Thursday, September 10, 2015

This is not a Muslim invasion

As the wave of Syrian refugees continues pouring into the promised lands of Europe, it would be advisable to respond to the rhetoric coming from sections of the European public and political class about a potential "Muslim invasion".

The worst culprit in this regards is certainly Viktor Orban, Hungary's very right-wing prime minister, who recently used the term "Muslim invasion" in a speech. He also claimed that Hungarians know what it is like to live with Muslims, because they had to experience it for 150 years. He was referring to Hungary's conquest by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. Why this should provide the basis for dealing with a modern influx of refugees, I have no idea.

Orban is a pretty scary character, who is openly disdainful of democracy and what's more is getting the support of the majority of Hungarians. When a prime minister publicly uses language like that, it inflames the situation and legitimates popular prejudice. But the truth is that this refugee crisis has exposed a nasty strain of thinking across Central/Eastern Europe, with Slovakia agreeing to take in 800 Syrian refugees, but only at the condition that they are all Christians.

Luckily, many Western European countries have been far more accommodating with the refugees who make it to their borders. But even in Western Europe there has been some nasty rhetoric and protests, originating from movements like Germany's Pegida, an acronym for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West". Although Germany has been commendably generous in taking in refugees, there have also been numerous arson attacks on shelters meant to house refugees, and physical attacks against the refugees themselves.

It is important to remember that we are talking about hundreds of thousands of Syrians spreading out over a continent of 500 million people. They are escaping a war-torn country, or they are leaving Turkey after being stuck there for years without the permission to work. They may well decide to return to Syria once the situation improves. There is no way that they constitute a "Muslim invasion" of anything (not to mention that not all Syrians are Muslim).

More generally, looking at the actual statistics, it is a simple fact that there is no risk of Europe turning Muslim any time soon. Muslims do not even constitute 10% of the population in any EU country. The country with the highest proportion of Muslims is France, where they are 7.5% of the population. In Germany they are 5.8%, in Britain 4.8%, and in Italy 3.7% (and not all of them are especially devout or practicing). In Hungary, the country which the worst rhetoric is emanating from, Muslims are less than 0.1%. Throughout the European Union, the Muslim population has grown at a rate of 1% a decade, from 4% in 1990 to 6% in 2010. At this rate, they will be 10% by 2050. The end is nigh!

I don't disagree that some Muslims hold unacceptable attitudes. Last summer's wave of attacks on Synagogues and Jewish targets throughout Europe came mainly from Muslims. It is a fact that the children of Muslim immigrants don't always develop attitudes closer to those of the societies they grow up in, and sometimes become more radical in their beliefs than their parents. If I really thought Muslims were going to become the majority in Europe, I might be concerned, since I have no wish for my own society to adopt Muslim mores. All evidence suggests that there is no risk of this however.

The fact is that taking in refugees from war-torn Syria is a reasonable thing to do, and Europe as a whole is quite able to absorb them. Talking about a Muslim invasion or the "Islamization of Europe" at a time like this is plainly irresponsible, especially when people are worried about their futures and looking for a scapegoat. What the crisis has highlighted, however, is the need for a proper mechanism by which the various EU states can coordinate and decide how to share out the burden. As usual, in times of need it's every European country for itself, with the EU counting for little. 

Syrian refugees walk along a railway track to cross the Serbian border with Hungary


Richard said...

Anyone reaching Germany would have travelled through many safe countries where they could have sought asylum. Aiming for richer Germany indicates these latest arrivals are economic immigrants rather than refugees and accepting them will lure more to try their luck for a better life. I know I would try it if I was from a poor corrupt country and the door to Europe seemed open.

Ji Xiang said...

@Richard: it says on your profile that you are from Australia.

If there was a war in Australia, would you want to seek refugee in countries like Indonesia or the Philippines, or would you try and make it to prosperous, free countries like Germany or the US where you could actually make a living?

As I mentioned in the article, many of the Syrians were already in Turkey before setting off for Europe. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have taken in the biggest number of Syrian refugees, but these countries have limited resources to deal with them, and it is impossible for them to make a living and start a new life there.

Richard said...

Certainly I would try for a rich country - as mentioned in my previous comment - but that does that not mean I or any other economic migrant am entitled to be accepted.

José Luis said...

Invasion or not, Muslim immigrantion is scary. The reasons:

1) they reproduce faster than locals, and population can grow exponentially so today's 5% can become 20% in few decades. Remember Kosovo?

2) they easily go into politics. In Argentina, where Muslims are a mere 0.5%, they already have a political party for the elections in next October

3) à Muslim majority is likely to adopt sharia law, an enforce that law upon non-muslims. In countries where church and state are separate entities, this is simply outrageous.

JR said...

they reproduce faster than locals

That's not what I see in Germany. The first generation of Turks in this country had a number of children; the number of the second generation's children is down to about one child. Not sure about other Muslims, but to maintain a certain standard of living, you can hardly "afford" more than one child, no matter what your faith is. Britain or France may be different cases, but I seem to understand that the birthrate in general is higher there, than in Germany.

Secondly, we have a Party of Bible-Faithful Christians here. There's no Islamic party yet, but if it will come, I doubt it will get a great following. To date, most Turks appear to be supporters of the social dems.

A Muslim majority may be a temptation for radicals to make universal sharia law happen. But before standing a chance of being successful, another requirement would need to be fulfilled: to actually attain majority status.

All the talk about who will outnumber whom is a finger-guessing game. Before WW1, Germans believed they'd outnumber the French several times. During the Weimar era, Germans feared that the French would soon outnumber them. (Popular theory back then was that too many German soldiers had learned about the simple joys of a good blow job on the other side of the Rhine - but obviously, the economy was the real reason.)

Church and state may be separate entities in many European countries, but that's a relative thing. Tony Blair only converted to Catholicism after his premiership, and the Queen is the head of the Anglican Church.

And in Germany, contracts between the state(s) and the churches have existed since about 1803, and have never been cancelled. The state doesn't only collect the church tax on the two main religions' behalf, it also subsidizes both of them. More or less educated guesses: 14.83 billion Euros since 1949.

Things can easily be seen as outrageous, so long as they get sufficiently simplified.

Ji Xiang said...


although I agree with you in general, I would like to point out that Turks might be rather unrepresentative of Muslims as a whole, since they come from a country whose government has been secular for the last one hundred years. Iranians, Pakistanis and Arabs obviously come from quite different situations.

JR said...

I would like to point out that Turks might be rather unrepresentative of Muslims as a whole

That's true. But one can also look at it this way: Turkish people have rather become more, than less aware of their religious traditions (mostly, but by no means in all cases, Islam), probably to some extent because of the developments in Turkey itself.

One couple in my environment divorced when the husband discovered his religious beliefs. He's not a radical, but in his wife's view, he had cancelled their contract. Well, sort of, anyway.

And at the same time, birth rates are going down. That's doesn't need to be a contradiction.