Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Myth of the Muslim Tide, by Doug Sanders

Doug Sanders, The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? 2012 Vintage Books

This is such an excellent book. I have grown so tired over the years of the hysterical anti-Muslin rhetoric I hear on the internet. Some of this nonsense, such as the claim of a Muslim 'demographic timebomb' I have often tried to counter myself. Doug Sanders addresses various myths about Islam in the west, showing that Islamophobic claims are simply not supported by the facts. He is not uncritical of Islam and acknowledges that the presence of Muslims in the west does raise difficult issues, but these issues must be addressed with a cool head and without alarmism.

Before tackling the various myths about Islam, Sanders gives an account of Anders Breivik's atrocity. He brings this up because prior to carrying out his massacre, Breivik wrote a manifesto which used the standard Islamaphobic arguments that can be found in mainstream writers like Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips. Obviously, Sanders is not accusing the critics of Islam of the monstrous evil of Breivik, but he points out that he was inspired by common claims of the critics of Islam. Breivik was not a Nazi or a Fascist. He held some bizarre ideas, but many of the ideas in his manifesto are things that would be claimed by supporters of UKIP, or presidential candidates like Trump, Cruz or Carson. What I take from this is that when writers continually rehash arguments and claims that are built on fear and anger, this can only lead to violence.

The first issue our author tackles is that of demographics. The Islamophobes claim that Muslims have higher birthrates than Europeans and so will become the majority population in Europe. I was well aware that this was nonsense before reading this book, but Sanders does a great job of marshaling the relevant facts. He points out that there is nothing that requires Muslims to have lots of children, as the Catholic religion does. Many Muslim countries such as Iran and Turkey have low birthrates. The global trend is towards a decline in the Muslim birthrate. The Muslim countries with the highest birthrates are those in Africa, which have less immigration to Europe. When Muslim immigrants come to Europe, they tend to have more children than their neighbours, but this fits the pattern of immigrants having children once they have settled in the host countries. All the evidence suggests that Muslim immigrants are following the pattern of lower birthrates in their host countries. After all, the same economic pressures that lead Europeans to have less children affect Muslims in Europe. The birthrate of Muslims in Europe is falling.

This book is unfortunately written before the recent migrant crisis in Syria. While it is nevertheless very relevant with the heavy internet discussion of Muslim immigration and Trump's ridiculous proposal of a Muslim ban, the author is not able to take the refugee crisis into equation. Does the refugee crisis mean that Sanders arguments are invalidated. I do not think so. While the Syrian crisis will increase the Muslim population in Europe, the refugees are coming from one country and are going to many different destination countries.

One very interesting point that Sanders makes, which is not central to the main arguments, but ought to be of interest to Catholics. It is commonly claimed by conservatives that the decline in European fertility is a result of the decline in religion. However, Sanders points out the uncomfortable truth that the countries in Europe with the highest church attendance, Slovakia and Poland have the lowest birthrates. While France and Sweden, with low church attendance have the highest birthrates. This is very interesting. Perhaps it is somehow a result of Communism, as Ireland bucks this trend, having an high rate of church attendance and an higher birthrate. Incidentally, Bosnia, a Muslim majority country in Europe has a very low birthrate.

Sanders then moves on to questions of culture and assimilation. He assembles polling data to show that Muslims in Europe do identify with the values of their host countries. British Muslims are somewhat less integrated than their co-religionists and identify less with the UK, yet on the whole British Muslims do show a fair degree of patriotism. Contrary to the claim that Muslims never integrate, Sanders points out that a quarter of Muslim women in France are married to a non-Muslim. It is also claimed that Muslims in Europe form isolated communities and no-go areas. Sanders argues that where this is the case, it is down to economic exclusion and not religion. Sanders points out that despite such problems, a lot of young Muslim people are succeeding academically in schools and colleges. Yet many other Muslim children far poorly in European schools. He argues that two factors are at work; an immigrant drive to succeed and an education system and labour market that throws up many obstacles to success.

It is claimed that Muslims in the west support terror attacks. Sander assembles polling date that contradicts this. The subject of Sharia law comes up a lot on Twitter, usually raised by people who know almost nothing about the subject. Sanders points out that the establishment of Sharia courts in the west is not about Muslims wanting to impose their laws but is about private arbitration within the Muslims community. Catholics and Jews also have their own religious tribunals. He expresses concern about the implications of women being disadvantaged by such private justice. He explains that western societies can decide either to prevent such arbitration, or else to regulate it. He denies that Muslims want Sharia to be imposed in the west. This is simply not what polls show.

Regarding the claim that terrorism is a natural outgrowth of Islam, Sanders looks at the results of counter-terrorism research. The evidence of this research is that while the profile of Jihadist terrorists vary, they tend to be well educated and well assimilated Muslims. They are seldom from segregated communities, but are immersed in western culture, often with good jobs. They tend not to be devout or very religious Muslims, but those who have experimented with sex, drugs and other decadent aspects of western lifestyles. They are rarely recruited within Mosques, but are drawn into close circles of friends. While radical Islamists are associated with terrorism, Sanders argues that Islamic radicals and Jihadists are actually two distinct and rival agendas. He suggests the controversial strategy of co-operation between the authorities and radical Islamists as a way of preventing recruitment to terrorism. That Jihadism has nothing to do with ultraconservative Islam suggests that the British government is very misguided in its policy of addressing 'non-violent extremism' and urging integration as the solution to Islamic terrorism. Segregated communities and ultraconservatism may be problems, but if Sanders is right and everything I have read confirms he is, addressing them will not prevent Jihadist recruitment and might actually increase it.

In the third section of the book, entitled "We've Been Here Before," our author looks back in history at previous waves of migration. He demonstrates that the same fears of Muslim immigration were directed at Jewish and Catholic immigrants. Previous generations of Americans believed that Jewish and Catholic immigrants could never assimilate to the American way of life and that their beliefs were antithetically opposed to the American constitution. Sometimes when this comparison is made, it is objected that those prejudices were irrational and that Protestant Americans in the 19th and 20th century did not have the reasons to fear Jews and Catholics, as we do Muslims. However, Sanders points out that there were many Jews in the Communist movement. It was easy to suspect that Jewish immigrants might be a Trojan horse of Communist infiltrators. As for Catholics, Ireland had a terrorist problem and the Catholic countries of Europe were falling for Fascism. The fact that Catholics were once the victims of anti-immigrant prejudice makes me feel ashamed to see so many Catholics today promoting fear and distrust toward Muslim immigrants.

As I said, Sanders does have concerns about problems posed by Islamic immigration. He cites the problem of an increasing tendency to adopt a generic transnational Islamic identity. Previous generations had a combined identity of their home country and their adopted country. An Indian Muslim would identify more closely with Indian Hindus than with Muslim immigrants from other countries, but this has increasingly changed as a younger generation finds itself identifying with a new sense of Islam as a people. Related to this, Sanders is deeply concerned about some of the failures of Muslim communities to integrate. He also talks about the privatization of religion and how this is a cause of fundamentalism, as well as a product of secularization.

I would have liked to have seen Sanders say a little bit about Taqiyya (dissimulation), which is usually brought up by Islamophobes whenever Muslims say things that contradict their jaundiced view of Islam. As I said, it is frustrating that this book was written before the present migrant crisis, so we are not able to get Sanders take on the issues posed by Syrian refugees, along with the horrible incident that took place in Cologne. I suspect Sanders will probably write a revised edition of this book soon given its relevance.

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