Various scenarios seen for evolution in number of Muslims in Europe
With the continuing ascension of the far right, identity is increasingly used as a defining issue in the political outlook of many.
2017/12/10 Issue: 135 Page: 16
The Arab Weekly
Simon Speakman Cordall
Tunis - Muslims are almost certain to increase as a proportion of Europe’s population, irrespective of any change in migration policy. However, analysts and rights groups expressed concern over the risk of the far right seizing on demographic shifts to stoke intolerance.
A report by the Pew Research Centre in Washington stated that in 2016 Muslims in Europe totalled 25.8 million — 4.9% of the total population. The report posited three potential scenarios, including Muslim immigration levels continuing at the current elevated rate, due not least to the war in Syria and conflicts in other predominantly Muslim countries. In that case, the percentage of Muslims in Europe was projected to increase to 14% of the total population by 2050, climbing as high as 20% in Germany and 30% in Sweden.
Pew’s second model had immigration returning to levels before 2014 and projected Europe’s Muslim population increasing to 11.2%.
The third scenario, in which Muslim immigration halted entirely, said the percentage of Muslims would rise to 7.4% of the population by 2050. This would be due to higher birth rates among Muslims, compared to birth rates in other demographic groups, as well as a generally younger Muslim population.
That Europe will undergo a demographic shift appears unavoidable. How the region’s broader population reacts to that change is uncertain.
“I’m pessimistic about how host communities will respond to these demographic patterns,” Claire Adida, co-author of “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies,” wrote in e-mailed comments.
“My research (with David Laitin and Marie-Anne Valfort) shows that, at least in the French context, French individuals with no recent immigrant background display more antagonism towards Muslims when they are surrounded by more Muslims. Former French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux captured this with a now-infamous quote: ‘When there’s one [Muslim], that’s OK. It’s when there’s a lot of them that there are problems.’”
Over the summer, right-wing activists from the group Generation Identity crowdfunded a boat to go to the Mediterranean to block rescue ships taking predominantly Muslim migrants to Europe.
“[I]t shows how audacious, and clever, the extreme right has become,” Nick Ryan, communications director of the advocacy group HOPE not hate, wrote via e-mail. “What we see from the wider anti- Muslim movement, internationally and also Donald Trump retweeting a hard-line, anti-Muslim hate group (Britain First) in the UK, is that attitudes towards Muslims that would have once been ‘fringe’ have moved closer to the mainstream. Then there are networks like Breitbart, enablers of hate who push a constant fake news, anti-Muslim message, which ends up shared widely via social media platforms.
“These groups push the message that Muslims are taking over, swamping us, will impose sharia law on everyone else, that Europe will become ‘Eurabia’ and that Islam is some sort of dangerous totalitarian cult,” Ryan said. “That is a false narrative, being pushed hard over social media, and must be exposed for the falsity it contains.”
Based on the last two years, Germany was projected to receive the greatest number of future migrants in Europe. However, given that the data are based largely on Germany’s acceptance of large numbers of Syrian refugees in September 2015, future migration figures are questionable, Pew noted.
“The most realistic endpoint for Europe,” Pew said, may be that “Muslims could make up between 11.2% and 14% of Europe’s population in 2050.”
Figures about religious affiliation can be difficult to collect in secular countries in Europe. In France, for instance, collecting such data is against the law. The authors of the report noted that, while some Muslims would claim that religion had no role in their everyday experiences, others would argue that “Muslim identity profoundly shapes their daily lives.”
However, in a Europe that is looking increasingly polarised, much of this will matter little. With the continuing ascension of the far right, identity is increasingly used as a defining issue in the political outlook of many. The only certainty is that the “projections” regarding Muslim demographics in Europe will continue to fuel many controversies to come.