Five years ago bombings and riots fuelled anxiety that Europe’s Muslims were on the verge of mass radicalisation. Those predictions have not been borne out, The Observer writes:
The dire predictions of religious and identity-based mayhem reached their peak between 2004 and 2006, when bombs exploded in Madrid and London, a controversial film director was shot and stabbed to death in Amsterdam, and angry demonstrators marched against publication of satirical cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.
For Bruce Bawer, author of While Europe Slept, the continent’s future was to “tamely resign itself to a gradual transition to absolute sharia law“. By the end of the century, warned Bernard Lewis, the famous American historian of Islam, “Europe will be Islamic”. The Daily Telegraph asked: “Is France on the way to becoming an Islamic state?” The Daily Mail described the riots that shook the nation in the autumn of 2005 as a “Muslim intifada”.
Yet a few years on, though a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic forecasts continues, such fears are beginning to look misplaced. The warnings focus on three elements: the terrorist threat posed by radical Muslim European populations; a cultural “invasion” due to a failure of integration; and demographic “swamping” by Muslim communities with high fertility rates.
A new poll by Gallup, one of the most comprehensive to date, shows that the feared mass radicalisation of the EU’s 20-odd million Muslims has not taken place. Asked if violent attacks on civilians could be justified, 82% of French Muslims and 91% of German Muslims said no. The number who said violence could be used in a “noble cause” was broadly in line with the general population. Crucially, responses were not determined by religious practice – with no difference between devout worshippers and those for whom “religion [was] not important”.
“The numbers have been pretty steady over a number of years,” said Gallup’s Magali Rheault. “It is important to separate the mainstream views from the actions of the fringe groups, who often receive disproportionate attention. Mainstream Muslims do not appear to exhibit extremist behaviour.”
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Polls always vary, and other surveys can be cited to point to higher degrees of extremism. There is also the point, made repeatedly by experts, that “it only takes half a dozen for a bomb attack”. There has also been a major surge in antisemitic attacks by young men from Muslim communities, especially in France. But there is nonetheless a sense, even among Europe’s counterterror strategists, that the tide of radicalisation of young Muslim men may be ebbing.
“We estimate about 10% of our Islamic population are in a dynamic of rejection of the west and Europe, 10% are more European than the Europeans, and about 80% are in the middle, just trying to get by,” said Alain Bauer, a criminologist and security adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy. “The concern is less home-grown or imported terrorists, but states such as Iran,” he said.
Polls, for example, have found that Muslim communities are profoundly influenced by their countries of residence. So in France, where 45% of people said in a survey that adultery is morally acceptable, so did a high proportion of local Muslims. In Germany, where 73% of the population is opposed to capital punishment, the view was shared by exactly the same percentage of local Muslims. In Britain, where there is greater popular hostility to pornography, this is mirrored in the British Muslim community.
“National differences are very evident. French Muslims have absorbed the values of France, and are more secular than their German counterparts, for example,” said Rheault. Over time, this trend deepens. The Dutch Statistics Bureau’s last report on integration reported that in terms of norms, opinions and behaviour … second-generation [Dutch migrants] are much more orientated towards Dutch society than their parents.
One of the toughest questions is demographic. Many countries do not have clear statistics on ethnicity and race: the French Muslim population is thought to be between four and seven million, the Dutch around one million, the German between four and six million. No one doubts that Muslim populations have grown rapidly in recent decades. Some recent statistics in the UK point to a 20% increase in the past five years.
But although demographers say Europe’s youthful Muslim communities will continue to grow, they predict fertility rates will decline – as they have done among almost all other populations that experience higher levels of wealth, healthcare access and literacy. Carl Haub, senior demographer at the respected Population Reference Bureau, Washington, points to fertility rates in Muslim-majority countries such as Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria and Morocco that are only slightly higher than those in the UK and France.