- - Sunday, August 13, 2017

A combination of falling birthrates among the native-born and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees from the Middle East threatens to swamp the indigenous European culture from which America sprang. Preserving the best of the culture will be the responsibility of the emerging generations, and the size of that responsibility is only now coming clear.

Because French law forbids census-takers asking religious questions, estimates of the number of Muslims in France varies, but Muslims may comprise as much as 10 percent of the population of 70 million. A third of those describe themselves in other surveys as “observing believers.” Germany as recently as 2015 was believed to count about 4.5 million Muslims, nearly 6 percent of the population of 83 million. That was before Chancellor Angela Merkel permitted a million Syrian and other refugees, nearly all Muslims, to enter in 2016.

Demographers suggested in earlier years that the growing numbers of Muslims would assimilate to the powerful, largely secular Christian culture of the West. They observed that Islam shares some aspects of Judaic and Christian religious experience. But in other ways Islam is not a faith as faith has been understood in the West. In some Islamic countries Islam is bequeathed at birth, and leaving it for another religion is punishable by death. Islam is often not a faith of the heart, but of law.

Further complicating assimilation, Muslim immigrants tend to develop self-contained slums around the great European urban centers, which become incubators of Islamic extremism. Police fear to enter some neighborhoods and radical Islamic clerics aggressively recruit young men to wage jihad against the West. The bloody November 2016 attacks in Paris were hatched in Molenbeek, a Brussels slum that has long been a hotbed of radical Islam, drugs and lawlessness.

Islam has historically been hostile to unbelievers. Muslims early on debated the authoritarianism of Islamic dogma, which advocates the forced conversion that enabled the conquest of much of the Mediterranean world. Ibn Rushd, (1126-1198), a medieval Andalusian cleric, taught tolerance and forbearance but eventually lost the argument to rigid Muslim theologians. They had debated whether an act of the individual occurs because God wills it, or whether, as Ibn Rushd taught, such acts of the individual follow the natural laws of God’s hand. Ibn Rushd’s belief was a fundamental teaching of the European Renaissance, including a rediscovery of earlier Greek and Roman learning.

Since 2014 Europe has contended with an upsurge of radical Islamic terrorism, a consequence of the European migrant crisis. Muslim radicals have used social media to encourage terrorism across Europe, including a number of “lone wolf” attacks. The number of so-called “honor crimes” has escalated in Germany. Honor-crime punishment ranges from emotional abuse to physical and sexual violence to murder, usually carried out by male family members against women in the family who are perceived to have brought shame on a family or clan by refusing to agree to an arranged marriage, entering into a relationship with a non-Muslim or someone not approved by the family, refusing to stay in an abusive marriage, or following an “excessively Western lifestyle.”

In practice, however, the lines between honor crimes and crimes of passion are blurred, and can be any challenge to male authority. Punishment can be staggeringly brutal — such as by the German husband who stabbed his wife several times and dragged her behind his car with their two-year-old child watching from the back seat.

The growing American debate over the qualifications and numbers of permitted refugees includes some of these considerations. Proponents of a more generous policy toward refugees cite the U.S. success with assimilation. Others argue that conditions in the world and in America have changed radically, and cite the rapid and inexpensive communications and transportation that enable maintaining ties between immigrants and their origins that did not exist for earlier waves of immigrants. Being a nation of immigrants is rewarding, but in practice not always easy.

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