Various scenarios seen for evolution in number of Muslims in Europe

With the continuing ascension of the far right, identity is increasingly used as a defining issue in the political outlook of many.
December 10, 2017
Muslims offer Eid al-Adha prayers in a convention center in Marseille

Tunis - Muslims are almost certain to increase as a proportion of Eu­rope’s population, irrespective of any change in migration policy. How­ever, analysts and rights groups expressed concern over the risk of the far right seizing on demographic shifts to stoke intolerance.

A report by the Pew Research Cen­tre in Washington stated that in 2016 Muslims in Europe totalled 25.8 mil­lion — 4.9% of the total population. The report posited three potential scenarios, including Muslim immi­gration levels continuing at the cur­rent elevated rate, due not least to the war in Syria and conflicts in oth­er predominantly Muslim countries. In that case, the percentage of Mus­lims in Europe was projected to in­crease to 14% of the total population by 2050, climbing as high as 20% in Germany and 30% in Sweden.

Pew’s second model had immigra­tion returning to levels before 2014 and projected Europe’s Muslim pop­ulation increasing to 11.2%.

The third scenario, in which Mus­lim immigration halted entirely, said the percentage of Muslims would rise to 7.4% of the popula­tion by 2050. This would be due to higher birth rates among Muslims, compared to birth rates in other de­mographic groups, as well as a gen­erally younger Muslim population.

That Europe will undergo a demo­graphic shift appears unavoidable. How the region’s broader popula­tion reacts to that change is uncer­tain.

“I’m pessimistic about how host communities will respond to these demographic patterns,” Claire Adida, co-author of “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Her­itage Societies,” wrote in e-mailed comments.

“My research (with David Lai­tin and Marie-Anne Valfort) shows that, at least in the French context, French individuals with no recent immigrant background display more antagonism towards Muslims when they are surrounded by more Muslims. Former French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux captured this with a now-infamous quote: ‘When there’s one [Muslim], that’s OK. It’s when there’s a lot of them that there are problems.’”

Over the summer, right-wing ac­tivists from the group Generation Identity crowdfunded a boat to go to the Mediterranean to block rescue ships taking predominantly Muslim migrants to Europe.

“[I]t shows how audacious, and clever, the extreme right has be­come,” Nick Ryan, communica­tions director of the advocacy group HOPE not hate, wrote via e-mail. “What we see from the wider anti- Muslim movement, internationally and also Donald Trump retweeting a hard-line, anti-Muslim hate group (Britain First) in the UK, is that atti­tudes towards Muslims that would have once been ‘fringe’ have moved closer to the mainstream. Then there are networks like Breitbart, enablers of hate who push a con­stant fake news, anti-Muslim mes­sage, which ends up shared widely via social media platforms.

“These groups push the mes­sage that Muslims are taking over, swamping us, will impose sharia law on everyone else, that Europe will become ‘Eurabia’ and that Islam is some sort of dangerous totalitar­ian cult,” Ryan said. “That is a false narrative, being pushed hard over social media, and must be exposed for the falsity it contains.”

Based on the last two years, Ger­many was projected to receive the greatest number of future migrants in Europe. However, given that the data are based largely on Germany’s acceptance of large numbers of Syr­ian refugees in September 2015, fu­ture migration figures are question­able, Pew noted.

“The most realistic endpoint for Europe,” Pew said, may be that “Muslims could make up between 11.2% and 14% of Europe’s popula­tion in 2050.”

Figures about religious affiliation can be difficult to collect in secu­lar countries in Europe. In France, for instance, collecting such data is against the law. The authors of the report noted that, while some Mus­lims would claim that religion had no role in their everyday experienc­es, others would argue that “Muslim identity profoundly shapes their daily lives.”

However, in a Europe that is look­ing increasingly polarised, much of this will matter little. With the con­tinuing ascension of the far right, identity is increasingly used as a de­fining issue in the political outlook of many. The only certainty is that the “projections” regarding Muslim demographics in Europe will con­tinue to fuel many controversies to come.

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