Monday, August 10, 2009

An Islamic Future?

A last holiday reminiscence from France: and a thought about Europe's future. I recently took my daughter and a friend to the local water theme park - lots of slides and slaloms. Great fun for the young and young at heart (though definitely not for those with a weak heart!)

As always you get a great cross-section of holiday makers at such places, mostly French in this case (as they generally like to holiday in their own country a lot like the Spanish and Italians). Among the French were a number of Muslims - identified by those family groups whose women were wearing hajibs. This seemed somewhat incongruous (and that bit more noticeable) given that most everyone else was in swimwear and it was also very hot (34c) and very wet ...

It was another cultural reminder of France's Muslim population, and that country's ongoing debate about the relationship between the state and religion in schools etc. If anything it's a debate that is increasingly Europe-wide in its relevance and intensity. In just the past week there has been a flurry of media coverage about various projections claiming that France/Britain/Europe (select your country/region) will be Muslim by 2030/2040/2050.

Here's the Daily Telegraph on the demographic time bomb transforming Europe:
The numbers are startling. Only 3.2 per cent of Spain's population was foreign-born in 1998. In 2007 it was 13.4 per cent. Europe's Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and will have doubled again by 2015. In Brussels, the top seven baby boys' names recently were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza.

... residents of Muslim faith will account for more than 20 per cent of the EU population by 2050 but already do so in a number of cities. Whites will be in a minority in Birmingham by 2026 ... Another forecast holds that Muslims could outnumber non-Muslims in France and perhaps in all of western Europe by mid-century. Austria was 90 per cent Catholic in the 20th century but Islam could be the majority religion among Austrians aged under 15 by 2050 ...
A YouTube video on Muslim Demographics - viewed over 10 million times - presents even more extreme forecasts about Europe's Islamic future. But of course demographic forecasts, especially in relation to religious affiliation, are notoriously prone to massive error. And as a recent, politely British hatchet job on the same video by the folks at the BBC's More or Less radio programme makes clear: if you start with the wrong numbers your forecasts are going to be even less accurate than if you use the right ones.

Coincidently I am reading Don Cupitt's magnificent book The Meaning of the West: An Apologia for Secular Christianity. Cupitt, like myself, is something of a post-Christian, pro-Christian. His book ingeniously explains how our modern, Western, secular society is in fact the inevitable outcome - destiny even - of Christianity. If you like a rich mixture of philosophy, theology and history combined then this is the book for you (and a lighter read than perhaps I have made it sound!)

He also writes eloquently about the challenge of Islam and its 'confrontation' with the West. In his view Islam will have to be confronted with the same critical thinking that transformed fully-fledged Christianity into today's liberal democratic, free-market Western society. But he does not think that 'conflict' with Islam will engender another 'crusade'. Though it is interesting, nevertheless, that the YouTube video I mentioned earlier appears to have been produced by a US-based evangelical Christian organisation ...

But I am leery of any arguments based on 'demographic destiny'. I grew up a Catholic in Northern Ireland where we were assured that our higher fertility rate relative to Protestants would make a United Ireland inevitable! Destiny had other things in mind it seems. And so it is with most of the more fantastical - malicious even - forecasts for an Islamic Europe. I don't buy them: and I expect that Muslims in Europe will become more 'European' long before Europe becomes 'Muslim'.


  1. i like that expectation that Muslims in Europe will become more 'European' long before Europe becomes 'Muslim'. nicely said! i don't know much about the islamic community in ireland but engaging with that community as much as possible is surely a desirable aim in order to promote understanding of our mutual needs as humans. here's some perspective on what we may perceive as our differences....!

  2. I think you're right to point out the source of some of the more demonic demographic predictions. A recent read of Christopher Hitchens has made me think again about my opposition to the likes of Operation Iraqi Freedom but I still feel great unease with the idea that this whole thing represents a 'clash' of civilisations.

    Still, I suspect that the idea of 'civilising' the Muslims will end up being a lot more hassel than it's worth. Maybe there's another angle. Hopefully there will be as time goes on because I think our help will just be thrown back in our faces. Part of me says so it should be.

  3. It's interesting to see how short it can take for a population that was not so big to become what it is today.

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