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January 17, 2005

Why "Eurabia" Is Like "Jew York City": An Examination of Terminologies

I really don't like it when sloppy and inaccurate terms--worse, terms which illegitimately polarize legitimate forms of debate and create new and dangerous possibilities--enter into the popular discourse. And yet, doing Google searches I find that "Eurabia" has taken a new prominent role. Created by Bat Ye'or, "Eurabia" has come into a new vogue among conservatives (particularly Anglophone ones) who blame European reluctance to support United States foreign-policy initiatives (like, say, Iraq) on large and growing Muslim populations which will, in the end, destroy Western (read Judeo-Christian) civilization on the far shores of the Atlantic.

There are four reasons why this concept is fundamentally ill-founded.

My first--and this point deals strictly with the mechanics of the argument--is that just as there is no way for the Jewish population of New York to form a predominant portion of that metropolis' population, given what we know about the demographic dynamics of the Jewish and general populations, so is there no way for the Muslim population of Europe to form a predomimant portion of that continent's population. There are--what?--480 million citizens of the European Union, and there are 15 million Muslims. I have no idea what Bernard Lewis was on when he suggested that Europe would become an extension of the Maghreb, but it must have been strong enough to make him completely overlook current trends (diminishing rates of immigration, rapidly falling fertility rates among Muslims) which point to the contrary trend. If it isn't going to happen in France, with the absolutely and relatively largest Muslim population in Europe, it's not going to happen in Europe as a whole.

It's worth noting that in 19th century Poland, the Jewish population grew quite rapidly:

During the years 1816-1913, the entire population of the Kingdom of Poland grew by 381%, while the Jewish population grew by 822%; as a result, their percentage within the population as a whole grew from 7.8% do 14.9%. This was in part due to the influx of Jews into the Kingdom of Poland who had been expelled from other areas of the Russian Empire, and those in search of work. In addition, this population had a particularly high natural growth rate.

Long before the Holocaust, though, this growth was reversed:

Although the numbers indicate a growth trend overall, the percentage of Jews in Poland's total population declined during the period in question: from 10.5% in 1921, to 9.8% in 1931 and 9.7% on the eve of the Second World War. This was the result of a dwindling natural growth among Jews (in 1921-25, it was 15.6%, in 1926-30 - 12.6%, 1931-35 - 12.3% and in 1936-38 - 11.15%), as well as an increase in emigration, particularly among young people.

It's worth noting that intermarriage wasn't an option in states like Tsarist Russia or an independent Poland which legislated against Jews. It is an option in France, where intermarriage seems to have attained fairly high levels already. Populations which tend to boom seem also, it seems, to go bust with at least as much frequency.

The second is that the concepts of "Eurabia" and "Jew York City" impose a false homogeneity on, respectively, European Muslims and New York City Jews, assuming that all members of the two population groups behave in the exact same ways, responding to wider popular culture in the same hostile ways and all planning. Never mind that this overlooks what the organizations claiming to represent their communities actually say, and the fact that their self-appointed roles require them to make the claim to nominal authority over the populations that they claim to represent. This overlooks what people actually do. There is, on the part of the members of all communities, a gap between ideal and actual behaviours. Considering how--for instance--the vast majority of Québécois identify themselves with Catholicism while vanishingly few actually behave in accordance to Papal dictates, this gap can be big. Generally speaking, the more opportunities that people have to escape strict cultures embedded in a liberal society, the more quickly that they'll diminish. How well would the Amish hold up if their children all attended public school? The example of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is suggestive.

A related and important point is the fact that "European Muslims" and "New York City Jews" are categories marked not only by horizontal divisions between ideal and actual behaviour, but by vertical divisions between component groups. What Turkish and Senegalese and Indonesian Muslims have in common, say, or what the secular descendants of German Jews and second-generation ex-Soviet Jews and Satmar Hassidim have in common, isn't immediately obvious. (To say nothing of what anti-clericals like the Netherlands' Hirsi Ali and religious conservatives have in common.) "Islam" and "Judaism" are very broad categories indeed, and next-to-meaningless as definitive categories on the ground. They do have a meaning, and in an era where mass communications allows for a homogenization of being this meaning can be adopted with greater or lesser uniformity across a wider cultural area. At the same time, though, traditional patterns of belief and disbelief are undermined by mass communications

My final, and most critical point, is that both "Eurabia" and "Jew York City" impute causal relationships between the presence of a particular population group and a set of policies that not only overrides all policy-making factors but which is fundamentally illegitimate. Thus, the presence in Europe of Muslims prevents Europeans from adopting a set of foreign-policy and domestic decisions which would see it enthusiastically support Israeli and American policies and reverse a domestic trend towards Islamization. Thus, the presence in New York City of Jews prevents New York City from recognizing the fundamental evil of Israeli policies. This argument assumes that European governments and New Yorkers don't have reasons for supporting the policies that they do for legitimate reasons, that, for instance, the policymakers of the European Union can't believe that Israel is undertaking illegitimate policies of colonization on lands not its own and that the Israeli state must be pressured to stop since it obviously isn't stopping on its own, or that New Yorkers might not support Israel as a decent state trying to do the best possible in a tough neighbourhood. It's rooted in the assumption that one's cause is fundamentally right, and that any objections are fundamentally illegitimate. As I wrote about Bat Ye'or last January, bias should be suspected. The inability to observe what is actually going on, too, is also a factor, inasmuch as the French law on hijabs or the Anglo-Dutch backlash against ill-thought multiculturalisms don't suggest any imminent Islamization.

Racism is, then, a critical element--perhaps a dominant concept--relative to these concepts. If European Muslims or New York City Jews are inherently subversive, undermining legitimate decisionmaking processes in political and social life, how can anyone who belongs to either category be allowed to participate at all? Eurabia and Jew York City are, at their roots, concepts which demand the ghettoization of the groups from which they take their names, their exclusion from any non-subordinate role. These terms' use is a good marker for some sort of highly exclusionary racism.

I really, really hate sloppy thinking, particularly on cultural and demographic trends. Trends do exist; trends do require specific responses from polities and societies and individuals; trends merit discussion. It's very important to know, with as great a degree of certainty as possible, what is actually going on within a community before you can comment usefully on it. Resorting to racist and profoundly exclusionary rhetoric that has little connection with what's actually occurring on the ground only obscures the issues being debated. Worse, racist and profoundly exclusionary rhetoric carries its own serious set of problems. Does anyone remember what happened on the last few occasions when entire national subpopulations were deemed inherently subversive?

More will follow on the topic of demographic dynamics later.

Posted by randymac at 06:49 PM