Fox News has some egg on its face after repeatedly airing the claim that there are hundreds of areas in Europe–including the entire city of Birmingham!–that are “no go” areas for non-Muslims. David Cameron, the British prime minister, said, “When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge.” Fox has now wisely retracted this ludicrous claim, but why where so many willing to accept as “facts” claims that are not remotely factual?
The underlying basis for this controversy is the fear, widespread among many but not usually aired in public because it is so politically incorrect, that Muslims are taking over Europe and even North America. There is a widespread strain on the right, mainly in Europe but also to some extent in the U.S. and Canada, that is in an uproar over the emergence of “Eurabia” and the imposition of Sharia law in the West. The flipside of this is the alarmism heard from some Muslims who contend that widespread “Islamophobia” is a danger to them.
So which is it? Is the West being taken over by Muslims or is it blatantly discriminating against them?
The answer, not surprisingly, is neither. While there is undoubtedly some anti-Muslim prejudice throughout the West, it is tiny compared to the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-Western, and general anti-minority prejudice rampant in the Muslim world. Moreover, there are relatively few instances in the West of Muslims being attacked for their beliefs–there is no strain of attacks on Muslims remotely comparable to anti-Semitic attacks in France and other Western nations, most recently manifested in the hostage-taking and murder in a kosher market in Paris.
Although there is certainly virulent anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by the likes of Marine Le Pen, on the whole the nations of the West have been tolerant to a fault. The problem is that they have not done a very good job of assimilating Muslim immigrants who, like many other immigrants (think of the Irish or the Jews in turn-of-the-century America), tend to live in their own closed communities. This societal shortcoming–rather than any kind of Jim Crow like system–is what has bred so much resentment particularly among second-generation immigrants. To say that Europeans, in particular, need to do a better job of providing jobs and opportunities for immigrants is not to say, however, that Muslims face any officially sanctioned system of discrimination that could be termed “Islamophobic.”
What about the opposing claim–that Muslims are taking over? This is an even more ridiculous claim given what a small percentage of Europe is actually Muslim. The country with the largest Muslim population is Russia where Muslims constitute 10 percent of the total. In Western Europe the highest total is in France–7.5 percent, followed by the Netherlands (6 percent), Belgium (5.9 percent), Germany (5.8 percent), Austria (5.4 percent), and the UK (4.8 percent). Some predict that these percentages will go up dramatically in years to come while native-born Europeans will die out because of a plummeting birth rate. But such claims are not credible–they ignore the fact, for example, that Muslim birth rates are dropping in both Muslim-majority countries and in Europe. Nor are European countries likely to allow unchecked immigration from Muslim nations.
Given what a small percentage of Europe’s population–to say nothing of the U.S. or Canada–is actually Muslim, it would be hardly likely that this minority could impose its will on the majority and create some kind of fundamentalist Sharia law as so many seem to fear. And indeed, contrary to unsupported assertions by some alarmists, there is in fact no evidence of any such Islamic fundamentalist law being imposed in the West.
The one very limited exception is the area of family law where the U.S. and other Western states have long made it possible for arbitration to be used to settle disputes over divorce and the like. As the Economist has noted, rabbinic courts and Christian mediation services have arbitrated family law disputes, and now some Muslim outfits are doing the same. But this is a long way from suggesting that these Muslim arbitration services will be able to legalize medieval punishments such as stoning or flogging for “crimes” such as blasphemy or adultery. Any Muslims who try to carry out such penalties in the West will face criminal charges, and it’s hard to imagine that ever changing.
The threat from Islamist terrorism is serious and growing, but let’s not exaggerate by suggesting that an ISIS-like state is about to take over Europe or North America. That’s not going to happen. If nothing else, the widespread revulsion against the Charlie Hebdo killings–which drew monumental crowds into the streets of France–shows that the West has plenty of fight in it and is not about to roll over for its enemies.