Is Europe really afraid of Islam?

True wave

Jenny Stern

To person

Jenny Stern is an editor and author at BR24. Before that she worked for the ARD fact finder of the Tagesschau, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German Press Agency (dpa) and the Frankfurter Rundschau.

The targeted immigration of Muslims is leading to a complete “Islamization” of Europe ... at least that's the theory. How valid is this thesis, which is widespread in society?

"Search for the scapegoat": The afternoon show on Wahrwelle (& copy Turbokultur / bpb)

"In Germany the 'Islamization' is advancing" or "In the year 2050 Germany will be a Muslim state": Many such claims are circulating on right-wing blogs and in social networks. They are not scientifically tenable.

The scenario of this conspiracy theory is threatening: Islam is supposedly spreading in Europe and imposing a strange, barbaric culture on Christian-Western society. Such gloomy prophecies about the supposed "fall of the West" can be found in abundance on the Internet, be it in Facebook groups against the "death of the people" or on YouTube videos about the "creeping Islamization of Europe".

If you want to believe the representations there, Germany will be a Muslim state in 2050. The supporters of the theses want to have already recognized evidence of this development: the discussions about headscarves, Muslim religious instruction or pork in schools would testify that "Islamization" is already in full swing. But if you take a closer look at the widespread theses, there isn't much that is substantial.

The catchphrase "Islamization" is nothing new. It is also used in a historical context when it comes to the territorial expansion of Islam in its history. According to the "Concise Dictionary of Right-Wing Extremist Fighting Terms", right-wing extremists nowadays use it as a propagandistic fighting term to create a mood of fear: They want to conjure up “Islamization” as an alleged threat to the Western European world - and in a simplistic and inflammatory way . Behind this is the scenario of the threat of "foreign infiltration" and "re-population", as it is spread in right-wing extremist as well as right-wing populist circles.

The conspiracy theory works on two levels: On the one hand, it wants to convey that Muslims supposedly agreed to take over Europe - through immigration, but also through a higher birth rate. On the other hand, the followers repeatedly point out cultural changes in society. This idea is based on a racist understanding of the world in which - to put it simply - people from different cultures should not be mixed with one another. The narrative wants to construct a contrast between "we" and "the others" and devalues ​​everything foreign. The fact that cultural exchange can also offer enrichment on both sides is completely misunderstood. For example, the thesis does not take into account any Muslim Germans from the outset, that is, Muslims who were born in Germany. They would fall into both categories, which the supporters of the "Islamization" thesis want so strictly to separate from one another.

The Islamophobic organization Pegida has been using this image for its own purposes since it came into being in 2014 and has it in its name: "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West". The choice of words is by no means restricted to the right-wing spectrum: even in conservative parties, the thesis of "Islamization" is partly represented and some politicians expressly warn in their speeches of such an apparent danger.

In contrast to many other conspiracy theories, the "Islamization" thesis is not a crazy idea of ​​some "weirdos". It reaches into the middle of society and is also reflected directly in increasing hostility towards Islam. The Mitte studies of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, for example, measure right-wing extremist attitudes in the population every two years and come to the conclusion that "40% of all respondents think that German society is being infiltrated by Islam". In Norway, right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik even cited the "Islamization" thesis to justify the two attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utøya, in which he killed a total of 77 people. He described Muslims as a danger from which he supposedly had to protect his country.

It is not easy to answer how many Muslims actually live in Germany. Because religious affiliation is not officially recorded at all. Valid figures on the Muslim population in Germany come from a projection by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). According to this, between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims lived in Germany at the end of 2015 - with 82.2 million inhabitants, a proportion of 5.4 and 5.7 percent.

The researchers at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees ascertained the religious affiliation indirectly via the country of origin. This means that people are included who themselves or their parents come from a Muslim country of origin, i.e. German citizens and foreign nationals living in Germany. The press spokesman for the Federal Statistical Office, Klaus Pötzsch, therefore considers a forecast for the Muslim population to be problematic: "The starting point on which we can extrapolate the data for the future is more than uncertain."

The Pew Research Center, a US polling institute, carried out further estimates of future Muslim population trends. On the basis of national data, the researchers have extrapolated that their share in Europe could rise to between 7.4 and 14 percent by 2050. Scenarios with no, medium and high immigration are taken into account. The latter would be the case if migration from 2014 continued until mid-2016. For Germany, the scientists at the Pew Research Center come to a possible population share of 8.7 to 19.7 percent for 2050. However, current projections by the BAMF show that the number of asylum applications reached a peak in 2016 and is now falling again: Between January and December 2016, the BAMF counted 745,545 initial and follow-up applications for asylum. In 2017 as a whole, the Federal Office received a total of 222,683 asylum applications. In the current year 2018 there were 63,972 applications.

Serious projections offer various scenarios for the future, but never claim to predict them. The fact is: "Islamization" cannot be statistically proven. Frequently, when these theses are disseminated, arbitrary numbers without a source are given, some of which were not recorded at all. The authors are shooting at a fixed number and want to stir up panic.