Ain’t Fringe Philosophy no mo, unless you consider Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mark Steyn or Geert Wilders & Michele Bachmann irrelevant, which really shouldn’t.
Canadian journalist Doug Saunders’ MUST-READ new book, The Myth of the Muslim Tide (Knopf), promises and delivers an impartial examination of the notion that Muslim immigration urgently threatens Western civilization. Balanced as it is, though, it reads mostly as a thorough, fact-dense and convincing debunking of that notion. For those inclined to be reassured, it does so very efficiently. The theory, which has sold millions of books and is appreciated by at least one admitted mass-murderer, holds that Muslims are fundamentally different than previous immigrants. Their religion is politically evangelical — it demands the installation of Islamic law — and is their primary source of loyalty. It is inexorably linked to extremism. And high Muslim birth rates, along with non-Muslims’ low ones, will soon effectively put them in charge. It is by no means a fringe philosophy, unless you consider people like Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mark Steyn or Geert Wilders irrelevant, which you really shouldn’t. Mr. Saunders’ most basic argument is, simply, that there is no Muslim Tide. Population projections from the Pew Research Center suggest the Muslim population of the European Union might expand from 4.5% in 2010 to 7.1% in 2030. In the United States, the figure might be 1.7%; in Canada, 6.6%. In France, Germany and elsewhere, studies show that the birth rate among Muslims plummets toward the national norm beginning in the second generation. Those numbers just aren’t big enough to worry about. Individual extremists can wreak plenty of havoc, of course, but aren’t an existential threat. Are Muslims uncommonly devout? French government research shows only “8% to 15% regularly attend religious services”; 42% supported banning the hijab in public schools. Pew found that American Muslims are no more devout than Christians, and no more likely to identify themselves primarily by their religion. Are Muslims bent on remaking their new countries? Pew found 63% of American Muslims see “no conflict being a devout Muslim and living in modern society”; the figure for Christians was identical. Mr. Saunders notes that British Muslims lag behind those in other nations in respecting homosexuality and other indicators of social tolerance. (An “alarming” if small minority would prefer to live under religious law.) But he suggests this is no evidence of disloyalty. London think tank Demos found a higher percentage of Muslims (83%) said they were “proud to be a British citizen” than the national average. Studies show French, British and American Muslims are no angrier and no less comfortable among fellow citizens of other religions than non-Muslims. Do Muslims support terrorism? A famous Gallup poll found 8% of Muslim Americans believe violence against civilians is “sometimes” or “often” justified” — disturbing on its face. But the overall figure was 24%! “Across the Western world,” Mr. Saunders writes, “support for violence and terrorism among Muslims is no higher than that of the general population, and in some cases it is lower.” And in any case, a 2008 study of hundreds of extremists by MI5 found most were “religious novices,” untutored by clerics and motivated by perceived injustice rather than scripture. It concluded they are not unlike “other counter-cultural, subversive groups of young men” that have periodically sowed terror in the West. Perhaps most compellingly, Saunders shows the remarkable extent to which fears of excessive Muslim influence mirror past fears about Catholic and Jewish immigrants — the same accusations of religious loyalty superseding nationalism, and of seeking undue political influence; the same paranoia about birth rates; even similar acts of political terrorism that were seen as religious: the Fenian bombings in London in the late 1800s; the assassination of president McKinley by a Catholic anarchist in 1901. This presents a certain irony: Much of the research Mr. Saunders cites can be accessed with a few clicks of a mouse — a trip to the library at most. In a connected age, it should be more difficult to whip up false fears of an immigrant invasion. And perhaps it is. It seems likely a 19th-century 9/11 would have produced a much bigger backlash against the perpetrators’ co-religionists. But anyone who has visited a particularly virulent Muslim Tide blog knows that easy access to information can have the opposite effect as well. Facts are beside the point. The entire body of evidence Mr. Saunders disputes is simply taken as read. Ultimately, then, one has to wonder how many minds a book like this is capable of changing. One can practically see the rebuttals to each point appearing on the Islamophobic websites. Pollsters? They’re just part of the “dhimmi” conspiracy. Or their Muslim respondents simply lied so as not to give the game away. Or both. MI5? Dupes. Nice job stopping the July 7 bombings. Think tanks? Academic studies? Puh-lease. Leftist stooges. Mr. Saunders suggests mainstream media could make a better effort to “correct false claims about Muslim immigrants, their population growth and their degree of integration.” But the denizens of these blogs don’t believe what they read, hear or see in mainstream media anyway. They’re more likely to dismiss it out of hand because it’s in a liberal rag like the National Post. Fortunately, there don’t seem to be all that many truly dangerous people who subscribe to the Muslim Tide ethos. Unfortunately, it only takes one: Anders Breivik’s manifesto quotes heavily from all the mainstream proponents of the Muslim Tide theory, and while his actions were, to say the least, extreme, Mr. Saunders argues he “followed a line of reasoning that, by 2011, had … been playing out on the bestseller charts, blog sites, opinion pages and 24-hour news networks … for a decade at least.” It’s pointless to blame these authors: If their beliefs aren’t honestly held, if they’re just spouting off to gain publicity, then they’re beyond help. In Canada, at least, they seem to have a fan base that’s more loyal than it is large — perhaps because, according to an American study Mr. Saunders cites, Canada assimilates Muslim immigrants considerably better than the United States, and vastly better than European nations like Spain and Italy. Or perhaps it’s because our tolerance hasn’t yet seriously been put to the test. Ultimately, Mr. Saunders’ book provides a perverse sort of hope: Catholics and Jews overcame precisely the same sorts of suspicions Muslims now face to become more or less unquestioned members of Western societies. By the time Muslims are supposed to be taking over the entire Western world, perhaps they will instead join hands with their fellow citizens in worrying about the next wave of immigrants — or better yet, not.