The 'Muslim invasion' of Europe: Do the numbers add up?

Supporters of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) are calling for Europe to be protected from what they see as "Islamisation" by Muslim immigrants.Reuters

Large numbers of migrants and refugees are arriving in Europe from the Middle East, most of them Muslims. Our screens are full of horrific images from Syria and Iraq showing the atrocities committed by Islamic State. We're worried about terrorist attacks in the UK and it's quite possible that a bomb brought down the Russian Airbus 321 over Egypt. Vocal Muslim preachers are calling for the introduction of sharia law in the UK. People are worried: is the Islamification of Europe really a thing?

I'm worried. They seem to be arriving in swarms.

Be careful. 'Swarms' is a word that gets politicians into trouble.

Droves, then. At this rate Europe will have more Muslims than Christians in a year or two.

Droves is a little better and certainly most of them have been driven; they've left because life wasn't worth living where they were. However, you are wrong to say that migration is altering the religious makeup of Europe. A Pew report earlier this year said that Europe's Muslim population will reach 10 per cent by 2050. It's just under six per cent now. Migration is one reason for that, but a much bigger factor is that they have large families.

But I thought they were taking over the continent? I'm seeing stories all the time.

You mean stories about a huge invading army of Muslim men marching across Europe? Or churches removing crosses from their buildings because it might offend them? Or Muslim migrants calling female aid workers 'Christian whores'? Or perhaps Muslims telling Christian refugees in Sweden to "convert or die"?

That style of thing, yes. You can't deny it's a bit worrying.

The point is that you are meant to be worried. There is a poisonous and xenophobic narrative out there which is fed by people who are interested in painting Islam in general and Muslims in particular as the enemy. All this rampaging hordes stuff is catnip to them. Some European politicians have jumped on this bandwagon in a big way. Prominent among them is Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who argues that Muslims are simply incapable of integrating with Western democracies.

That seems a bit harsh. 

Quite, and the idea that you can't be a Muslim and a democrat is frankly tripe. In her 2013 book Why the West Fears Islam: An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies, academic Jocelyne Cesari concludes that Muslims living in the West are in general integrated into society and value Western political institutions. According to a CritCom review, her research found that "many respondents do not identify Islam as the main factor in creating their social and political identities, and religious beliefs do not conflict with participation in a liberal democratic society".

You seem to be saying there isn't a problem. I don't know if you've convinced me.

That's because I'm not saying that. I am saying that we should be very careful about stories that seem to set one group of people against another on the basis of a religious label. That's not to say that all the stories are false – the fact that someone is a refugee with a dreadful story doesn't automatically make them a model of enlightened good sense. Furthermore, it's absolutely and appallingly true that some Muslims in the UK are drawn to Islamist ideologies and plot terror attacks. The wider Muslim community is deeply concerned about this. There are real threats that require effective responses from the security services. Aside from threats of violence, there are pressure points for some Muslims who hold particularly conservative interpretations of their faith and want to impose them on others. We saw this in the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham, where hard-line governors tried to subvert the curriculum of schools including the Park View Academy.

Well, that sounds like a few problems to me.

Yes. But these issues will inevitably arise in a few cases and they don't represent the vast majority of Muslims in the UK. There are similar problems in other European countries, where governments are having to grapple with how to integrate people of different religions and cultures into historically Christian and fairly homogeous societies (though the former Austro-Hungarian empire was always a melting-pot). Deciding how far these people have to toe the line and how far their differences can be accommodated can be quite difficult and is often controversial, as former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams found when he made some perfectly sensible remarks about sharia law. But so far our civil institutions have been well able to cope. There is no reason to suppose that they won't continue to do so.

So we shouldn't be praying against the Muslim invasion?

You shouldn't pray against anything. Pray for Muslims, by all means, that they'll learn how to live in their new countries in a way that respects where they've come to without forgetting where they've come from. And pray for Christians, that they won't be sucked in to all this hate speech.

I read how this Muslim said they were going to conquer Rome.

I once said I was going to run 5k in 20 minutes. Not going to happen.

Follow @RevMarkWoods on Twitter.