By Rajan Philips –
Apparently the paranoia about Muslim population growth began with a 2009 YouTube video on Muslim Demographics. The seven and a half minute video was produced in Europe to frighten the Europeans about an impending takeover of their continent in a matter of decades by hordes of immigrant Muslims. The chimera of Eurabia was born and the myth of Islamic fecundity was implanted in racially receptive minds. Of the latter, there are millions around the world. The YouTube skit received 10 million hits in a matter of months and seems to have finally plateaued at about 15 million hits. 10-15 millions, even if a huge majority of them are racists and not the curious, are a small drop in the world population of seven billions. Yet they can make a splash and create a sensation. And they have. A Vatican Cardinal got into trouble after showing the scurrilous video to a synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome.
The ripples eventually reached Sri Lanka’s shores and have poisoned the already muddied inland political waters. The irrational fear of Muslim expansion is what is said to have been feeding the frenzy of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and others of its ilk. A crude and half-clever manifestation of the same stupid sentiment recently surfaced in Jaffna, in a popular talk at the Jaffna University by an outside medical professional. It had to be an outside person because whatever the University of Jaffna might be lacking in, it has never been short of good geography professors all of whom are knowledgeable and responsible in dealing with demographics. The presentation displayed population growth numbers to demonstrate the supposedly high Muslim fertility in Sri Lanka in comparison to the fertility of others. The Tamils apparently are the least fertile and are on the verge of becoming endangered species even in the peninsula of their birth. But, here comes the clever part, the Tamils should not be critical of their Muslim brothers; rather, they should emulate their methods. The Tamils, and now the crudeness, must go back to the old practices of polygamy to fulfill the natural needs of their war widows and compensate for the loss of population during the war. God, whatever your religion is, help all of us!
The reader will bear with me for starting off on a polemical hype. I must also make it clear that it is not my purpose to castigate the good doctor who made the bad presentation. Apart from my faithfulness to the Augustinian principle: love the man, hate the error, I am conscious of the fact that those in public service in Jaffna (bar, of course, the reappointed Governor and the irremovable Chief Secretary, who are not in public service but in the service of the Rajapaksa government) are struggling under the most trying circumstances and with the least support from the government. They deserve one’s understanding even when they stray out of their professional guiderails to make public policy pronouncements that are not only indefensible but are also offensive. No such slack though to the BBSes of Sri Lanka for they go beyond making presentations; they go on to provoke, agitate and terrorize. They owe their being to, and provide a smokescreen for, the government. That said, let me deal with the two matters that are the substantive purpose of this article: ethnic populations and their implications for women.
In 2009, it did not take long for others to realize and refute the YouTube video on Muslim Demographics as a pack of half-truths and lies. But the video has done its damage. It was three years later, in 2012, that the Vatican Cardinal apparently saw some educational merit in it before being put right by fellow Cardinals and Bishops. The ripple effects are still doing the rounds in Sri Lanka. The spectre that the video was trying to unleash was that the Muslims would be a majority in much of Europe in a matter of decades. The premise for this fear was the claim that 90% of the population growth in all of Europe in the last two decades was accounted for by immigrant Muslims. This was a half-truth. Immigration did account for 90% of European growth, but all immigration and not just of the Muslims. The video’s claims for individual countries were blatant lies. To wit, the video proclaimed that France would be an Islamic Republic in 39 years (nice enough number to feign a rigorous methodology), but the fact is the proportion of Muslims will rise gradually from 7.2% to 10.2% over 20 years (2010 to 2030, an annual rate of 0.15%). And without any basis and flouting all available evidence, the video claimed that the average non-Muslim French family has 1.8 children, whereas the average Muslim French family has 8.1 (again, a nice digital transposition). Of Netherlands where Muslims account for 5% of the population, the video said that one half of all newborns are Muslims, which would leave Muslim women producing 14 times more babies than everyone else. Belgium was claimed to have 25% Muslims, but the actual figure is 6%. The video baselessly attributed to the Vice President of the German Federal Statistics Office, a quote that Germany “will be a Muslim state in 2050.” Walter Radermacher, the then VP and now Chief Statistics Officer for the EU, called the quote attributed to him, “an invention”!
Within two years of the Muslim-spectre video making waves, in January 2011, the Washington based Pew Research Centre (a non-profit organization whose origins go back to the philanthropic foundation established by the Anglo-American Pew family in Philadelphia) produced a methodologically rigorous report, entitled “The Future of the Global Muslim Population.” Two years later (December 2012), Pew produced what should be read as a companion report, “Global Religious Landscape.” These documents are available on the internet, of course without the sensationalizing music and images of the YouTube video on Muslim Demographics, and anyone intelligently browsing through them would realize that the whole Muslim expansion scare is a load of horse-dung hype. Not surprisingly, the believers of the YouTube video (and still there are, including those in Sri Lanka), have called the Pew report an exercise in “whitewashing” – of the Muslim spectre.
The truth of the matter is that the Muslim population has been growing at a faster rate (not a hugely faster rate) in recent decades than others (2.3% vs 1.4%), but that rate has already begun to slow down (1.2% vs 0.6%) and will continue to slow down. Further, the current religious distribution of the world population is not going to change significantly, nor will the religious (or ethnic) distribution of populations in individual countries. The current (2010) world population of 6.9 billion includes 2.2 billion (32%) Christians (half of them Catholics), 1.6 billion (23%) Muslims, 1.1 billion (16%) “unaffiliated” to any religion, 1 billion (15%) Hindus, 500 million (7%) Buddhists, and so on in that decreasing order. The 2030 projections show that the Muslim component could grow from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion, from a share of 23.4% to 26.4% of the total world population. Not the stuff for anyone to lose their sleep over, let alone to think of stemming Muslim growth or producing polygamous non-Muslim babies.
It would be nutty for anyone to think of projecting beyond 2030 or 2040, to a hypothetical long term when the Muslims may overtake the Christians in the world population. Worse still would be to search for a mythical millennial horizon when the Muslims may just top the 50% mark! If you want to play with numbers, go somewhere else. Leave demographics alone and don’t stretch it beyond its methodological limits. Remember also the old wisdom of Keynes: “in the long run we are all dead”! And when we are all dead, the world might become a better place with a majority of “unaffiliates”!
What could rationally be done is to look at the reasons for the current differential growth rates between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations. Separating Muslims and non-Muslims is itself problematic, as it smacks of neo-colonialism and a new version of Orientalism. Be that as it may. The main reasons for the growth differences are that the Muslims now have a higher proportion of young age-cohorts (the so called “youth bulge” in the age-sex population-pyramid, of 15-29 year olds), and that the main contributions to Muslim population increases are occurring in a few large Muslim countries and among sections of the population who are at relatively lower levels of income and educations. All of these factors have been previously experienced by other religious or ethnic groups, which the Muslims are going through now. The difference is that the Muslims are being made to go through this growth phase in the glare of globalization and against a backdrop of anti-Muslim jingoism.
The unmistakable trend among the Muslims, as it has been among others, is that the youth bulge is starting to shrink, the median age is starting to rise (19 years in 1990, 24 in 2010, and projected to 30 in 2030; by comparison the median age – that divides the population equally into younger and older age groups, is 40 among the Europeans and in Japan), and the birth rate is slowing down in Muslim countries and among sections of Muslim societies with rising levels of living standards and education. The prime example is Indonesia, at present the largest Muslim country in the world with a population of 204M, is experiencing a slower growth rate (1.87% annually) and is projected to grow by 35M to a population of 239M in 2030. In contrast, Pakistan with a higher growth rate (2.25%) will grow from 176M in 2010 to 256M in 2030, adding 80M in between, and surpassing Indonesia as the largest Muslim country. Nigeria, with even lower levels of living standards and education, has the highest birth rate (2.7%) among its Muslims. The trend, to repeat, is for Pakistan and Nigeria to follow Indonesia and not the other way around.
Overall, there are 70 countries in the world now, with more than one million Muslims. This number will increase to 76 countries in 2030. Big deal! Again, just 10 ten countries account for 63% of the world’s total Muslim population. The four largest are in Asia: Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. That three of them are in South Asia should not irrationally concern the Hindus in India and the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Muslims have a lower growth rate in India (1.66%), and lower still in Bangladesh (1.32%). In fact, Bangladesh, like Turkey, officially promotes family planning and birth control among its population. That should put to rest the myth that the higher Muslim birth rate has something to do with Islam. The Pew Research study has shown, as I have summarized here, that the factors affecting birth rates are mostly material and hardly spiritual. Sri Lanka is one of the seven countries in the world with a majority of Buddhists, and it will remain so without requiring any special reinforcement by the State or by its BBS proxy. As for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, their problems are different but they do not require resorting to so called polygamous practices to be politically relevant.
*To be continued next week