First let me praise Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times for taking a religion-haunted story -- the debates over immigration in Europe -- and letting the ghost dance right out in the open. Besides, it's hard not to read a story with a face-slap lead like this one: "Europe is buying more coffins than cribs." However, I do have one or two questions about the story, questions that transcend yet another red-flag use of the term "fundamentalists."
The basic idea is becoming familiar. Rising numbers of Europeans are making lifestyle choices that are resulting in the decline of the old cultures on the Continent. In other words, they are not conceiving many children or allowing many of the ones that are conceived to be born. Meanwhile, Muslim families are moving into Europe and growing. Do the math.
Germany has one of the world's lowest birthrates: Fewer babies were born in 2005 than in the last year of World War II. The country will need 250,000 to 300,000 immigrants every year to sustain its population. A recent United Nations report estimated that by 2050, Germany will need 3.5 million working-age immigrants each year to maintain its population ratio and fund pension, healthcare and other programs for the elderly.
The U.N. survey found that even allowing for immigration, the European population will drop by 2.5 million a year by the middle of the century. ... The question in Europe quickly turns from one of numbers to one of Western values -- a concept not fully articulated by Europeans themselves, but often used to protest the loosening of immigration policies. The Muslim population has doubled to about 15 million since the 1980s, and many on the continent view the religious head scarf, arranged marriages and conservative imams as challenges to democracy and equality.
My big question concerns the article's very next statement. Yes, my question is rooted in my concern that too many mainstream reporters seem to think that there is a good Islam and a bad Islam and that reporters and politicians in the West get to decide which one is which.
Cultural unease intensified after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was further heightened by the bombings in Madrid and London and the furor over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Some Muslim leaders have begun urging Europe's largest minority to do more to integrate and understand that Islamic principles -- despite the teachings of fundamentalists -- are not jeopardized by Western society.
My question can be stated several different ways.
Is there any mainstream branch of Islam that does not ultimately advocate the union or the ultimate cooperation of the mosque and the state? Is there any form that accepts Muslims living as a minority in a secular, pluralistic state (let alone one that has some kind of historic relationship with another religion)?
Or let me ask this: Is the government of Saudi Arabia "fundamentalist," in terms of global Islam? If Saudi Arabia is "fundamentalist," what is Osama bin Laden?
And this question leads to another: Can we say that the Muslims in Europe -- moderate, traditional and Islamist -- are on the rise because, when it comes to family life, they are following their traditions (including faith) while the Europeans are in decline because they have written off their heritage of faith and family? This issue is implied, weakly, in Fleishman's article, but never stated. At the very least, it would have been interesting to ask that question about nations such as, well, Italy and Ireland.
So what are European values these days?
"Religion has become an issue," said Rainer Ohliger, an analyst with Network Migration in Europe. "Religion was not an issue for immigrants in the 1980s. Then, it was social integration, housing and welfare. Why did it change? In Germany you could see the echo effect of arranged marriages and other traditions practiced in Turkey. Then you had 9/11, and all of a sudden the Muslim religion was perceived as a danger, although in Germany that perception started earlier." ...
The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg now gives a 30-question oral test designed to filter Islamic extremists; other states may follow suit. In the Netherlands, where citizens were shaken by the killing of a Dutch film director by an Islamic radical, a new residency test requires immigrants to watch a video depicting Dutch life that includes two men kissing and topless women at a beach.
Europe: love it or leave it?
Or do the Muslim critics of the old Europe simply wait. Their day will come, because it's in the math.