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From Europe to Eurabia?

Some experts contend that because of its declining birth rate and fast growing Muslim community, Europe could be transformed into "Eurabia" by the end of the century.

Many analysts point to Europe's dwindling population growth. They note that a hundred years ago, when thousands of Europeans were still crossing the oceans to America, Australia, New Zealand and other distant lands, the countries that constitute today's European Union accounted for about 14 percent of the world's population. Last year, that number was down to around six percent. According to United Nations population studies, it will be about four percent in 2050 and many analysts say Europe's population is rapidly graying.

Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington says Europeans have been trying to resolve the problems of labor shortages and a declining tax base through immigration, largely from its Muslim neighbors: North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey.

"The dominant populations of the major countries of Europe are poised to shrink in the years ahead. They have fertility rates that are well below replacement value, especially in the big economies of Germany, Italy and Spain. The French and the Nordics are doing somewhat better. But then you have to say, 'If the existing populations are going to shrink how do you keep the economies afloat? How do you pay pensions?' The answer is you open your doors to immigration," says Kupchan.

A Transformed Europe?

A slew of recent books with titles like the Death of the West, While Europe Slept and Menace in Europe warn that continuing waves of Muslim immigrants will transform a predominantly Christian Europe into an Islamic culture by the end of the century.

Still many analysts, among them Anatol Lieven of The New America Foundation in Washington, contend the influence of Islam in Europe will be limited. He points out that they account for less than five percent of Europe's population and that their birth rate will likely decrease in the years to come. In addition, Lieven says Europe's Muslims are not a homogeneous group.

"The presence of Muslims from the Arab world is true in France, Italy, Spain and Holland. In Britain, Muslims are mainly from Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Germany, they are from Turkey. So the Muslim population in Europe is very mixed. Including in the Arab world and in Pakistan, the birth rate is going down and it will certainly go down in Europe as well. So we'll see a bigger Muslim population but nothing resembling 'Eurabia,'" says Lieven.

Tense Relations

Some analysts note that young Muslims in Europe are flocking to universities and many have joined mainstream political organizations and would like to live a middle class life. But they acknowledge that the relationship between Europeans and Muslim immigrants remains uneasy. Charles Kupchan, who served as an advisor on European affairs under President Clinton, says one of the main reasons is Europe's failure to assimilate its Muslim immigrants.

"In France, which sees itself as an immigrant nation, they've tried to create a fondue where everyone comes and melts into a transcendent French identity. That is, for example, why the French have banned headscarves in public schools -- because they want everyone to be the same in a secular public space. Crosses and yarmulkes [i.e., skullcaps worn by Orthodox Jewish men and boys] have been banned, as well," says Kupchan. "In the case of Britain, it's what they call 'multiculturalism.' Different communities maintain their autonomy and they come together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. That too hasn't seemed to work particularly well."

As a result, Kupchan says France has recurring unrest in its poor Muslim suburbs and Britain has become a breeding ground for extremism.

Many experts note that Europeans are increasingly worried about how to deal with the threat of Muslim militancy as displayed in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 2005 London subway attacks and in last year's foiled plot to kill thousands of people by exploding planes in flight from British airports. The past two years have also seen demonstrations over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim immigrant. Political scientist Anatol Lieven of The New America Foundation warns that tensions could worsen.

"If there were something on the scale of 9/11 in Europe, I think the consequences for relations between the races and even for European democracy could be extremely dangerous," says Lieven. "But the other factor, of course, is what happens in the long run to the European economies because clearly the rise of anti-immigrant feeling in much of Europe is closely linked to perceptions by white, working class populations that they are losing out -- that their jobs are less secure. If Europe did see a really serious economic recession, then I think once again you could see an enormous surge of anti-Muslim feeling in sections of the white population."

Focus on Assimilation

But according to Robert Leiken, an immigration expert at the Washington-based Nixon Center and author of the forthcoming book: Europe's Angry Muslims, the answer to these tensions lies in the promotion of European values, which, he says, everyone, regardless of their ethnic and religious background, can embrace.

"Because you have had mass immigration over 40 or 50 years, there will be a change in how you define what a German is or how the Dutch define what they are. And it will be in the direction of still keeping some ethnic character; there will still be a real German history and a real German characteristic that will define the nation. But it will be more civic," says Leiken. There will be more of a sense that, 'We all share these values; we all want to live in a modern, democratic society with the rule of law and equal opportunity.'"

While most analysts agree that integrating Muslims into European societies will require time and hard work, there is broad consensus that the continent is unlikely to turn into "Eurabia."

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.