Will Pew Muslim birth rate study finally silence the “Eurabia” claim?
One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill “Eurabia” claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.
The Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or popularised the term with her 2005 book “Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis” and this argument has become the background music to much exaggerated talk about Muslims in Europe. Some examples from recent weeks can be found here, here and here.
A good example is the video “Muslim Demographics,” an anonymous diatribe on YouTube that has racked up 12,680,220 views since being posted in March 2009. Among its many dramatic but unsupported claims are that France would become an “Islamic republic” by 2048 since the average French woman had 1.8 children while French Muslim women had 8.1 children — a wildly exaggerated number that it made no serious effort to document. It also predicted that Germany would turn into a “Muslim state” by 2050 and that “in only 15 years” the Dutch population would be half Muslim. “Some studies show that, at Islam’s current rate of growth, in five to seven years, it will be the dominant religion of the world,” the video declares as it urges viewers to “share the Gospel message in a changing world.”
The BBC produced its own video entitled “Welcome to Eurabia?” that gave a point-by-point rebuttal of the video’s claims. Watching “Muslim Demographics” and “Welcome to Eurabia?” back-to-back provides a useful lesson in the dark art of twisting statistics. The image at left, shows a fictional flag of “Eurabia” created by Oren Neu Dag.
Articles defending the “Eurabia” claim have often been so shrill that they essentially discredited themselves as serious arguments. But it could be difficult to find a solid statistics that gave an overall view of what was actually happening. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has stepped up with an impressive study entitled “The Future of the Global Muslim Population” (here’s the press release, report and graphics here). As we summarised it in our report Muslim birth rate falls, slower population growth:
Falling birth rates will slow the world’s Muslim population growth over the next two decades, reducing it on average from 2.2 percent a year in 1990-2010 to 1.5 percent a year from now until 2030, a new study says.
Muslims will number 2.2 billion by 2030 compared to 1.6 billion in 2010, making up 26.4 percent of the world population compared to 23.4 percent now, according to estimates by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life…
“The declining growth rate is due primarily to falling fertility rates in many Muslim-majority countries,” it said, noting the birth rate is falling as more Muslim women are educated, living standards rise and rural people move to cities.
The proven demographic fact that birth rates have been falling among Muslim women, both in Muslim majority countries and western countries where Muslims have migrated, is not new. Nor are articles debunking the idea that Muslims will become the majority in Europe (see here and here and here). But my own experience in discussing this with non-Muslims in Europe and the United States says this message does not seem to be getting through. The fact that Muslim birth rates, while still higher than those for non-Muslims, are actually falling seems to surprise people who do not follow these issues closely.
There are many legitimate questions concerning Muslim minorities in western countries. Should Muslim women be allowed to cover their faces in public? Do state schools have to provide halal meals? Does sharia have any place in the western legal system? Should Muslims be allowed to pray in the streets? What does the decline of Christianity in Europe mean for the continent? These issues have to be debated openly —“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom,” as Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at the Catholic university Georgetown in Washington put it at a conference at UNESCO in Paris two years ago. But while citizens have a right to have their own opinions, they can’t just make up their own “facts” and expect to be taken seriously. Twisting statistics only distorts the debate and risks leading to unfounded conclusions.
This study raises further questions that the Pew Forum cannot yet answer. The report’s preface asks “Is Islam the world’s fastest-growing religion? If Islam is growing in percentage terms, does that mean some of the world’s other major faiths are shrinking? Is secularism becoming more prevalent, or less?” It doesn’t yet have the data, but it plans to issue a similar report on the prospects for Christianity worldwide next year, followed up by others analysing the trends for “other major world faiths, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism. We will also look at the size and growth of the population that is not affiliated with any religious tradition.”
What do you think? Is this report a surprise? Which interesting trends could the other reports bring to light?
UPDATE: In a telephone conference with journalists later on Thursday, Pew Forum researchers commented on the study. I asked what the results said about the “Eurabia” claim.
Senior researcher Brian Grim said: “Across the next 20 years, we’re only seeing a 2 percent rise in the total share of Europe that is Muslim. We’re projecting that the growth rate is slowing. So this rise is very very modest. It’s a relatively small share of the overall population in Europe… There’s no real scenario that we’ve looked at that this ‘Eurabia’ scenario would come to be.”
Alan Cooperman, associate director for research, said the percentages of Muslims in some European populations would rise from 3 to 5 percent to between 6 and 10 percent by 2030. “Those are substantial increases but they are very far from the ‘Eurabia’ scenario of runaway growth,” he said. “We do not see either wordlwide or in Europe runaway growth. The growth rates are slowing.”