In Search of Europe

Across the political spectrum, then, a diverse range of activists find it in their rhetorical interests to stress the inevitable coming of an Islami-cized Europe, sooner rather than later, and to present matters in the grimmest possible terms. They foresee ruinous religious violence, with Muslim minorities set against secular states and Muslim communities against Christian or Jewish neighbors. Yet although it may be approaching the status of a truth universally acknowledged, the vision of a predominantly Muslim Europe nearby on the historical horizon demands serious qualification. Nor should we necessarily accept assertions about the coming triumph of "radical Islam."

That Europe is acquiring much greater ethnic and cultural diversity is certain, but the religious implications are less clear. Visions of an Islamicized Eurabia sliding into Third World status rely upon a number of questionable assumptions not only about demography but also about the condition of Europe's major religions, both Islam and Christianity. If these assumptions are incorrect, Christian-Muslim interactions could develop quite differently, and more benevolently. Europe could yet become the birthplace of a liberalized and modernized Islam that could in turn influence the religion worldwide.34

From the heated coverage of European affairs since 2003 or so, Americans might imagine that visiting that continent might involve an encounter with Islamic fanatics on every street corner. In fact, while Muslim numbers have grown dramatically since the 1960s, the numbers of obvious ethnic minorities are still small compared to what one might see in a U.S. metropolis. In most west European nations, Muslims constitute around 4 percent of the population, which is scarcely a human deluge. The relatively small scale of Muslim numbers might surprise Americans, for whom their key minority issues involve an African-American population that has never been less than 10 percent of the national total, and sometimes much larger, while other minorities have also grown in recent years. Counting Latinos and Asians, in addition to African-Americans, the United States today deals with "minorities" of perhaps 30 percent of the national population, probably rising to almost half the population by 2050.

When trying to understand the issue of Muslims in Europe, both the words "Muslims" and "Europe" demand closer examination. Now, the search for precise definition can lead to a kind of casuistry. Testifying to a Grand Jury, President Bill Clinton once notoriously remarked, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is." But a lack of definition goes far in explaining visions of new Muslim populations swarming over venerable Europe.

The term "Europe" has shifted its meaning in recent years. During the Cold War era, Americans became accustomed to using the term just in the context of the democratic nations of western Europe, and thus excluding the large and populous Eastern bloc; and discussions of "Muslim Europe" generally refer to the continent in this more limited sense. It is in western portions of Europe, the older regions of the European Community, that Muslims have established themselves in recent years. This was and remains the economic heartland of modern Europe, and it has for some decades served as the principal magnet for immigration. Even here, though, only in France is the Muslim share of the population sufficiently large—currently 8 or 10 percent, and growing—to raise immediate concerns about the cultural hybridization of the society. Even if we assume, controversially, that Islamiza-tion represents a deadly menace, then it is presently not an urgent prospect outside France or, conceivably, the Netherlands, which has a Muslim minority of 6 percent.

And despite what French political leaders have assumed for some centuries, there is a great deal more to Europe than just France. We cannot simply project the conditions prevailing here to the whole continent, which stretches from the Atlantic at least to the borders of the former Soviet Union, and arguably beyond. A realistic estimate, allowing for illegal immigration, is that wider Europe, from Ireland to the Carpathians, presently has about 24 million Muslims, or 4.6 percent of the overall population, but by no means all of those represent new immigrants. Over a third of that Muslim population represents old-established communities in the south-eastern quadrant of the continent, in Albania, Bulgaria, and the nations that comprised the former Yugoslavia, together with the island of Cyprus. Outside that area, Muslims are rare in most of the eastern lands that Donald Rumsfeld characterized as the New Europe. In former communist lands such as

Table 1.1 Muslims in the European Union

Population Muslims

Nation (millions) (millions) Percentage

Table 1.1 Muslims in the European Union

Older Member States

France

60.4

5

8.3

Germany

82

3.5

4.3

United Kingdom

58.6

1.6

2.7

Italy

57.6

1

1.8

Spain

39.4

1

2.4

Netherlands

15.8

1

6.3

Belgium

10.2

0.4

3.9

Sweden

8.9

0.4

4.4

Austria

8.1

0.35

4.4

Switzerland

7.2

0.31

4.3

Denmark

5.3

0.27

5

Norway

4.6

0.08

1.8

358.1

15.3

4.3

Newer Member States and Accession States through 2007-2008

Poland

38.7

0

Portugal

10.8

0

Greece

10.6

0.14

1.3

Czech Republic

10.3

0

Hungary

10.1

0

Slovakia

5.4

0

Finland

5.2

0

Ireland

3.7

0

Lithuania

3.7

0

Latvia

2.4

0

Slovenia

2

0.05

Estonia

1.4

0

Cyprus

0.9

0.16

18

Malta

0.4

0

Luxembourg

0.4

0

Romania

22.3

0.2

0.8

Bulgaria

7.5

0.9

12.2

135.8

1.45

1.1

Membership currently under negotiation, or candidate countries (excluding Turkey)

Croatia

4.5

0.2

4.4

Macedonia

2.1

0.6

17

Albania

3.6

2.5

70

Serbia and Montenegro

10.8

2.2

19

Bosnia and Herzegovina

4.1

1.6

40

25.1

7.1

28.2

European TOTALS

521

23.8

4.6

Turkey

70

70

99.9

Note: Swiss membership was frozen after a referendum in 1992; Norway's membership was withdrawn after a 1994 referendum.

Source: CIA Factbook, online at www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html.

Note: Swiss membership was frozen after a referendum in 1992; Norway's membership was withdrawn after a 1994 referendum.

Source: CIA Factbook, online at www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html.

Poland, Hungary, or the Czech Republic, Muslims are as scarce as they have been for centuries and mosques all but unknown. In large areas of the continent, "Muslim Europe" still does not exist. Now, the zeros listed in Table 1.1 should not be taken literally, since Muslim populations have established themselves in recent years, but the numbers are still tiny.35

This observation is still more true if, as might happen within a decade or so, the European Union expands its boundaries to include the former Soviet states of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, and formally pushes Europe's borders eastward beyond the Dnieper. Such a move would add 60 million more new Europeans, virtually none of whom are Muslims, further diluting the Muslim presence within the European political community.

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