The future of multi-ethnic Europe is not so much dominated by the issue of race, but instead by religion. It is not uncommon these days in Europe to often see women wearing niqabs, burkas and headscarves, or to see men with long beards and turbans. Nor is it out of the ordinary to witness store windows with signs and writing in Arabic, selling exotic products from the Middle East. In just a matter of decades the ethnic landscape of nearly all European countries has shifted dramatically with the rise of the Muslim population. What was once a very homogeneous and traditional set of societies is now slowly being overwhelmed by the ubiquity of a decidedly non-Western culture. While Muslims still make up a definite minority in European countries, such as France, Germany and Spain, demographic trends show a shift towards a dramatic growth in their numbers.
After World War II and the following "baby boom" rise in population, the birthrate among native Europeans has dropped significantly. Birthrates have dropped to an average of 1.45 children per family, significantly shy of the 2.1 needed for maintaining population growth at replacement levels. Perhaps the historically richest continent in the world, the source of millions of immigrants and various civilizations, is facing not only a change in culture, but also a drastically reducing populace.
The new Europe, where Muslims are still only making up about 5 percent of the European Union's population, is giving way to the future Europe, in which the Muslim population will increase by leaps and bounds. In the past 30 years the number of European Muslims has tripled, and demographers predict a similar, if not more extreme, rate of growth among Muslims in the coming years. If current trends continue, by 2040 both France and Netherlands might have a Muslim majority. Correspondingly, Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe, driven by massive amounts of immigration from the Middle East that began in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as the very high birthrates typical of an average Muslim family. These recognizable changes in the human landscape of Europe are not merely cosmetic, nor do they evenly fill in the gaps left by a decreasing native population. Instead the social changes, the cultural discrepancies and ramifications are causing a conflict that will fundamentally alter Europe as well as the world.
The introduction of a completely new ethnic group into European countries, nations who historically have been based upon a common ethnicity and history, is not an easy and immediate fit. While many Muslims adjust successfully, finding gainful employment and stable households, many do not transition so painlessly, hitting language barriers that keep them from jobs and money. In these countries that have such deep traditions, where their history and religion is ever present in the form of antiquities and great buildings still in place from hundreds of years ago, not to mention literary or spoken traditions, the injection of mass amounts of people who speak, and act, and look, and worship differently inevitably creates many tensions. Thus, many Muslims, whether by choice or necessity, experience segregation in Europe, living in ghettos or secluded areas that are rife with poverty and crime.
Religion is perhaps the most important factor in this change in Europe. While new businesses and consumers are welcome, economically, the issues of Islam pose a threat to secular Europeans who worry that the core values of their civilizations will be overlooked. Values such as women's rights, tolerance of other ethnic groups and sexualities, and in a greater sense democracy, that are held as sacred by the liberal and free thinking population of Europe are in contrast to the nations and societies of the Middle East, the source of Islam and Muslim immigration. Furthermore these issues are compounded by the unavoidable presence of radical Islam in global events.
The horror of September 11th, the subsequent War on Terror, the increasing attacks made by Islamic Fundamentalists, have changed the entire world and created an enemy of democracy that is without a singular home or face. The terrorist attacks in Europe, specifically the train bombings in Madrid on March 11th, 2004 and the train and bus bombings (both attempted and successful) in London in July of 2005, proved to Europeans even more clearly the role of radical Islam and its personal war against Western culture and its ideals. The unavoidable connection between terrorism and Islam has created even more tension between Europeans and the Muslims who live in European countries. The fact that the attackers in London were born and bred in the United Kingdom was a haunting truth for UK citizens, shattering any remaining illusion that islamofascism was a distant threat from another part of the world. Yet Britain has had more success than most European countries in integrating Muslims into society, favoring multiculturalism, an idea that accepts all cultures as having equal value and effects the governments handling of minorities. France too favors integration, and yet problems continue to arise as the result of the ever-growing Muslim population.
The French Muslim population is the largest in Western Europe, approaching 10% of the country's population and numbered at 5 to 6 million. These numbers result from the former North African colonies of France, such as Morocco and Algeria, and the immigration of those Muslims into France where many are given citizenship. Yet the massive growth of this community challenges the strict French ideal of separation of public life and religion. A ban on religious symbols in public schools was perceived as a ban on the Islamic headscarf for women, and created major national disputes. Furthermore it is hard to forget the prolonged and extensive rioting in 2005 that centered mainly around Muslim immigrant communities, a wave of violence that is incredibly likely to reoccur in France's near future with no long-lasting resolution in sight.
German Muslims make up about three and a half percent of Germany's population, with the majority being from Turkey and retaining strong links to their home country. In Berlin kabob vendors and stores now outnumber traditional German sausage eateries. Initially, Muslims were considered 'guest workers' that were allowed to contribute to the economy but were expected to eventually return to their home countries, but as the Muslim population continues to rise attempts are being made to more successfully integrate them. Angela Merkel, the chancellor who openly opposes the inclusion of Turkey into the EU, remarked on immigration that “we don’t say they should not be Muslims. But we do say that we are a country with a Christian background, and Turks must understand this…Try opening a Christian church in Istanbul.” The potential admission of Turkey into the European Union is a major topic of European debate, with many people hesitant to include an overwhelmingly Muslim state into Europe's large experiment.
Europe's strained relations with Islam go back over a thousand years, including countless wars and bloodshed. In recent decades relations have taken on a more economic tone with the steady immigration of Muslims to Europe in search of work, spawning new issues of how to integrate large numbers of such a different population into broader society. The increasing numbers, the addition to the workforce, and the rising vocalism of these communities is forcing Europe's governments to focus on bringing them into the mainstream, which may in fact be a great mistake since it is not always integration that Muslim groups desire. Few European Muslims are advocating widespread integration into Western culture, instead placing emphasis on multiculturalism within historically homogeneous nation-states. Dyab Abu Jahjah, a prominent Belgian Muslim, has actively campaigned in Antwerp to add Arabic as an official language of his country, referring to the notion of assimilation as “cultural rape.” This staunch resolve in the maintenance of Muslim culture despite a massive shift in geography and in the societies it inhabits is indicative of a fundamentalism that is hard to distinguish from the religion and ethnicity of the Muslim people. The United States, by far the ultimate example of a society built with immigration, progressed and expanded throughout history due to the successful integration of many different peoples and religions. The 'melting pot' of America is not a result of making allowances for every new ethnicity to cross its border, nor forcing current citizens to accept fully and without questions new cultures. Instead the ideal of America stood above all other cultures. Personal identities are valued, respected and remembered, but to a large extent much is left behind in order to fully enjoy and participate in the equality of democracy.
Europe too has a great history of progression. Having endured two world wars, the occupation of several countries by fascist enemies, the ups and downs of the economy, it constantly struggles to find its way, to create the best possible world it can and the most advanced. Always looking to the future, it integrates technology, new economic principles, and new peoples every day in order to create a society that allows for the best quality of life for all its inhabitants.
In deep contrast the societies of Islam are rigid and militantly resistant to change. The high illiteracy rates of Middle Eastern nations support the indoctrination of the youth and all citizens into anti-Western fervor, into a sexist and racist disregard of human life, one that has not changed for centuries. The steady stream of Muslims immigrating into Europe can be seen as a Trojan horse, a way of infiltrating enemy societies and disrupting or destroying them from the inside, since the direct violence and wars of centuries past failed. Though a grim thought, it is hard to deny considering the repeated declarations of this intent seen on the news, the unabated bombings and anti-democratic savage persistence. While it is hoped that these constant occurrences, these rallies and celebrations in the Middle East after 9/11, this spewing of anti-Western bile is only indicative of a smaller percentage of the worlds Muslim population, it is not possible to know for certain how widespread these ideologies are. Thus, the future of Europe yet again faces a tyrannical and unpersuasive enemy, as it did in the first half of the last century.
Clearly, the future of Europe is dependent on how the Muslim populations are dealt with. The successful integration of European Muslims is crucial, as they are already a significant minority on the continent and will play a definite role. The intentions of these groups, and the social impact they will have, is another matter that must be weighed heavily and realistically. The difference between a basic integration, and a complete and flourishing assimilation, is a great one, and is problematic especially if the latter is not their intention at all. It is imperative for the continent's governments to create and adopt effective assimilation policies, for if they do not, and if the birthrates of native Europeans do not increase, this steady and unhalted immigration may accomplish what the Muslim army on the field of Tours was not able to. That is, the Islamic conquest of Europe.
Other, better reading:
-Mark Steyn; The 'Oldest Hatred', from Gaza to Florida