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Immigrants: Are Muslims different from others?

Richard Harris

By A Contributor

If you have ever worried about Muslim immigration overwhelming Europe or North America or worried about how to respond to people concerned about such immigration, then this is the book for you. Written by London-based Canadian journalist Doug Sanders, this is a highly readable but meticulously research-based argument about why we don’t really have to worry about Muslim immigration overwhelming Europe or North America either in overall numbers or cultural domination.

“Muslim immigrants to Europe and North America are not an invading force, a political conspiracy or a demographic threat…not that different from earlier waves of poor, religiously distinct arrivals.” Sanders reviews the major arguments of the most prominent critics of Muslim immigration to the West and then spends most of his book refuting those claims. These critics, such as Bruce Bawer, Gisele Littman, Christopher Caldwell and Mark Steyn are less well-known in the U.S. than in Europe, though some are actually based in North America.

Drawing on past population statistics and projected trends, Sanders makes a cogent argument that high fertility in Muslim immigrants is already slowing down and will soon drop to or below the replacement levels already seen in other European groups.

Contrary to some anti-immigrant speculations, he argues convincingly that the Muslim population may likely rise from 6 percent to a modest 8 percent by 2030 to a possible maximum of 9.5 percent for all of Europe, including Russia by 2050, before it begins to fall.

Birth rates of European Muslims have already approached or exceeded replacement rates of 2.1 children per couple, with Islamic families showing the same precipitous decline in birth rate seen by other cultures and religions as they prosper economically.

Neither Islamic beliefs in particular nor religious devotion in general is associated with larger families. Some of the lowest birthrates in Europe are in countries with the highest church attendance, like Poland, Italy and Ireland.

A second major argument Sanders makes is that Muslims are no less likely to assimilate to their Western host countries than have previous waves of immigrants. For example, 83 percent of British Muslims reported they were “proud to be British,” compared to 79 percent of the British population overall.  Similarly, in France 69 percent of French Muslims believed that “democracy is functioning well in France,” compared to 58 percent of the overall French population endorsing that statement. Moreover, 80 percent of French Muslims reported being comfortable with dating and marriage across religious lines.

A full 47 percent of German Muslims, mostly rural and Turkish in origin, find homosexuality morally acceptable, compared to 68 percent of Germans overall.

Sanders also skillfully refutes beliefs that large numbers of Muslims in the West support terrorism and want to impose Sharia law in Western countries. He also counters the belief that the rise of Muslim immigrants is correlated with a rise in Islamic terrorism. Perhaps surprisingly, no more European Muslims than Europeans in general reported agreement that it was sometimes justifiable to “use violence for a noble cause.”

In general, support for religious-based law declines among Muslims after they emigrate from Islamic to Western countries. 

Thus migration to the West actually reduces the radical threat from such people.

Highly knowledgeable historically, Sanders shows how the current anti-Muslim immigrant hysteria is following almost identical patterns to earlier anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic, anti-immigration movements in the 19th and earlier 20th century.

Just as Catholic and Jewish immigrants gradually adopted the customs of their host nation and culture and won its trust, so does he predict Muslims will do the same.

Nineteenth century Catholic immigrants in the U.S. were feared and disliked for the same set of reasons targeted at today’s Muslims.

Their faith was seen as alien and strange and their initial high birth rate as threatening.

They were perceived as having a political agenda of become a stealth Trojan horse for the papacy. Only after Roman Catholic, John Kennedy’s election to presidency, were such fears finally put to rest.

After deftly refuting the shrill arguments of the anti-immigrant fringe, Sanders closes his brief book with a discussion of “What We Ought to Worry About.” For example, he argues that the artificial creation of a generalized Muslim identity that is sometimes adopted by nationals from many countries of origin can help create the soil for radical Islamic extremism to thrive and these extremists continue to be worrisome. Sanders also notes important differences across countries.

For example, British Muslims remain starkly more conservative in social values than do Muslims in other European countries.

His arguments are more complex and a bit less convincing overall in this section but still important. This is an excellent book that deserves wide readership.

Richard Harris is a Manhattan resident.

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