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In the year 2030
Will Europe become the “colony of Islam” that some predict? A hard look at the future
In April 2009, a futuristic novel by the Russian writer Elena Tchoudinova was published in France. Titled The Notre Dame Mosque of Paris: Year 2048, it depicted Paris’s grandest cathedral transformed into a mosque. That same spring, in an article titled “In the Casbah of Rotterdam,” the Italian newspaper Il Foglio crowned Rotterdam the future capital of Eurabia.
Since the advent of the 21st century, any number of scholars, journalists, and Internet populists have argued that, for Europe, demography is destiny—that the combination of runaway Muslim birthrates, suicidal native European fertility rates, and white flight will lead to a set of western Islamic republics by mid-century.
Native European fertility rates have indeed fallen since World War II. And labor migration together with government provisions for family reunification have led to the exponential growth of a new Muslim minority. But the future demographic landscape of Europe will be etched less starkly than many suppose. In 2030, to be sure, Islam will continue to be the fastest-growing religion in many parts of the continent (with evangelical Protestantism keeping pace in some places), and many disused churches will have become mosques. A small number of cities will be on the verge of a Muslim majority—Amsterdam, Bradford (England), Malmö, Marseille—and one of every four residents in London, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin will have a Muslim background. But it will also be clear that many of the manifestations of Muslim radicalism and cultural dislocation observable today were merely temporary.
It does not occur to some critics that Muslims are not always deliberately trying to offend their hosts’ sensibilities: that men pray outdoors due to the shortage of mosques; that some slaughter lambs in bathtubs because there are not enough halal abattoirs; that imams are imported because Islamic theological seminaries have not yet taken root in Europe; that some Muslims have brought their grievances to the streets because they lack the right to vote. The key change by 2030 will be this: As the proportion of Muslims of foreign nationality in Europe decreases (because the number of native-born Muslims increases), Europe’s democratic political institutions will kick in. Integration problems will persist, but discussions of how to resolve them will no longer be crudely couched in terms of the clash of civilizations, at least not primarily. The social, cultural, and political adjustments are already under way.
Much has been made in recent years of the claim that “the wombs of Muslim women will ultimately grant us victory in Europe” (a remark attributed to former Algerian president Houari Boumédiene). In fact, the year 2030 will signal a different direction, as the Muslim demographic boom in Europe levels off. A natural deflation of fertility among women of immigrant origin will take place; at the same time, there will be a slight rise in fertility among non-Muslim women in much of western and northern Europe, triggered by “pro-family” government measures—including more affordable child care—designed to draw them into the workplace. (More European women will become wage earners; some will also opt for a larger family.)
Overall, the population of Muslim background in the EU-25 (the European Union’s 25 members as of 2006), will increase to 25 million in 2030—out of a total 468.7 million Europeans—lifting the percentage of Muslims in European countries to 5.3 percent (from 3.7 percent in 2008). At that point, France and Germany will likely be between 15 and 16 percent Muslim. In Britain, minorities (including non-Muslims) will make up 27 percent of the population and 36 percent of persons younger than 14.
Women of Muslim background in Europe will still have higher fertility rates than the overall population, but the gap will narrow considerably. Signs of this change have been evident since 2008. That year, women of North African, West African, and Turkish background in Europe had higher rates—at 2.3 to 3.3 births per woman—than native European women, but the fertility rates of those foreign-born women were already well below the rates in their countries of origin. For example, the fertility rate of Moroccan-born women in the Netherlands dropped from 4.9 births in 1990 to 2.9 in 2005; that of Turkish-born women fell from 3.2 to 1.9 births in the same period. (The magic number for population replacement is held to be 2.1.) In Germany in 1990, Muslim women gave birth to two more children, on average, than their native German counterparts; in 1996 the difference was down to one; and in 2008, it dropped to 0.5. Throughout Europe, Muslim women’s fertility rates are predicted to settle at between 1.75 and 2.25 births by 2030.
Because of a hefty pensioner bulge—tens of millions of over-60-year-olds who had no counterpart a generation earlier—Europe will remain dependent on immigration to help finance what remains of its welfare states and publicly funded retirement plans. By 2030, the accession of additional countries into the European Union—Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia (with semi-membership for Iceland and Switzerland)—will increase the EU’s base population but not alter its basic trajectory toward demographic shrinkage. Policy makers will confront the need to double or triple the annual level of net immigration, in order to reverse the downward trend in the working-age population. There is one solution, however unlikely it seems within the political conditions of 2010: Admit Turkey to the European Union in the late 2020s with qualified membership. (The leaders of France and several other national governments will almost certainly agree to forgo a risky referendum if the Turks accept reduced representation in the European parliament and commission.)
Inclusion of Turkey will allow the EU to maintain its share of 6 to 7 percent of the world’s population, thus helping to preserve its weight as a global player. It will also ensure that chronic labor shortages are filled substantially by citizens of a country committed to the EU.
Adding Turkey, of course, will also dramatically change the overall Muslim population in the European Union. With an expected 25 percent increase between 2008 and 2030, Turkey’s population will expand to 90 million, making it the largest single EU state—with a higher fertility rate and lower age structure than the other members. The share of Muslims in the EU as a whole—including Turkey—will be close to 20 percent, although net immigration from Turkey to the rest of Europe will likely not exceed three million by 2030.
How will Europe escape the political alienation of Muslims that many observers predict? The central difference between the Muslim populations of 2010 and 2030 will be that most adult Muslims in Europe will be citizens, not third-country nationals. They will speak the local language with native proficiency, and their practice of Islam will be on a course of Europeanization.
Germany will witness perhaps the most dramatic change. In its 2005 elections, fewer than one in five adult Muslims (or about 450,000) enjoyed the right to vote; but the 1999 citizenship law reform—which grants citizenship rights to children born in Germany to foreigners as long as one parent is a legal resident—has begun adding 50,000 to 100,000 newborn German citizens of Muslim background a year. The first real generation of native-born German Muslims will begin voting in national elections in 2018. Similar trends are under way in France, where as many as two million voters of Muslim background cast ballots in the 2007 national election. By 2030, that number will likely double, accounting for just under one in 10 French voters.
In 2030, the major political novelty in Europe will be the rise of a handful of openly religious Muslim politicians on nearly every national political scene. The number of single-issue Muslim voters in each constituency will not likely support a viable “Muslim party,” but political parties will begin to open their ranks in earnest to the growing minority after realizing it to be in their interest. Islamic coalitions in Denmark and the United Kingdom will establish parties that do surprisingly well in local elections; mainstream parties, weakened by fissiparous electorates, will expand their recruitment within the Muslim electorate and set aside spots at the top of candidate lists for Muslim surnames.
Overtures by mainstream parties will be facilitated by a pioneering generation of Muslim politicians who speak of reconciling their faith and citizenship and whose discourses are tailored to the national context in which they operate. In Germany and Italy, they will appeal to the tradition of politician-priests, notably between the world wars, and to the advent of Christian Democracy following the Church’s expulsion from an official role in public policy. In France and Britain, some Muslim politicians will invoke the precedent set by Jewish statesmen, 19th-century figures such as French interior minister Adolphe Crémieux and British parliamentarian Lionel de Rothschild.
In the future, it may be seen that the autumn of 2008 marked a turning point in the political integration of European Muslims—when Ahmed Aboutaleb became mayor of Rotterdam and Cem Özdemir became chairman of the German Green Party. Aboutaleb and Özdemir represent two distinct visions—one religious, one secular—yet both are patriotic and forward thinking. Özdemir is a non-practicing secularist who married a woman of Catholic background from Argentina; Aboutaleb, the son of an imam, is an observant Muslim who proved his political bona fides by maintaining excellent relations with Jewish politicians and by speaking out against separatists and extremists in Muslim communities.
These trailblazers notwithstanding, Muslims’ transition to full political participation will continue to be a delicate affair, and Muslims seeking public office will face an uphill battle.
So, what will Muslim politics look like in 20 years? Although today’s opinion polls show Muslim respondents firmly within the socialist or labor blocs in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Muslims’ political views will evolve to be socially conservative, economically liberal, and dovish on foreign policy.
A division will expand across the Muslim populations of Europe: The “assimilationists” will argue that European host societies have dropped their most offensive anti-Muslim practices and have begun to open their arms and institutions to Muslims. “Separatists” will contend that Europeans’ latent Islamophobia and deep-seated Zionism require Muslims to withdraw from daily social, political, and economic life and will attempt to go it alone by creating enclaves. The separatists will be a small minority, and their ranks will diminish with each electoral cycle owing to practical accommodations that national governments will offer as incentives for political participation, including experimenting with voluntary shari’a courts to resolve certain civil disputes.
A 2009 Gallup poll reveals grounds for optimism in the coming decades. It suggests that Muslims are more likely to identify with their European homelands than previously thought and that they have slightly more confidence than the overall European population in the judiciary and other national institutions. It also shows that 97 to 98 percent of Muslims do not support “honor killings” (of girls and young women primarily, by male relatives, over cultural issues of love or sex), approximately the same percentage as the general population. European Muslims are, however, shown to be far more socially conservative than Europeans overall, by nearly every attitudinal measure, on issues ranging from pornography to abortion to premarital sex to suicide.
The poll’s most thought-provoking section deals indirectly with the subject of political violence and terrorism. It shows a high percentage of Muslims in France (82 percent), Britain (89 percent), and Germany (91 percent) who think attacks that target civilians “cannot be justified at all.” These figures are slightly lower than polling data drawn several years earlier from national populations—in which 95 percent of the French public, 92 percent of the British, and 98 percent of Germans reportedly viewed any such attacks as insupportable.
By 2030, a small but rising Muslim middle class, grown increasingly political, will swell Islamic organizations set up to cultivate community identification and religious practice. These Muslims will have been born and raised in Europe and be less likely to have lived at great length abroad. Many will be attuned to issues of prejudice from their experiences as university students or job seekers or simply as passengers on the metro. They will fix on the vulnerability to external attack of the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Iran to Palestine, and on the yet-to-be-consolidated political status of the Muslim minority in Europe. They will tend to be critical of U.S. foreign policy and will express solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Zionism. Even when acknowledging the misdeeds of Muslims—whether terrorist or anti-Semitic—they will voice a narrative of “victimization,” and they will publicize Islamophobic incidents when these occur. In sum, they will have learned from the example of non-Muslim advocacy groups that the best offense is defense. Similarly, Muslim religious leaders will publicly renounce violence; they will seize on incidences of blasphemy toward Islam as opportunities to teach about their faith, whether as part of a public relations effort or a proselytizing agenda.
Overall in 2030, there will be a significant buzz of interfaith activity with Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant groups. Certain Muslim organizations may retain their proclivity toward hate literature—mostly aimed at Jews, Israelis, and Shi’as—but young Muslims involved in activities at the pan-European level will be very likely to interact with different-minded people through interfaith weekends and conferences.
Attempts to build effective foreign policy lobbies on behalf of Muslim interests will largely fail. Two major foreign policy developments have the potential to change the geopolitical landscape by 2030—Turkey’s accession to the EU and the creation of a Palestinian state or regional protectorate. Should either event take place, it will happen imperfectly: Critics will cite restrictions on the free movement of Turks and Turkey’s limited institutional role within the European parliament and commission; Palestine will endure anti-Islamist military raids launched alternately by a NATO rapid-response coalition and the forces of Egyptian president Mubarak (fils). But once the Palestinian question, especially, has been partly resolved, applying salve to the open tensions between France’s 10 million Muslims and one million Jews, there will be little consensus among Europe’s Muslim organizations on what the next geopolitical priorities should be.
Despite concrete progress in the political realm, the social integration of Muslims in Europe will encounter some limitations. European nations will do well to tend to domestic issues, as fears of a developing Muslim-origin underclass prove well founded in 2030 and unemployment in this group surpasses 15 percent. In an already swelling prison population, Muslim prisoners will make up a majority of the incarcerated. They will not be the central thread of Muslim Europe’s tapestry, to be sure, but they will be used as an example by skeptics who will argue that Muslims will never fit into European society.
Several countries will continue to restrict the migration of spouses. “Import brides” worry authorities, not simply because many of their marriages are forced or arranged but also because they renew the first-generation condition in which children are born into households that lack proficient speakers of the host language.
Incoming spouses will have to fulfill age requirements (23 years) and attend a linguistic and cultural training course. Already, an immigration readiness test has been put in place by the Netherlands (in 2006), known in migrant circles as the “topless-homo test” because the video portion shows images of gay men kissing and a topless woman on a beach, as a way of ensuring that immigrants understand what to expect in their new culture. Black-market versions of such exam videos will be available in many cities of origin, as will advance copies of answer sheets. Women will be advised to avert their eyes at the appropriate moments in the video, a tactic not unlike that of the 19th-century Jews in Italian ghettos who put wax in their ears when forced to attend church. Associations representing immigrants will sue governments, arguing that the mandatory courses and examinations threaten their cultural heritage, but the European Court of Justice will uphold national government prerogatives in this area.
In the years leading up to 2030, European governments will have made small concessions to religion in the public sphere—not only granting limited and voluntary jurisdiction to religious law in some civil cases but also laying out fair guidelines on the wearing of religious clothing in public institutions. In France, after persistent political mobilization by Muslim voters, the headscarf ban of 2004 will be reformed through a legislative review process. The law will effectively revert to the spirit of the compromises of the early 1990s, allowing schoolgirls who choose to wear a headscarf to do so during lunch recess. The new law will also unambiguously state the right of all citizens to wear religious garb (with the exception of facial coverings) in public buildings such as city halls. This resolution will demonstrate that peaceful mobilization can achieve change, but it will also spur the creation across France of dozens of Islamic schools under contract with the state. Muslim parents with the greatest concern about religious observance will send their girls to a subsidized religious school, as their Jewish and Catholic counterparts do.
Also by 2030, honor killings of the sort that shocked Germany and Britain during the first decades of Muslim settlement will be classified as hate crimes against women under European law, imposing a mandatory additional 50 percent in civil penalties to any criminal sentence.
The most serious challenges to Muslim integration will come in two forms: terrorism and nativism. In 2030, both the leaders of terrorist cells and the individuals providing material support to them will be European born. The inspiring ideology will still come from abroad, but practically every terrorist incident and arrest will be homegrown. Suspects will have the full rights of citizenship, and European governments will not be able to deport them to Pakistan or Tunisia, or elsewhere, as the U.K. and Italian governments, for example, do today.
Muslim associations and European governments will exchange court cases and victories: A new generation of human rights lawyers will undercut the widespread practice of identity spot checks, even as governments gain new detention powers. Caught between the two, across Europe, will be thousands of new domestic intelligence agents of Muslim origin. Like the Italian-American FBI agents and district attorneys who helped cripple the Mafia in America’s cities, Muslim European agents will help their respective states infiltrate and dismantle violent extremist networks. Police forces and Muslim communities will become increasingly interdependent, and the first Muslim prefects and commissioners will be appointed in a number of European cities. Security agencies in Germany and elsewhere will drop their objections to the formation of Muslim political parties, concentrating instead on remaining well informed of their ambitions.
Meanwhile, the naturalization of Muslim terrorism within Europe will increase fears of a fifth column. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, elected officials will propose laws requiring referendums on mosque construction and put forth proposals for mass deportation of illegal migrants from Muslim countries.
Even so, the number of mosques will continue to increase across the continent, so that by 2030 the ratio of Muslims to prayer spaces will be more in line with the ratio of Jews and Catholics to synagogues and churches. Both the funding and personnel for the new prayer spaces will come largely from abroad, increasingly channeled through European national Muslim associations. Europe will be a generation away from a fully native-born and locally trained imam corps, but a slight majority of imams will have received supplemental civic training through national integration programs (and some of them will serve as chaplains in Europe’s prisons). In every European country, the government will have created national and regional Islamic councils on a par with existing arrangements for addressing the religious affairs of Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and other faith groups; indeed, the process of putting these in place is nearly completed.
The overwhelming majority of fourth- and fifth-generation Muslims in France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere will settle into a minority group identity, referring to themselves as “European Muslims,” socializing and engaging in organized political activities across borders. Relations will be tense between the established Muslim community and the steady stream of first-generation labor migrants from Turkey and North Africa, some of whom will create their own prayer spaces where they can freely speak their native tongues.
The greatest commonality across the European nations’ Muslim populations will be the entrenched divisions they all contain. Country of origin will remain a good predictor of religious practice and politics, although, increasingly, intermarriage between ethnicities (Turkish/Kurdish, Arab/Berber) and nationalities (Turkish/German, Moroccan/Algerian) and between Muslims and non-Muslims will confound categorization. The biggest internal community conflict will be over the role of religion in public life, pitting “political” Islam’s staunch anti-modernists against Muslims loyal to some form of “embassy” Islam, whose institutions have been nurtured and frequently financed by countries of origin.
These two strains will persist and indeed grow stronger. In most cities, there will be the “Turkish mosque,” the “Pakistani mosque,” the “Moroccan mosque,” and the “Islamist mosque,” and rarely if ever will the twain meet.
In opinion polls in 2030, nearly all European Muslims will say that they fast during Ramadan and that they will make a pilgrimage to Mecca in their lifetimes. Mosques on Fridays will not be quite as empty as Catholic and Protestant pews on Sundays but, like churches, Islamic houses of worship will do their briskest trade on the holiest days of the year. Eid al Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice) and Eid al Fitr (the Festival of Fast-breaking) will be on their way to becoming official holidays in nearly all EU countries that have significant Muslim minorities.
There will, however, be nothing resembling a pan-European ummah (Muslim community), at least not yet. A European Fatwa Council will be created by European Muslims to interpret Islamic law and replace the hodge-podge of Internet imams and pay-as-you-go fatwas (legal rulings). This council will receive endorsements from religious authorities in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Algeria but will not enjoy full legitimacy. It will aim to achieve the respect of the faithful over time.
Looking at the skyline of small-town Europe in 2030, it will be hard to recall the virulence with which activist groups fought mosque construction just decades earlier. Muslim terrorism will have faded as the driving force behind policy making with respect to Muslim concerns. As a result, the issue of integration will be put on a back burner, where it will benefit from being talked about less. Muslim leaders in 2030 will honor the groundbreakers of an earlier generation—including Wolfgang Schäuble, Giuseppe Pisanu, Jack Straw, Prince Charles, Pierre Joxe, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, and Nicolas Sarkozy—who asserted that Muslims are a permanent component of European societies, at a time when it was politically costly to do so. Those statesmen will be memorialized in the cornerstones of large central mosques and the dedication pages of locally printed Korans across the continent.
In 2030, decades will have passed since a great minaret went up over Oxford, fulfilling the 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon’s prophesy. Every capital city in Europe will have its own showcase mosque, or one in the planning stages. Those domes and towers will not be perceived as a threat to European civilization and its Christian roots. As the 20th-century French scholar Jacques Berque foretold, just as a distinctive North African Islam and an Indonesian Islam developed over time, so too will an Islam of Europe have germinated and begun to grow.
Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College and the author of Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France (with Justin Vaïsse, 2006). His essay is drawn and adapted by permission of Brookings Institution Press from a chapter he contributed to Europe 2030, edited by Daniel Benjamin. Copyright © 2010 by the Brookings Institution.