planning that operation for two years and his statements to the press were pure jihad. The scary thing is, there was zero indication that he would do what he did.
Rather than look at socioeconomic problems, I urge you to look at the positive – what attracts people to radical Islam. Unfortunately, that attraction cannot be addressed via socioeconomic improvements.
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes