Islam is quickly becoming a significant part of the cultural and political landscape of Europe. There are between 9 and 15 million Muslims living throughout Europe today, and Islam has become the largest religious minority. Considering current population trends and the need for immigrant labor it is likely that the number of Muslims in Europe will continue to grow exponentially. Bernard Lewis, a former history professor at Princeton and the respected author of more than a dozen books on the Middle East, is quoted as saying that "Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century."
Europe's Muslim population is not evenly distributed. It is concentrated primarily in six countries. France has a Muslim population of approximately 5 million, the largest in all of Europe. Germany has about 2 million, followed by the United Kingdom with 1.5 million, the Netherlands with 500,000, Belgium with 300,000, and Austria with 200,000. The heavy concentration of Muslims in these countries is not surprising, because during the last three decades they have experienced massive labor migrations. Large Muslim populations also exist in Italy and Spain, as well as several Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.
The Muslim population in Europe has expanded so rapidly that it now appears Europe is experiencing growing pains. However the problem is not overcrowding, it is increased cultural tensions and the failure of orthodox Muslims to integrate into European society. In some communities with heavy concentrations of Muslims there have even been outbreaks of violence. Reports of widespread Muslim gang activity and rampant crime in the Swedish city of Malmo seem less descriptive of a well-established, sovereign European nation, and more reminiscent of the lawlessness in Chechnya or Iraq. Europe is struggling over how to deal with the integration of its Muslim population, a problem that it has ignored for too long. Government leaders appear unsure of how to fight anti-Semitism and terrorism without stripping Muslims of their cultural identities or religious freedoms. The French government recently passed a controversial law banning all religious symbols and clothing from public schools, including Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and large Christian crosses. The measure was partly in response to the increase in anti-Semitic violence. They had hoped to ease cultural tensions, but it appears they have simply polarized religious communities.
The face of Europe is rapidly changing, in a large part because of its growing Muslim population. European nations need to come to terms with this fact and begin to address the issue of Islamic integration, especially if the EU plans to consider Turkey as a possible member state. In December the EU will decide whether to begin accession negations with Turkey. Should Turkey join the EU, it would bring with it a population of over 62 million Muslims.
The EU may not become the Islamic Republic of Europe any time soon, but the excessive influx of Muslim immigrants and refugees into the EU is a serious issue. Opening the doors of Europe to Turkey and the Muslim world also means opening the door to radical Islamic fundamentalists. Many of whom have already fled to Europe (our readers may recall that the terrorist cell authorities suspect planned the September 11 attacks was based in Hamburg, Germany). To ignore such warnings or to label such commentators as alarmists requires disregarding much of what history has taught us about the relationship between Islam and the western world.