Politics & Policy

Brussels Sprouts

In his “Corner” post of 10/17/2007, (“A Throne in Brussels,” Stanley Kurtz writes, “If Belgium does break up, Brussels, the capital of Europe, could become an independent city-state. It would also be the first Western European state with a Muslim majority.” In fact, rather than being a majority Muslim city, the Islamic population of Brussels is rather closer to being 17 percent of the total (please see here for example). I would be grateful if you could publish, online, a correction of Kurtz’s markedly misleading claim.

As a lifelong conservative, I am well aware of the tendency of our opponents to employ both smears and flagrantly misleading statistical data to further their concerns. I hope and pray that the Right will never in response stoop to the same low level.

C Montgomery

AUTHOR’S REPLY: In that Corner post, I alerted readers to the publication of a second edition of Paul Belien’s book, A Throne in Brussels, and noted the book’s particular relevance, given reports of a possible breakup of the state of Belgium. To explain the importance of the book, I paraphrased some points from Belien’s new preface. In particular, I drew on Belien’s claim that were Brussels to become an independent city-state, “…it would also become the first state in Western Europe with a Muslim majority” (p. v).

I do not take Belien to mean by this that if Brussels were to become an independent city-state in, say, six months, it would instantly become the first Muslim majority state in Europe. Instead I take Belien to mean that, given the high concentration of Muslim immigrants in Brussels, and their higher birth rates, an independent Brussels “would become” a Muslim majority state before any other country in Western Europe.

The assumed background here is the notion that, from a combination of higher birth rates and continued immigration, Europe’s Muslim population is growing in proportion to its non-Muslim population. Bernard Lewis, for example, has predicted that these factors would make Western Europe as a whole majority Muslim by the end of the century. So I take Belien to mean that, given the fact that Europe’s Muslim’s live chiefly in urban areas, and given the fact that their proportion in the population is rising, an independent Brussels would eventually become Europe’s first majority Muslim country.

Note that the time referent of Belien’s phrasing is a bit ambiguous. You might think he was saying that if Brussels were to gain independence in six months, it “would become” majority Muslim right then. That would imply that Brussels is already majority Muslim, which it is not. So whereas a reader could take Belien to be saying that Brussels was majority Muslim right now, his actual meaning is almost certainly that, given current population trends, Brussels is headed for majority Muslim status in the future.

In my Corner post, I simply summarized Belien’s point, in the process saying that were Brussels to gain independence, “It would also be the first Western European state with a Muslim majority.” I can certainly see how this phrasing might lead a reader to think I meant that Brussels was currently a majority Muslim city. But, like Belien, I took for granted the “Lewis hypothesis” as background, and simply meant that, on current demographic trends, an independent Brussels “would be” the first West European country to turn majority Muslim. Like Belien’s “would become,” but even more so, my “would be” has an unintentionally ambiguous time referent, and I welcome the opportunity to clarify my meaning. I simply meant the phrase to refer to what the situation “would be” in a more distant future.

The substantive point here is interesting. In his book, The Last Days of Europe, Walter Laqueur notes that: “While Muslims constitute only about 15 percent of the population of Brussels, they are 25 percent or more of the cohort of those under twenty-five — and, as noted earlier, more than 55 percent of the children born [in Brussels, in 2004] were of immigrant parents.” So despite their not being a majority of Brussels at present, it’s easy to see why Belien thinks they someday will be a majority.

Personally, I’m skeptical of the idea that Muslims will someday become an outright majority in Western Europe as a whole. I do think Muslim majority status is likely in cities like Brussels and, say, cities in The Netherlands with relatively large and growing Muslim populations. But I’m not convinced that Western Europe as a whole is destined to become majority Muslim. I made this point in a September 18, 2007 post, “Europe 2025.”

I noted there that, although I am not convinced by Lewis’s strong prediction that Muslims will someday become a majority population in Europe as a whole, there is nonetheless a significant problem with large unassimilated Muslim populations concentrated in cities. The Europe-wide Muslim “majority” question, I suggested in that post, has become something of a straw man distraction. But the issue is important to Belien, and when it comes to eventual Muslim majority status in Brussels itself, I think that Belien is correct.

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