Book Review: "The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?" by Doug Sanders

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Review by Gene Bedient

“The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?”
Author: Doug Sanders
Publisher: Random House


Book Review: "The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?" by Doug SandersRational:
Based on or in accordance with reason or logic. Reasonable, sensible, sane, logical.

“All in the Family”: In this 1970s television series, a working-class bigot argues with his family members over issues of the day. It was wildly popular. A certain reality was revealed to me one day as I was discussing the series with one of my dear colleagues at work. While not arguing for one point of view or another, my friend told me what he didn’t like about the show. Namely that the viewers tend to side with one camp or the other because their own prejudices have already been established. The show did little to persuade viewers that their perspective should change. He was right.

For those who have already made up their minds that Muslim immigrants are taking over Western culture and civilization, this important work of Doug Saunders will have no meaning. For the reader who would like to consult a well-written, well-documented, impartial source on the subject, this book is for you.

Mr. Saunders, a Canadian, is the European Bureau Chief for the London Globe and Mail. Because of his own curiosity on the subject, he has researched and written a well-documented work that is based on factual data from respected sources. The U.S. Census Bureau, The Pew Charitable Trust, the Heritage Foundation, “Annual Review of Sociology,” “Demography” magazine, Gallup, as well as many independent and European government statistics are among those cited in his extensive footnotes.

Being familiar with the opinions of popular advocates who state that Muslim immigrants will become a majority in many if not most Western countries, Saunders set out to examine factual evidence to learn if such projections are valid. Having witnessed a large influx of new immigrants from East Africa, Turkey, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, and having lived through the July 7, 2005 suicide-bombing attacks on the London transit system, Saunders writes:

“Who wouldn’t worry?... If I was capable of feeling this way, as a writer with years of experience in Muslim cultures, there must be millions of people with similar suspicions…

“And then, in the decade after the September 11 attacks, a seemingly new argument began to appear, first in the far reaches of the Internet and the mutterings of the political right, then in increasingly mainstream and mass-market venues. It began by bolstering our suspicions of those new headscarf-wearing neighbors with a few alarming anecdotes, then fanned them into smoldering distrust with some demographic and statistical claims and a bit of theology, and finally drew them to an explosive conclusion about the fate of Western societies. This argument became the subject of dozens of bestselling books, opinion pieces, blog postings, YouTube videos, political party platforms and campaign speeches, and by now has become an almost common-sense assumption for many people. It goes like this: The Muslim immigrants and their children and grandchildren, are not like earlier groups. They are reproducing at an unusually rapid pace, with fertility rates far higher than those of exhausted Western populations and at some point soon—perhaps by the mid-century—Muslims will become a majority in European Countries and North American Cities. This is a danger because unlike other immigrants, they are loyal to Islam, not to their host society.”

While making it clear that his purpose is not a defense of Islam, Saunders set out in a rational and systematic manner to learn if these claims were true. He illustrates how devastating anti-Muslim propaganda can be by explaining how it influenced the perpetrator of the 2011 Oslo killings:

“Millions of otherwise moderate and reasonable people have bought these books, enjoyed them and sometimes praised and repeated their arguments. Most readers, I suspect, are not subscribing to these authors’ more ornate conspiracies or darker claims of pending catastrophe. Rather, they are seeking a narrative that might help explain the bewildering appearance of visibly different Muslim communities in their cities, and the near-simultaneous eruptions of Islamic violence that marked the first years of this century. Much as a rumbling distrust of Catholics and Jews among earlier generations was supported by a string of hyperbolic books making similar claims, these Muslim-tide works provide most readers with more of a reassurance than a call to arms. A small minority of readers, however, have been inspired to support a new type of politics.”

If it is true, as many popular authors have posited, that Islam and/or radical Islamic movements have the goal and will achieve becoming a majority in Western countries, are there any historical precedents to bolster such fears and does statistical data support the thesis? Saunders analyses the same arguments that were made about the wave of Irish-Catholic immigrants to America at the end of the 19th century and Jews after World War II.

After a brief discussion of anti-Muslim sentiment entering recent American election rhetoric, Saunders states common claims that are made and gives appropriate analytical responses.

Claim: The Muslim population in the West is growing fast and will soon become a majority in Europe.

Response: Saunders cites “…a revolution in the statistical understanding of Muslim immigrants in Europe and North America.” He provides detailed numbers from the “…largest and most comprehensive of these projections … conducted in 2011 by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.” (The report is footnoted for those who would like to refer directly.) The report concludes that although there have been increased percentages of Muslim inhabitants in Europe, if current trends continue, the maximum percentages of Muslim citizens in Europe would be about 9.5 percent by 2050 but more likely the percentage will be about 8 percent. As Saunders says, “This is not exactly exponential growth.” It is often argued that Muslim families have much higher birth rates than European families. The Pew report concludes that the birthrate of Muslim families in Europe by 2030 will be about 2.0 children per family and the European non-Muslim families will have a rate of about 1.6 children per family. “There are no signs of Muslims becoming a European majority or even a very large minority.”

In America, the study projects that the American Muslims will comprise about 1.7 percent of the population by 2030, hardly an alarming figure.

Claim: Islamic beliefs lead to higher birth rates.

Response: In the mid-decades of the 20th centuries, one could make this argument but it no longer holds true.

“Consider the case of Iran. In the mid-1980s, the world’s only Islamic theocracy had a fertility rate approaching 7 children per family. By 2010, Iranian average family size had fallen to 1.7 children—a lower rate than in Britain or France.” Saunders poses that this change was not brought about by any change in religious belief because Iran remains devoutly Muslim. It has rather been changed by rapid urbanization, increased literacy among women and a high rate of usage of contraception. “Islam does not feature Christianity’s scriptural instruction to ‘multiply and replenish the earth.’”

Claim: Muslim immigrants in the West are destined to reproduce faster than people around them.

Response: Statistics bear out the fact that when immigrants who come from a tradition of large families in their native countries arrive in a Western urban setting, they soon learn that they cannot afford to have a large family. After a generation, their birth rates are similar to those in their new country of residence.

Claim: In the future a lot more immigration will be Muslim.

Response: It depends on the economy. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the percentage of immigrants plummeted.

“The recession’s effect on immigration taught us two things. First, that immigrants—legal or illegal—don’t take the risks and put out the cash to enter a foreign country simply in order to live there and collect welfare benefits. They come specifically to participate in the economy. Second, it taught us that however tempting the metaphor, people do not actually pour out of poor, overcrowded countries into the nearest, prosperous states. Migration depends on cultural and economic connections.”

Claim: An atheist, socialist, welfare-dependent West has lost the moral will to reproduce and to resist an Islamic takeover.

Response: Saunders analyzes the most religious countries in the West (as measured by the percentage of population who attend a house of worship regularly. Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal and Italy, for example.) If one examines the European countries with the lowest fertility rates, and the fastest-shrinking and fastest-aging populations, it is essentially the same list. Poland has only 1.3 children per family.

“The most fertile states in Europe include France, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, all with a fertility rate of around 2.0 children per family. These also happen to be among the countries with the highest rates of atheism and the lowest rates of religious observance. If something is hollowing out Europe and leaving it vulnerable to immigrant population growth, it sure isn’t secularism…”

Saunders devotes a chapter to questions surrounding integration of Muslim immigrants into Western society.

Claim: Muslim immigrants are overwhelmingly guided by a religion that they regard as more an ideology than a spiritual faith. Muslim immigrants are not loyal to their host countries. Their loyalties lie with their religion or their countries of birth.

Response: There have been a lot of recent surveys completed by Muslims living in Europe and America. Polling data demonstrates that Muslim immigrants in most countries are adapting quickly to the social and sexual values and fertility patterns of the West, and they are generally becoming enthusiastic supporters of the state and democratic institutions around them. Trends from the polling indicate that the Muslim immigrants are by high percentages adopting secular and/or religious patterns of behavior very similar to those of the citizens of their new country of choice. This is a strong indication that they are much less likely to be guided by Islamic ideology than by the customs they learn in their new country.

Claim: Muslim immigrants want to live apart, in isolated “parallel societies.”

Response: Because Muslim immigrants generally come from impoverished countries, they are not in for an easy time when they arrive in a more prosperous Western country. They are obliged to live with friends or relatives from their mother country and they are obliged to take the lowest-paying, least secure jobs that the economy has to offer. For the most part, they are also obliged to start from the beginning with minimal or no language skills. These factors definitely lead them to at first live in the most familiar and most accessible neighborhoods they can find. After they become economically established, it is clear that they take steps to become integrated into the new society in all respects.

In the next section, Saunders takes on claims of extremism.

Claim: Muslims in the West tend to be angry at the society around them.

Response: “Behind all of the fears of religious extremism, creeping sharia law and sleeper-cell terrorism lies the spectre of the angry Muslim. It is not hard to imagine that the faces behind the veils are scowling at the world around them, its decadence and faithlessness, and hoping for something better… Is there a wellspring of bitterness and disenchantment that will yield even more violence and extremism?

“Actually, Muslims appear to be among the least disenchanted and the most satisfied people in the West. We already saw that Muslim immigrants are unusually content with their host countries, governments and democratic institutions. Recent years have seen a series of major investigations into the broader feelings and beliefs of these Muslims, and the results are both unambiguous and reassuring.”

Saunders proceeds to verify this assertion with statistics about Muslims in Britain, France and America.

Claim: Significant numbers of Muslims cheer for terroristic violence.

Response: When American Muslims are asked in surveys if acts of violence against civilian targets, such as bombings, are sometimes justified if the cause is right, 7 percent of respondents say that yes, they are justified and 1 percent of American Muslims say that they are often justified. However, when the same question was asked of Americans in general, an astounding 24 percent said they believe that bomb attacks aimed at civilians are “often or sometimes justified” and 6 percent feel they are “completely justified.”

“In other words, American Muslims are between four and six times less likely than other Americans to endorse violent acts against civilians.”

Claim: Muslims want to set up ‘sharia courts’ in Western countries.

Response: A large discussion is devoted to this topic and the current wisdom/practices/theories of various Western countries are presented in detail. Regarding the popular claim that terrorism is an inevitable extension of fundamentalist Islamic faith, Saunders points out that understanding the roots and causes of terrorism are key to understanding and answering this question. Decades of analysis of a great deal of extremist literature as well as dialogue/interviews with thousands of current and former terror-cell members reveal that (1) it is not generally devout or fundamentalist Muslims who become terrorists and (2) terrorists are driven by political beliefs, not by religious faith.

Is growth in Muslim populations accompanied by a growth in Islamic extremism and terrorism?

“In the United States, there has been a false perception that Islamic terrorism is on the rise, in large part because of three high-profile (but unrelated) incidents.” The Fort Hood shooting, the “underwear” bomber and the Time Square bomb plot. The first was a lone gunman who killed 13 people on a military base, the second a wealthy Nigerian man traveling to the United States and the last was committed by a lone Pakistani American with apparent ties to the Pakistani Taliban. “But Islamic terrorism remains rare…” Here Saunders provides detailed statistics to verify his assertion.

“By tolerating Muslim immigration, are the countries of the West welcoming more terrorists into their midst?”

“In short, this doesn’t appear to be the case. High concentrations of Muslims are not generally a source of terrorism.”

In the third chapter called “We’ve Been Here Before”, Saunders provides a thorough discussion of similar fears that were promoted with the earlier immigration of Southern European Catholics and Eastern European Jews.

Chapter Four: “What We Ought to Worry About”

Saunders uses his final chapter to analyze what immigrants face when they leave their country and take the steps to become integrated in a new one. He draws conclusions and questions what might be done to deal with immigrants in a more meaningful, humane and useful way. He quotes various world leaders’ views on the issues surrounding the overused, overworked expression ‘multiculturalism’, what it means, how it has been viewed as an ideal and how it has largely failed.

The writing of this book was a brave task. It seems to me that he has done superb research, has approached the task with a large dose of impartiality and has succeeded in creating an important reference work on the issues of Muslims in Western countries. Obviously it is a work for here and now. The questions surrounding immigration will necessarily be reevaluated periodically, but it is difficult to imagine a better degree of success than has been achieved here by Saunders.

From my own experience of living in Algeria, I can verify several things from having had conversations with many Algerians, young and old:

  1. They love their country; they want to stay and make it better.
  2. By large majority, if they express the desire to leave Algeria, it is in order to have better educational opportunities so they can prepare themselves and return to help make their country better for their fellow citizens.

When one is born into a Western country with openness, freedom and unlimited opportunity, it is not easy to imagine that life is not like that for a majority of the people in the world.

Immigration in Nebraska