August 9th, 2009


Misleading breeding stats are the new skull-measurement

There are few things more annoying than that breed of American right-winger who tells us -- at every opportunity -- that Europe is about to become a Muslim state. It's a meme circulated in right wing circles in Europe too -- in the idea of Eurabia, for instance, or in the book Londonistan by right wing pundit Melanie Phillips. These people have in common that they take Europe's current state of ethnic and religious pluralism and project it into a future where it becomes, suddenly, its opposite. Where one group -- the Muslims -- takes over, turning diversity into monoculture: a European muslim superstate. There's only one problem. The figures just don't add up.

This argument is based on demographic statistics. "They" are breeding faster than "us", or immigrating and failing to integrate with "our" values, and therefore becoming a "state within a state". (Odd that Americans, who built their 20th-century pre-eminence on immigration, are so reluctant to see it happen elsewhere.) But -- as the BBC's statistics programme More or Less valuably showed this weekend -- the statistics used to create a sense of panic about Europe's racial and religious diversity are simply wrong. Here's the BBC's fact check on the Muslim Demographics video above:

The really puzzling thing, for me, is how an argument so much posited on the fact of there being a "stark choice" between conflicting systems ends up taking so many of its cues from "the enemy". The blurb for the Muslim Demographics video, for instance, says "Islam will overwhelm Christendom unless Christians recognize the demographic realities, begin reproducing again, and share the gospel with Muslims." The message is that we must live as they live, otherwise we will be forced to live as they live.

A similar "let's copy the Muslims" philosophy comes through in the documentary Jesus Camp. Here's the trailer:

Again, it's basically "let's be like them before they rise up and force us to be like them". The "them" is a reductive stereotype. As one of the trainers in the Jesus Camp doc puts it: "Where should we put our focus? I'll tell you where our enemies are putting it. They're putting it on the kids. You go to Palestine and they're taking their kids to camps like we take our kids to Bible camps and they're putting hand grenades in their hands." A few seconds later we're seeing teachers in a Bible camp asking children: "How many want to be those who would give up their lives for Jesus?" A child's voice says "We're being trained to be those who'd be God's army." Hey, let's avoid falling under the yoke of Islamist terrorists by becoming something even worse!

The theory behind the Eurabia argument is as wrong as the statistics it's based on, and the praxis is illogical -- be like them so that we don't have to be like them. As a European who adores the strong and healthy Muslim presence here in Europe (and who even married, at one point, into a Muslim family), I'd like to advise these American right-wingers to cultiver their own jardin. You know, that superstate built on immigration and the idea that, wherever you came from, you're an American when you get to America. It's the same here: whoever is in Europe is a European by definition.

Resisting the Eurabians will be difficult, but ultimately I am optimistic. Sure, the Muslim Demographics video has had over ten million YouTube views and the BBC correction has had -- at the time of writing -- only 40. But growth rates on the BBC video are healthy. It is reproducing strongly. I believe that by 2050 the BBC vid will overtake and overwhelm the viewership -- and ethos -- of the Muslim Demographics film and rule it with a fist of iron. Well, a calculator of stainless steel, anyway.