"Every Continental [European] under the age of 40 — make that 60, if not 75 — is all but guaranteed to end his days living in an Islamified Europe," wrote polemicist Mark Steyn in 2006.

"Native populations on the continent are ageing and fading and being supplanted remorselessly by a young Muslim demographic."

So "Eurabia", as Steyn called that Islamified Europe, ought to be a reality by now: people who were 75 when he wrote his book America Alone in 2006 would be 87 now if they were still alive, but at least half of them aren't. Yet Europe's population is still only 5 per cent Muslim, which is a very long way from a majority.

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The hysterical discourse about Muslims taking over Europe and leaving the United States "alone" in the world is a staple of far-right rhetoric in the US, and it has a devoted band of imitators on the racist, anti-immigrant right of European politics. There is a large and growing Muslim population in Europe, but its growth does not begin to match the predictions of the panic-stricken.

According to the calculations of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, by 2050 the Muslim share of Europe's population would grow to 7.4 per cent by natural increase even if there is no further migration. If migration reverted to its pre-2014 pattern, the Muslim population would be 11 per cent of the total by 2050.

It was the surge in refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2014-17 that sparked rising support for racist and anti-immigrant policies in many European countries. Pictures of UKIP leader Nigel Farage standing in front of a huge poster showing a seemingly endless column of Syrian refugees and labelled "Breaking Point" may have been the key event that gave the Brexit referendum a narrow "leave" majority in Britain.

In France, neo-fascist National Front leader Marine Le Pen got one-third of the vote in the presidential election of 2017 by blowing on the same dog whistle. German Chancellor Angela Merkel saw her party's vote shrink dramatically in last September's election, probably because she let a million refugees into Germany in 2016. No good deed goes unpunished.

There are some Western European countries — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium — where the Muslim population is around the 10 per cent level now, and could increase to as much as 18 or 19 per cent by 2050 if the "high" estimate of refugee intake applies.

But these predictions may be underestimating the speed at which Muslim birth rates fall to match those of their non-Muslim neighbours. (European Muslim women now have an average of 2.6 children, whereas non-Muslim women have 1.6.) And in any case, what is so bad about having a higher proportion of Muslims in your population?

The whole panic is built on the assumption that Muslim immigrants are fundamentally less likely than Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Sikh immigrants to give their loyalty to their new country, less able and willing to adopt its values and its ways. Why? Because Islam is an all-embracing way of life that is very resistant to change.

Gwynne Dyer
Gwynne Dyer

Many Muslims think that the beliefs and behaviours they inherited are indeed uniquely resistant to change, but there is no evidence that this is true. For example, around a quarter of Americans who were raised as Muslims have left the faith, and more than half of those people no longer identify with any faith.

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Assimilation operates more quickly where immigrant communities are small and relatively new: American Muslims are only 1 per cent of the population, Australian Muslims 2.6 per cent, Canadian Muslims 3.2 per cent.

In the United Kingdom and France, where Muslims now comprise 6.3 per cent and 8.8 per cent of the population respectively, assimilation proceeds more slowly: less than 5 per cent of British Muslims marry outside the faith, for example. But it does proceed: the vast majority of Muslims in these countries identify as British or French, and share their democratic values.

The integration of new immigrants always changes the general culture to some extent, and assimilation is always partial, because new immigrants keep arriving. But there is nothing to be feared here: the national identity and values are safe.

Gwynne Dyer's new book, Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work), is published this month by Scribe.