Earlier this week, Fox News told the world that, in the UK, there are "actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don't go in". Because that wasn't enough new information, "terrorism expert" Steve Emerson went on to describe all those real places in London where "there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn't dress according to Muslim – religious Muslim – attire".
Emerson has since apologised for his "terrible error", but his admission of ignorance, while totally necessary, is only one small battle won in the war against stupid people getting things wrong about Islam. Because while Steve might have realised the error of his ways, there are still lots – as in, a really depressing amount – of far-right British idiots who actually believe the UK is on its way to becoming a Sharia state.
Fully grown men and women – the same people who crash book groups with their EDL mates because they think Russell Brand will be there – are genuinely worried that Britain will become a Muslim majority. And once that happens they believe that Britain will end up looking a bit like Kobane does now.
This seems quite unlikely, but to put the matter to rest once and for all, I got in touch with an expert – Dr Chris Allen, Programme Director for Policy, Politics and Economics at the University of Birmingham and author of the book Islamophobia – and asked him some questions.
VICE: Hi Dr Chris. What did you think about the claim made on Fox News?
Dr Chris Allen: Well, as many others have clearly stated, Steve Emerson's claims are nothing more than sheer nonsense. Yes, there are areas that have a particularly Muslim flavour, but so too are there areas where that flavour is a little more Irish, a little more Afro-Caribbean and so on. But none are off limits to non-Muslims.
In the future, would it ever be possible for Islamists to take over Birmingham, or, in fact, the entire UK?
Much is made about Islam conquering by the sword, but given that there's no chance this is going to happen here in Britain, one would need to consider parallels from other countries where Islam clearly wasn't implemented through the sword. One example of this might be in Indonesia, where, over a number of centuries – from the 13th to the 16th – Islam slowly replaced animism, as well as also Hinduism and Buddhism. However, there is little that is comparable between Britain in the 21st century and Indonesia in the 13th century, and so it's impossible to draw any relevant or useful parallels between the two. In fact, there are no relevant or useful parallels because Britain isn't going to become Muslim.
But let's just pose the question for curiosity's sake – what would it take, theoretically, for Britain to become a Muslim country?
Asking what it would take for Britain to become a Muslim country is akin to asking, "How long is a piece of string?" It cannot really be answered.
What do you mean by that?
Let me explain. Despite scare stories to the contrary from both certain sections of the media and from the far right in particular, in the 2011 Census Muslims accounted for a mere 4.4 percent of the entire population of Britain. This 1 in 25 of the population who happen to be Muslim typically live in England in densely populated urban locations; London, the Midlands and Yorkshire, for example. So while some places in these urban areas might be perceived to be "Muslim areas", these are greatly outnumbered by the vast swathes of the country where significant numbers of Muslims are either greatly outnumbered or just non-existent – places like Devon, Cornwall, Suffolk, Norfolk, Northumberland and elsewhere.
As such, Muslims are a relatively small minority in today's Britain. In fact, so small a percentage of the population are Muslims that, according to the 2011 Census, there are five times as many people in Britain who claim to have no religion whatsoever [25.7 percent] than there are Muslims [4.4 percent]. The percentage of people who claim to have no religion is more than twice the size of all the people added together who adhere to any of Britain's minority religions.
But that's things as they stand today. Those who fret that the UK will become a Muslim country are talking about the future, and they usually cite four main drivers. Can I get your thoughts on those?
The first is conversion. Those on the far-right fear more and more Brits will begin converting to Islam.
Given that the British people are not particularly warm or, indeed, keen on religion of any persuasion, it is highly unlikely – and unimaginable – that conversion to Islam will occur in any significant numbers that subsequently make the country a "Muslim majority". Research by those such as Grace Davie, for instance, has shown how since the end of World War II, the role of religion has declined substantially in the ordinary, everyday lives of the British population. While some might scaremonger and say that this has resulted in Christianity having been weakened, thereby leaving the proverbial door open for Islam to fill the void, this is without any evidence whatsoever. Any decline in the role of Christianity is not being replaced by a rush to Islam, or indeed any other religion. As such, the numbers of people converting to Islam remain relatively low – around 5,000 per year, typically – and are typically more to do with marriage than religious fervour.
For Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims in this country by 2020, every female Muslim in today's Britain – aged from one through to 90-plus – would need to give birth to 50 children in the next five years
Okay. The second driver relates to the frankly very ridiculous-sounding allegation that Britain could become Muslim as a result of high birth rates among Muslims themselves.
A few months ago, a friend shared a far-right inspired post on Facebook claiming that Muslims would outnumber non-Muslims in Britain by the year 2020 as a result of the alleged exponential birth rates evident in Muslim couples in Britain today. Not being a numbers man, I asked a colleague to quickly run through some crude sums to see the extent to which this might be true. According to him, for this to happen, every female Muslim in today's Britain – aged from one through to 90-plus – would need to give birth to 50 children between now and the year 2020.
Ah yeah, so that's quite unlikely then.
Squeeze the numbers to those of child-bearing age, and the number of babies required increases significantly. Oh, and before I forget, in addition to the number of Muslim babies being born it would also require all non-Muslim women to immediately stop giving birth to any children, and indeed continue to do so until the year 2020. By crunching the numbers, it shows just how absurd such claims are without even getting into the biological impossibilities of the scenario.
Third driver: immigration. Far righters reckon Britain's becoming Islamised because we're letting too many immigrants in.
Like the issue of conversion and birth rates, there is a lot of conjecture and scaremongering involved in such an assertion, because Muslims are almost invisible in the countries where immigrants to the UK are now coming from. Asthe Daily Telegraph stated, the top five countries [where immigrants are coming from] at the end of 2013 were China, India, Poland, the United States and Australia – with only India having a sizeable Muslim population. Beyond that, there has been a surge in the numbers of students from the Eurozone – from Spain and Portugal, from Germany and Eastern Europe. As such, the numbers of migrants coming from countries that are Muslim majority are far smaller than those from non-Muslim majority countries, and so cannot be seen to constitute anything that might significantly shift the demographic balance in Britain in order to make it Muslim.
Okay. But then there's that one final driver – that some extremists want to forcibly turn Britain into an Islamic State, imposing Sharia law along the way.
While headlines regularly scream about Muslims wanting the flag of Islam to fly over Buckingham Palace, or report atrocities perpetrated by those claiming to act in the name of Islam – avenging the Prophet Muhammad, according to those behind the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre – one has to always remember that, despite their claims to the contrary, these are typically a handful of people who neither have the support of, nor indeed represent, the vast majority of Muslims.
As investigations have shown, most of those perpetrating these hideous and barbaric atrocities have links with each other in some way or another. Many, in fact, are those who have a history of criminal activity and are rarely from backgrounds that might be described as upholding the true ethos of Islam. So while they do make significant impact and indeed shape the way in which people perceive Islam and Muslims, there has to be that constant process of reminder that these [people] are – despite their claims to the contrary – far from representative of the vast majority of Muslims either here in Britain or indeed elsewhere.
But what if the people trying to take over are really militant, like ISIS? Seems like they've managed to conquer quite a bit of land out in Syria and Iraq.
For these handful of individuals to be able to acquire enough power to "enforce" Islam in Britain [would] require a huge leap of faith, and one that has no justifiable evidence to it whatsoever.
I do not believe that there is any evidence whatsoever to suggest that Britain will become a Muslim country, so people, stop worrying
Not only do they face a majority population which vehemently disagrees with them and their approach to religion, but so too do they face the same opposition and distaste by the vast majority of Muslims going about their everyday lives here in contemporary Britain. As such, it is as unlikely that your average British Muslim sharing the convivial space of Birmingham city centre agreeing and being receptive to the imposition of an Islamist version of Islam on Britain as it would for the non-Muslim Briton in exactly the same space. There is no appetite whatsoever for any form of religion being imposed in Britain – Islam or otherwise – let alone any hardline, Islamist interpretation of the same.
Wow, so the EDL were wrong all along. Who knew. Anything else you want to say to all the deluded far-right worriers still fearing an Islamist takeover?
I do not believe that there is any evidence whatsoever to suggest that Britain will become a Muslim country, so people, stop worrying. And if you can't, take comfort in the fact that Britain has a great history in resisting the imposition of anything on it – our recent history in providing the European bulwark against fascism being an excellent case in point.
Dr Allen, thank you very much.
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