Immigrant Stories: The Myth of the Muslim Tide by Doug Saunders

Ten years ago, even though America found itself fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, many in this country cast their concerned eyes towards Europe. A number of political writers, usually of the more conservative persuasion, feared that Europe was well on its way to becoming the next Muslim stronghold. Plagued by declining native birthrates just as the continent was being swamped by a tide of Islamic immigrants from across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, conservatives and even a few non conservatives feared it was the end of Western civilization. Only a few years removed from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the more recent bombings in London and Madrid, who could find fault with what these alarmed pundits had to say back in 2005 and 2006? Before we knew it, these same pundits had produced a robust crop of literature and many of us, myself included, found ourselves reading politically provocative books by the likes of Claire Berlinkski, Bruce Bawer, Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell.  To many, it looked Europe’s demise was well at hand.

Or was it? In 2007 Phillip Jenkins in his book God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crises saw things differently. According to the data available to him, while Europe was receiving a large number of Muslim immigrants, it was also receiving large numbers of Christian immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. A closer look at the data also showed him that the birthrates of these Muslim immigrants were significantly lower than earlier feared – and was projected to go even lower. Perhaps this wasn’t the end of Western civilization after all.

As Americans began to put the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan behind them and the nation slowly emerged from the Great Recession, it seemed like our fears of a rising Muslim tide assaulting Europe had quickly faded away. I too hadn’t given Europe’s ultimate fate much thought until I heard Doug Saunders interviewed on the NPR program Fresh Air. Just as Jenkins did five years earlier, Saunders did not see Europe going radical Muslim in the coming years. Listening to his interview, I was intrigued by his reasoning and supporting evidence. So intrigued was I that I added his book The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? to my Amazon wish list. I soon received the book as a Christmas present but unfortunately, like I do with so many books, left it ignored and unread for several years.

Feeling curious, one day not long ago I decided to finally give The Myth of the Muslim Tide a shot. Once again, I found myself enjoying the heck out of a book that I should have read the moment I received it. Not only is Saunders’s book an intelligent and compelling rebuttal to the Muslim Tide argument, it’s succinct and well-written.

According to the above-mentioned conservative pundits, the Muslim Tide argument is built upon several assumptions. One is Muslim immigrants in Europe will retain the high birthrates representative of their mother countries. As Saunders interprets the data, this isn’t happening. As a result, the immigrants’ birthrates are starting to resemble those of native-born Europeans. The other assumption, that those immigrants are also retaining their high degree of Muslim religiosity, also doesn’t seem to be the case. (Already 20 percent of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in France call themselves atheists.) While there have been problems in trying to integrate many of these immigrants into the larger European workforce, the problem is not their religious beliefs but the Europeans’ inability to provide beneficial educational resources, especially for young immigrant males during their formative years. Lastly, while only a small fraction of these immigrants turn to terrorism, Saunders claims these acts of terror should be seen as political acts and not necessarily religious ones. According to Saunders there’s an almost inverse relationship between personal religious devotion and violence. Taking a closer look at these terrorists’ proclamations one can see by their anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and pro-oppressed peoples rhetoric many similarities to the Marxist-inspired terror groups that ravaged Europe in the 70s and 80s.

One of things I really enjoyed about this book was Saunders’s knack for putting everything within a larger historical context. According to Saunders, it wasn’t that long ago when America feared a rising tide of Catholic and Jewish immigration. Likewise, many Western Europeans feared a similar ravaging tide of Jews from Eastern Europe. Both immigrant groups were seen as being poor, violent, overly prolific and beholden to an alien religion. Although it took generations, eventually in America these two groups were welcomed into mainstream society. (Unfortunately though, the Jews of Europe suffered horribly in the Holocaust. According to Saunders this occurred because many European were unable and unwilling to see the Jews living around them as fellow citizens and equals.) We’ve feared immigrant tides before, and if the past is any indicator, we’ll survive this one just fine.

The Myth of the Muslim Tide is an excellent book. Even if you’re critical of what Saunders has to say, I believe in the end you will find his arguments compelling, if not convincing. I highly recommend this book.

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6 Comments

Filed under Arab World, Area Studies/International Relations, Current Affairs, Europe, History, Islam, Middle East/North Africa

6 responses to “Immigrant Stories: The Myth of the Muslim Tide by Doug Saunders

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