Let me preface this by saying that this article is not about the current refugee crisis taking place in Europe. I have outlined my position on that particular debate in an earlier article, which in a nutshell is that refugees should, nay must, be taken in whatever their race, creed, or religion. There is no excuse for turning away fellow human beings fleeing terrorism or a maniacal dictatorship. To do anything else ought to shame us all.
Here is the most esteemed Hungarian president Viktor Orban commenting on the current refugee crisis Europe is struggling to deal with:
Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” he said. “This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity.” “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.
This urbane and progressive gentleman seems to be voicing the concerns of a surprising number of Westerners. We have to protect our culture – we don’t want to become a minority in our own country! This is obviously alarmist talk (which is already a red flag in its own right), but is it justified?
Another well-known figure, journalist Vincent Cooper, has weighed in on Orban’s team (actually, I think Cooper has been pushing this agenda for a while so maybe it is more correct to say Orban has weighed in on Cooper’s team) claiming that a reasoned and reasonable analysis of brute statistics predicts a Muslim population in the UK of 26 million by the year 2051. Scary stuff, right?
In what follows I will be focusing on the “Muslim epidemic” as it pertains to Europe and especially the UK.
- The most common name for new babies in the UK is Mohammed
- Muslim demographics point to an alarming trend
- The Muslim population in England and Wales almost doubled in the ten year period from 2001-2011
- 10% of under-fives in the UK are Muslim, twice as high as in the general population. In general, the Muslim birth rate is well above that of Britons
- Muslims don’t integrate well into the culture of their host country
1. This is a classic example of that old adage; there are lies, damned lies and statistics. If some right-wing charioteer trumpets this statistic at you, take a moment to see if they know what it means. They will immediately tell you that it reflects a disturbing trend in the UK and indicates that the UK is becoming predominantly Muslim. This is 100% false. This statistic tells us absolutely nothing about the number of Muslims currently in the UK or the birth rate of Muslims. A two-minute reflection on this reveals two reasons why this statistic is pure scaremongering:
- Mohammed is an extremely popular name among Muslims and is given to very high numbers of Muslim boys. There is no equivalent first name in English. This means that despite the relatively low numbers of Muslim births, the incidence of the name Mohammed is disproportionately high.
- There are at least twelve different variations on the spelling of the name Mohammed. The name only makes it to the top of the most common baby names if all of these different spellings are grouped together. If you don’t follow this strange and highly misleading practice and instead get your information from a reputable organisation like the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Muhammad only just scrapes into the top fifteen baby boy names for 2014 and only three other Muslim names feature in the top 100, among these, two are variations on Muhammad (Mohammed and Mohammad).
2. a) The Muslim population in England and Wales almost doubled in the ten year period from 2001-2011.
This is true. The number of Muslims in England and Wales rose from 1.55 million in 2001 to 2.71 million in 2011, compared to a total population increase from 52.05 million to 56.07 million. (Out of a 4.02 million population increase, Muslims accounted for 1.16 million, or 29%, of it) Shocking, right?
The first point to note here is that Briton’s (although this is almost certainly not an exclusively British trait) intuitions regarding Muslim populations are way off base. A recent survey conducted by the social research institute, Ipsos Mori, found that Britons consistently overstated the number of Muslims in all non-Muslim countries, including their own, being off the mark by a factor of four where Britain was concerned (Muslims currently make up only 5% of Great Britain but the popular perception was a whopping 21%).
The second thing is that measures of population typically rely on people self-reporting and this can change depending on a number of factors. The ten years between 1990 and 2000 saw an apparently huge rise in the Muslim population of Eastern European countries, but this was probably an illusion. What was more likely was that people felt more comfortable identifying themselves as Muslim after the collapse of the communist system.
In the same way, the apparent sudden increase of Muslims in Great Britain may be partially explained by a reaction to the war on terror and a growing willingness for people to call themselves Muslim. In fact, the Muslim Council of Britain has said that the 2001 figure was an underestimate because Muslims were reluctant to identify themselves as such at the time.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are fewer Muslims (in fact, it means Muslim numbers were understated in the earlier years) but it means we aren’t facing a sudden, alarming influx of foreigners intent on sweeping away our Western traditions and values.
2. b) The Muslim birth rate is far higher than the birth rate of other Britons. Some websites put that figure at over 5 (this is actually incorrect).
Like all other statistics and factual-sounding soundbites, this is just another example of a brute statement that is true and when taken at face value seems alarming but actually fails to accurately reflect the real situation.
The following Pew Poll shows the fertility rates for Muslims vs. non-Muslims in Europe for the 5 year period, 2005-2010. The fertility rate for Muslims in the UK is only 3.0 compared to 1.8 for non-Muslims. This figure (3.0) is a figure I have yet to see quoted in any “The Muslims are coming” hysteria article and although it is significantly higher than 1.8, it is a far cry from the alarmist 5 that you might more typically hear quoted.
If you are unlucky enough to come across a certain article by Vincent Cooper, you will find he quotes ONS data saying that Pakistan-born women in Britain have an average birth rate of 4.7 and Bangladesh-born women one of 3.9. Naturally, he fails to caution the overly eager reader that these figures do not represent the fertility rates for Muslims in the UK. Such readers read ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Bangladesh’ (think ‘Islam’), then 4.7 and 3.9, and draw an incorrect inference from there to fertility rates of Muslims in the UK.
The above diagram also shows an interesting and important trend; that number (3.0) is expected to fall to 2.5, twenty years in the future. You certainly won’t hear about this in any alarmist articles, yet it is an incontrovertible fact that Muslim birth rates are falling rapidly, and not just in the West, but globally.
As a matter of fact, global Muslim birth rates, at around 4.3 in 1995, had fallen to 2.9 by 2010. As it was in 2012, Iran had a birth rate lower than France or Britain, of 1.7 (down from around 7 in the 80s), the UAE was at 1.9, and Turkey at 2.15. These are important statistics you would never hear about if your only source of information were right wing scaremongers.
In addition, a 2007 study conducted by demographers Charles Westhoff and Tomas Frejka researched total fertility rates (TFR) among immigrant Muslim populations in a number of European countries and found that among Muslim women the TFR is almost always higher than that of the native population at first, but “with the passage of time Muslim fertility moves closer to the fertility of the majority of the population in the respective countries”.
This is a well-known phenomenon and one we have seen before. In the 30s and 40s, when Jewish immigrants and refugees were fleeing the Nazis, they too showed temporarily higher birth rates than the indigenous population. There are two reasons for this. First, first generation immigrants do tend to have more children than the indigenous population, but second, because most new immigrants have most of their children soon after arriving in the new country, the total fertility rate tends to be skewed. The TFR is calculated by taking the total number of births a woman has had and extrapolating it across her fertile life. As a result, immigrants appear to have more children than they really do. And so we find that the TFR of second generation immigrants much more closely approximates the norms of the host nation. In fact, the birth rate of British Muslims is currently falling much faster than it did among Jewish immigrants. And while Pakistani immigrants currently have a TFR of 4.7, their British-born daughters will come in much lower than this.
Vincent Cooper, in his article referenced earlier, while acknowledging some of the above, ultimately decides to ignore all of it and simply takes the raw statistical figures for the “statistically significant” (whatever that means) ten year period, 2001-2011, i.e. a 175% increase in Muslim population, and proceeds to merrily apply this over the next forty years, as if birth rate and Muslim immigration will remain the same forever, to net him his grand total of 26 million Muslims in 2051.
There’s really nothing here to argue against here because it’s just statistical nonsense. Cooper completely ignores the trends in the data and just lets his fingers run rampant on his calculator. He actually missed a trick here. He should have taken the decade to 2000, when the Muslim birth rate was much higher since he would have been able to nudge his “reasonable” estimates up that much more. While nobody can predict the future, one thing we can know for certain is that Muslim population growth will definitely not continue at 175% until 2051.
3. Finally, we come to the allegation that rather than integrating and adopting their host nation’s norms and values, Muslims retain the culture and religious attitudes of their Islamic home countries.
This is a very interesting question and a hard one to rule on.
A recent BBC poll seemed to indicate that most British Muslims do actually feel at home in Britain. 95% said they feel a loyalty to Britain and 93% said they should obey British laws. It wasn’t all rosy though. A substantial 24% disagreed with the statement that acts of violence against the Prophet Muhammad can “never be justified”, although 68% agreed. But perhaps the most disconcerting finding was that 46% feel that prejudice against Muslims makes it difficult to be Muslim in Britain.
This finding seems to support another survey conducted by Essex University conducted regarding British minority groups which found that “first minorities express strong British identities – stronger in fact that the White majority, and that these increase across generations.” 44% identify strongly both with their ethnic culture and British culture, a category labelled ‘integrated’, while 13% were unambiguously British, or ‘assimilated’. 21% report feeling ‘marginalised’, or lacking affinity towards both their ethnic culture and the majority culture, and 22% feel ‘separated’, defined as exclusively maintaining the minority culture.
It seems the take home here is that integration is a two-way street requiring a willingness by the incoming population to make the effort to acclimatise to the host country and a readiness by the host population to accept the immigrants. If both groups come to the table with these attitudes, there is no reason why harmony cannot be achieved.
On the face of it, it would seem that Muslim immigrants to Britain ought not to be prejudiced against the UK, or why would they be moving there? If they are refugees, they are probably fleeing extremist Islam groups in their home country and it would seem even less likely that they are intent on being a “source of social conflict”.
On the other hand, if we (as Westerners) allow irrational prejudices and alarmist media reports to dictate our responses to all Muslims, then we virtually guarantee conflict as a generation of Muslims grow up feeling isolated and rejected in the country of their birth.
But there is something of a wildcard factor to add into the mix here, namely, the particular religion that Muslims espouse and is so central to their culture, Islam. It is undoubtedly true that Islam, as a religion, has a particularly violent streak and has retained many backwards and repressive attitudes from its primitive beginnings (I should hasten to point out that this is obviously not unique to Islam; Christianity too, has had its fair share of Holy Wars, (literal) witch hunts, and convert-or-die moments in its illustrious history – we just happen to have tamed this particular danger for now). I have lambasted both Islam and Christianity for this in other places and stand by everything I have said there. I maintain that Islam (just like Christianity) is completely bankrupt as any kind of guide to moral behaviour or truth unless you cherry pick and reinterpret most of the Qur’an and ignore vast swathes of established doctrine.
However, this discussion is not about Islam, as a religion; it is about Muslims, as individuals, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims are decent folk, just like you or me, who want nothing more than to live comfortable, happy, peaceful lives. We mustn’t make the mistake of branding every Muslim a terrorist, or conflating the blatant problems inherent in Islam, as a religion, to Muslims, as individual people.
This is the difference between racism and police enforcement. The former persecutes or discriminates individuals who become guilty just by belonging to a certain religion (or having a certain skin colour), even though we know the extremists, by definition, make up a tiny minority, especially in non-Muslim countries. The latter only targets criminals who are guilty due to their own personal actions.
Let me repeat this. Islam is a problem, Muslims aren’t. Islam is a set of irrational ideas and doctrines that can easily be understood as a violent injunction to establish a global Caliphate. Muslims are people.
Of course, some Muslims are a problem. But so are some Christians, some Buddhists, some blacks, some whites, some Asians… thinking like this gets us nowhere. Treating people differently depending on their race, creed, religion, or any other superficial variable, is nothing more than discrimination, pure and simple. And to be quite honest, something there can be no justification for.
If you spell out the argument, it runs like this; some extremely small minority of Muslims are terrorists therefore we discriminate against all Muslims. Such an argument can be applied to any and every group of people… some extremely small minority of Christians are criminals therefore we discriminate against all Christians; some extremely small minority of men are rapists therefore we discriminate against all men…
Is it concerning that a very small number of religious terrorists, through savvy use of social media and various appeals to somewhat disaffected, apathetic Muslims looking for a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, are able to recruit people who have grown up in the West and supposedly reaped all of the benefits and enjoyed all of the freedoms that entails? Of course it is. Is it worrying that religion is once more being used as a reason for war, division and levels of barbarism we haven’t seen since some of the crazier moments in the Middle Ages? Absolutely.
But we do need to check our response to this. Consider all of the young Britons leaving the UK to join IS and fight for the Caliphate. At the moment, the Foreign Office says around 500 people have gone, while at the upper limit, a Birmingham MP claims it is more like 2,000. Either way, we need to remember that this is a tiny, tiny minority of British Muslims – which is precisely why they are called extremists.
We ought to direct our ire against those individuals who pose a very real threat of violence because of their religious beliefs – but not against all individuals who belong to that religion.
The claim is that the West will be overrun by Muslims in the near future. The people running this story have pointed to things like Muhammed being the most popular name in the UK and the relatively higher birth rate among Muslim immigrants. The former we saw was a statistical illusion while the latter also amounted to nothing more than a temporary situation, evident in light of the fact that the trend among Muslims worldwide is a declining birth rate.
Likewise, the fear that Islam will take over and churches will be replaced or outnumbered by mosques is equally unfounded. This last fear is a particularly dangerous one because ultimately, I feel it is indicative of a deeper and more disturbing attitude prevalent among right wing Nationalists, that is, resistance to anything, and anybody, different. An attitude that says, “Don’t bring your foreign culture and alien ways here, to my country! Do what you like… but do it way over there.” An attitude spear-headed by the likes of Viktor Orban who talks about Muslims as if they were an invading army bent on wiping Christianity from the face of the earth (hmm, because Christianity’s hands are totally clean, right? Cough*The Inquisition*Cough).
It has the potential to cause an unbridgeable rift between people based solely on religion. “We don’t like Muslims because we don’t like their religion which teaches people to blow themselves up for their God.” And once again religion, particularly intolerance of other religions, has found a way to divide humanity against itself.
“But Islam is bad. Look at IS. Look at their suicide bombers.” I agree. Islam has nothing going for it, but neither does Christianity or Judaism or any other religion. Disliking Islam is no grounds for disliking or mistreating Muslims. I have railed against Christianity for years but I never single out individual Christians until and unless they do something hare-brained, like refuse to grant gay marriage licences on God’s authority.
The Bible is full of just as much absolute nonsense as the Qur’an but most Christians these days just ignore those parts that don’t accord with their modern, secular values. Most British Muslims do the same thing with the Qur’an. We have the exact same situation we had in the US back in the days of slavery. A Christian North divided from a Christian South. Now we have moderate Muslims divided from extremist Muslims. The moderates are preaching peace and non-violence (and like Christians, claiming that their holy text supports this) whereas the extremists are going in for the exact opposite. Is the solution to lump all Muslims under the same banner; genocidal, religious-crazed militants bent on creating a global Caliphate? Or do we let reason prevail and treat individual people as their actions warrant?
There are no good reasons to fear a Muslim or Islamic take over and therefore no good reasons to turn immigrants away just because we disagree with their religion. If we let fear, mistrust and xenophobia rule our decisions and refuse to let any Muslims across the borders, then we will be creating a world where we definitely don’t have to worry about another Charlie Hebdo incident, but we’ll also be supporting the creation of a divided world where something as personal as your beliefs can determine where you can or can’t go. Is that the legacy we want to leave our children?