Islams Old Europe

Muslim numbers grew rapidly. Europe as a whole, from Ireland to Russia, had 18 million Muslims in 1970, rising to some 32 million by

2000. And despite the recent concern about "Eurabia," the strongest presence continues to be in regions outside what was traditionally considered the European heartland.

By far the largest Muslim population and the sharpest "Islamic challenge" is in fact to be found in Russia, which many exclude from that European category. Russia is rarely discussed in accounts of contemporary religious conflicts because its Muslim population is largely concentrated in regions far removed from the heartland, chiefly in Tatarstan, and in the north Caucasian territories of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. Yet the numbers are significant and have profound implications for traditionally "white" and non-Muslim parts of the country. Russia today has 15 million to 20 million Muslims out of a national population of 143 million, anywhere from 10 percent to 14 percent of the whole. The country has as many Muslims as the whole of western Europe, and almost as many mosques—5,000 to 6,000. The gap between Muslim and non-Muslim birth rates is more acute than anything found in western Europe, suggesting that people of Muslim stock may gain more influence over time, as the country needs more labor and more internal migration. Already, Muslim central Asians are a common feature in Russian cities, much like Moroccans in Rome or Amsterdam, portending a much greater impact in urban life in coming years.27

Even if we exclude Russia, many of Europe's Muslims do not fit the now familiar image of a flood of recent immigrants. The ghosts of the former Ottoman realm survive in the substantial Muslim population in southeastern Europe, overwhelmingly people of European stock. Over 7 million Muslims live in the Balkan states, with another 900,000 in Bulgaria. The vast majority of Balkan Muslims, some 6 million strong, are concentrated in Albania and in the southern territories of former Yugoslavia—in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Albania, in fact, is Europe's only majority-Muslim nation. The wars in this region during the 1990s actually made the Muslim presence in this region more visible and more coherent, as a result of the mass expulsion of Christians from Kosovo and neighboring territories. In the city of Pristina, for instance, an Orthodox population that once totaled 40,000 has now been reduced to just 120, and hundreds of churches and monasteries have been destroyed. On the other side of the religious divide, the polarization of the war years fostered a more marked (and militant) Islamic identity.28

Incidentally, these Muslims of European stock represent a strong if underrated element in immigrant communities in western Europe, where their ethnic background often startles Arab and Asian Muslims. These Balkan migrants need travel only short distances within the continent to find jobs and prosperity. In the 1990s, over a quarter of Italy's Muslims were Albanians, who had crossed just the couple of hundred miles to reach their new homes. In terms of providing virtually open access to immigrants, legal or otherwise, Italy's coasts somewhat resemble the U.S.-Mexican border.29

The Balkan states also play a significant if little-noted role in debates over Europe's religious future, since they are all but certain to obtain full membership within the European Union within a decade or so. In the past, opponents of European expansion have been able to exclude candidates like Turkey and Morocco on the grounds that they were only marginally linked to Europe and had slim geographic or historic grounds for claiming European identity. None of these objections apply to Albania or the successor states of the former Yugoslavia. If these nations can maintain democratic institutions for a few years, they can scarcely be denied full admission to the community. That fact will immediately expand the Union's Muslim population by 40 percent or so, and these new citizens will have the right to travel and work where they please within the wider community.

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