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Doug Saunders: The groundless fear of Muslim immigration Add to ...

We have forgotten this history. And we have forgotten that the same things were said about the waves of East European Jewish immigrants before the war. The phrase “Judeo-bolshevism” was that era’s equivalent to today’s “Islamo-fascism,” and was frequently directed against Jewish immigrants.

Part of this was classic anti-Semitism, but from 1880 onwards there was a new anti-Semitism directed at Jews as immigrant outsiders: They wore odd clothes, were poor and generally illiterate, clustered themselves in self-segregated neighbourhoods, were almost all Orthodox and culturally conservative, were associated in the public mind with crime and radicalism, and were reproducing at a great pace. These seemingly commonsense observations about Eastern Jews soon allowed much of the Western public to blandly tolerate the greatest mass murder in history.

If we want to avoid repeating history, we need to recognize its patterns around us.


And then, the facts

One reason why the “Muslim tide” hypothesis has gone unchecked for so long is because we simply didn’t know much about the immigrants from Muslim-majority countries in our midst. They were too new: Almost half of Canada’s million Muslims, for example, are immigrants, two thirds of whom arrived after 1990.

But the last three or four years have seen a revolution in our understanding of Muslim populations in the West, with a dozen large-scale studies, surveys and projections providing a detailed picture of this minority group – their activities, beliefs, integration patterns and sources of political extremism and moderation. These studies show that many ideas behind the “Muslim tide” (including some held by Muslims themselves) are myth, not fact.

Behind the “Muslim tide” myth lie three core beliefs. First is the claim that their populations are growing so rapidly that Muslims will become majorities everywhere. Because Muslim immigrants tend to come from poor, rural regions prone to overpopulation, they often arrive with large families and have many children soon after settling in their new country. This has created the perception that they will soon swamp countries with low fertility rates.

But this is a gross misinterpretation of what is happening to Muslim populations. Muslim-majority countries are experiencing the fastest decline in fertility and population growth in the world. Witness Iran, the world’s only Islamic theocracy, where mothers had an average of 7 children each in the 1980s; that number has now dropped to 1.7, below the averages in France and Britain (at least 2.1 is required for a country to have population growth). In Turkey, the average has fallen to 2.15 children; in Lebanon, to 1.86; in the United Arab Emirates, 1.9. In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, the family size is about to slip below two children.

This rapid decline in fertility is even more pronounced among Muslims who migrate to the West. Muslims in Canada have on average 2.4 children per family. That’s above Canada’s average of 1.7, but it appears that Muslims born in Canada – that is, the children of immigrants – go on to have only about two children each. And by the next generation, they will be close to the Canadian average.

Claims that Europe will be overrun by a “Muslim majority” are based on similar misreadings. The most comprehensive projections of Islamic populations indicate that Europe’s Muslim population will reach about 7.1 per cent by 2030, at which point Muslims on the continent will be averaging only 2 children per family. The total Muslim population could peak at around 9 per cent, but better education and citizenship policies would make it lower.

Falling fertility rates are a sign of integration: They entail the use of birth control, the empowerment of women and a broadly secular understanding of the world. And they point to a broader (if not universal or consistent) pattern of integration – dispelling a second core belief of the “Muslim tide,” which holds that Muslims are less likely, or interested, in integration than previous groups.

Indeed, a major 2009 study of Canadian immigrants found that skin colour, not religion, is the determining factor in integration: “If anything,” it concluded, “South Asian and Arab and West Asian Muslims report somewhat higher levels of integration than co-ethnics in other religions.”

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