You may recall that just last week I wrote about Australia’s reticence to accept Muslim refugees and an apparent New York Times failure to identify Muslims as Muslims in a featured article on the issue.
My guess is that more than a few Australians who are against accepting Muslim refugees felt vindicated in their position when they learned about a new Pew Research Center report on how Muslim refugees are demographically transforming Europe.
My question: What is the appropriate reaction to this historical population shift and does it vary from one host non-Muslim nation to another?
I'm referring to more than current -- and hopefully just temporary, even if lasts another decade or so -- fears about terrorism committed in the name of Islam.
Not to be misunderstood, let me make clear that I do think those fears are -- in many but not all instances -- absolutely warranted.
But what I’m attempting to address here are the more long-term impacts -- cultural, social and political -- guaranteed to result from this vast human migration from Asia and Africa into the historically white Christian nations of Europe.
Like Humpty Dumpty, the Europe of old will not be put back together again. All the world’s become an omelet.
There will be so many ramifications ahead that journalists -- religion beat pros and others -- need to start addressing now, and doing it openly and honestly, without fear of offending but with sensitivity and respect as well.
We need to go beyond our journalistic uncomfortableness about projecting future possibilities.
The past is easy to pontificate about. The present surely is tougher, particularly these days of drastically shrinking news room budgets and the current political chaos in Washington taking up so much of the available media oxygen.
Despite that, whenever and wherever possible we need to speak with social scientists, a broad range of religious leaders, academics and others to mine their thinking about the future -- starting with Europe, the crucible within which Western thought blossomed.
The consequences are enormous for us all.
I’ll return to this theme below. But first here’s a piece of the Pew report’s summary overview that got me started here:
In recent years, Europe has experienced a record influx of asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries. This wave of Muslim migrants has prompted debate about immigration and security policies in numerous countries and has raised questions about the current and future number of Muslims in Europe.
To see how the size of Europe’s Muslim population may change in the coming decades, Pew Research Center has modeled three scenarios that vary depending on future levels of migration. These are not efforts to predict what will happen in the future, but rather a set of projections about what could happen under different circumstances.
The baseline for all three scenarios is the Muslim population in Europe (defined here as the 28 countries presently in the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland) as of mid-2016, estimated at 25.8 million (4.9% of the overall population) -- up from 19.5 million (3.8%) in 2010.
Even if all migration into Europe were to immediately and permanently stop – a “zero migration” scenario – the Muslim population of Europe still would be expected to rise from the current level of 4.9% to 7.4% by the year 2050. This is because Muslims are younger (by 13 years, on average) and have higher fertility (one child more per woman, on average) than other Europeans, mirroring a global pattern.
Zero migration seems a naive position to adopt. More likely, in my view, is Pew’s “medium” projection for Muslim growth in Europe. Here’s more from the report overview.
A second, “medium” migration scenario assumes that all refugee flows will stop as of mid-2016 but that recent levels of “regular” migration to Europe will continue (i.e., migration of those who come for reasons other than seeking asylum; see note on terms below). Under these conditions, Muslims could reach 11.2% of Europe’s population in 2050.
Finally, a “high” migration scenario projects the record flow of refugees into Europe between 2014 and 2016 to continue indefinitely into the future with the same religious composition (i.e., mostly made up of Muslims) in addition to the typical annual flow of regular migrants. In this scenario, Muslims could make up 14% of Europe’s population by 2050 – nearly triple the current share, but still considerably smaller than the populations of both Christians and people with no religion in Europe.
The refugee flows of the last few years, however, are extremely high compared with the historical average in recent decades, and already have begun to decline as the European Union and many of its member states have made policy changes aimed at limiting refugee flows.
So far, European media coverage of the Pew report that I’ve seen has been, surprising in my view, relatively straightforward and low key.
Germany’s self-defined liberal, democratic and internationally focused multimedia news operation Deutsche Welle ran this piece.
Also, here are two examples of British coverage. The first is from the conservative and populist tabloid The Sun, and the second is from the liberal and would-be erudite tabloid The Guardian. Despite their ideological differences the two outlets ran pretty basic and similar pieces.
Closer to home, Religion News Service ran a piece, while also straightforward, beneath a headline I found curious:
“Europe’s Muslim population growing -- but won’t be a majority anytime soon”.
Huh? Was that meant to comfort or was it a warning? As I said, a curious wording.
Now back to our core point; what’s the appropriate reaction to this historical population shift?
Following the “medium” projection scenario, Sweden’s Muslim population is expected to hit 20.5-percent of the nation’s overall population by 2050. That’s a huge minority that will impact -- well, just about everything. Muslim populations in the United Kingdom (16.7 percent) and Germany (10.8 percent) will also increase substantially by mid-century.
At the other end of the spectrum, nations (mostly in Eastern Europe) that have been loath to accept Muslim immigrants, such as Poland (.2) and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (all under 1 percent) will experience only minor Muslim growth by 2050.
So what’s to be done?
I'm not expert enough, and surely not arrogant enough, to tell other nations what to do about their demographic challenges.
What’s better? Is the Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, the Dalai Lama, correct, when he says change is inevitable and it's better, on a spiritual level, to adapt than resist? (I doubt few Get Religion readers will whole-hardily agree with that.)
Or is Australia correct? Or the path clearly favored by President Donald Trump? Keep in mind the anti-Muslim backlash now surging in Europe and elsewhere.
Or is there a reasonable, rational middle ground that could even lead to an acceptable, and peaceful, pluralism?
I confess that I struggle with settling on a proper way forward to intelligently deal with nation-altering, demographic change.
History tells me that the newcomers, should they arrive in sufficient numbers and with a conquering attitude, tend to overwhelm those already in place -- even to the point of cultural decimation. History is littered with such examples, and so it's unsettling.
But I'm also descended from Eastern European Jews who escaped poverty, persecution and war in their homelands, so I’m not unsympathetic to the needs of suffering refugees or economic immigrants. And I might add that my people also were not particularly welcomed by all when they arrived.
Speaking of welcome, you’re welcome to unload your thoughts in the comment section below.