During his recent two-day state visit to Italy, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi declared that "Islam should become the religion of the whole of Europe." He also said that Europe's conversion would become a fait accompli "when Turkey becomes a member of the European Union."
Europeans mostly dismissed Gaddafi's proselytizing as "Islamic propaganda," and as a "non-solicited provocation lacking seriousness."
Meanwhile, however, Muslim immigration to Europe continues apace, with record numbers of new arrivals daily in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and across Scandinavia. In Britain, Holland and Spain, the rate of Muslim immigration is accelerating at an especially rapid clip, and in a shorter amount of time than in other European countries.
"Gaddafi needs to show respect. Don't come to Italy and tell Italians and Europeans to convert to Islam," said Rocco Buttiglione, president of the pro-Vatican party Union of Christian Democrats, in an interview with the leftwing daily La Repubblica.
"What would happen if a European head of state went to Libya or another Islamic country and invited everyone to convert to Christianity?" asked the daily Il Messaggero.
"Europe is Christian" declared the right wing daily, La Padania, in a front-page headline.
"To speak of the European continent converting to Islam makes no sense, because it is the people alone who decide consciously to be Christian, Muslim or to follow other religions," said Archbishop Robert Sarah, the secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Evangelization.
But Gaddafi's vision of an Islamicized Europe is closer to becoming a reality than many Europeans are willing to admit. According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is already the fastest-growing religion in Europe, where the number of Muslims has tripled over the past 30 years. Most demographers forecast a similar or even higher rate of growth in the coming decades.
At least three long-term trends are converging to create a fertile ground for the rise of Islam in Europe:
For starters, today's Europe is spiritually beset by a morally relativistic post-modern worldview that encourages indifference to religion, especially of the Judeo-Christian variety. Religious apathy, induced by secular humanism, has emerged as the defining characteristic of contemporary European society; has created a huge spiritual vacuum that Islam is eager, willing and determined to fill.
At the same time, Europe's near-wholesale rejection of the Judeo-Christian worldview is fuelling a demographic time bomb, planted by Europeans who see no meaning to human life beyond the present, and who do not believe in the future enough to want to pass it on to the next generation. This is reflected by the fact that birth rates among native Europeans are far below replacement levels in most European countries. By contrast, Muslim immigrants in Europe are procreating at a breakneck pace, with birth rates that in many cases are double or triple those of native European populations.
The exact number of Muslims in Europe is difficult to calculate, largely because the official census data collected by many European countries does not track population trends according to ethnicity or religion.
But the Berlin-based Zentralinstitut Islam-Archiv, the oldest Islamic organization in Germany, estimates that 54 million Muslims were living in Europe in 2007, including 16 million in the European Union. According to a US Air Force study conducted by Major Leon Perkowski in 2006, the EU's Muslim population could actually be as high as 23 million if estimates on illegal immigration are included.
In any case, most surveys agree that Muslims currently constitute around five percent of the EU's total population (compared to around one percent in the United States). On a country-by-country basis, Muslim residents currently represent about eight percent of the population in France, six percent in Holland, four percent in Belgium and Germany, and three percent in Britain.
Although these numbers may seem relatively insignificant at first glance, Muslim immigrants are clustering in large European cities, many of which are being transformed beyond recognition by their Muslim inhabitants.
In Amsterdam, Brussels and Marseilles, for example, between 20 and 25 percent of the population is now estimated to be Muslim, according to official municipal statistics and a variety of unofficial calculations. In Birmingham, Cologne, Copenhagen, Leicester, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Strasbourg and The Hague, the Muslim population is now estimated to be between 10 and 20 percent. In Antwerp, Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna, the Muslim population is estimated to be between 5 and 10 percent.
Analyst Ömer Taşpınar, writing for the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution, estimates that the Muslim birth rate in Europe is three times higher than the non-Muslim one, and that Europe's Muslim population currently is growing by more than one million each year. If current trends continue, the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim population will shrink by 3.5 percent. According to the Migration Policy Institute, which is also based in Washington, at least 20 percent of Europe's total population will be Muslim by 2050 (this figure would jump to well over 50 percent if Turkey joins the EU.)
Muslims are already transforming European society in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. In Britain, for example, the government recently acquiesced to adopting Islamic law, with Sharia courts given full powers to rule on Muslim civil cases. In Holland, Mohamed, or other variations of the name, has become the most popular name for baby boys in the four biggest cities in the country. In Switzerland, voters recently agreed to ban the construction of minarets, the tower-like structures on mosques, which are becoming an increasingly prominent feature of the European landscape.
In Spain, the Muslim population has increased ten-fold in just 20 years. As recently as 1990, there were only 100,000 Muslims there; now there are more than 1 million. Until the 1980s, Spain was a net exporter of labor, and there was very little Muslim labor immigration to the country. Instead, Spain was a transit country for Maghrebian [North African] immigrants on their way to France and other European countries with significant and well-established Muslim communities. But during the mid-1990s, Spain's traditional role as a transit country became that of a host country for Muslim immigrants, especially from Morocco.
Immigration, however, is only one reason for the steady rise in Spain's Muslim population. Muslim fertility rates are more than double those of an aging native Spanish population. Spain currently has a birth rate of around 1.3, far below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per couple. At the current rate, the number of native Spaniards will be cut in half in two generations, while the Muslim population in Spain will quadruple.
In Germany, the debate over Muslim immigration is being fuelled by a new book titled "Germany Does Away With Itself." The book, written by Thilo Sarrazin, a prominent German banker and a former government official, has triggered a public discussion over how to fix Germany's broken immigration system, which has done little or nothing to integrate the country's Muslim population.
In his book, Sarrazin criticizes Islam as a source of violence, and blames Muslim immigrants for refusing to integrate. "No other religion in Europe is so demanding and no other migration group depends so much on the social welfare state and is so much connected to criminality," he writes.
Sarrazin, who is long-time member of the center-left Social Democrats, predictably has infuriated the uppity guardians of German political correctness. They have asked German President Christian Wulff to dismiss Sarrazin from the board of the German central bank, the Bundesbank.
But in a sign that change may be afoot in Germany, the center-left newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung agreed that Sarrazin has "addressed a problem that will remain long after the waves of outrage have subsided: the enormous integration deficit of the Muslim minority in Germany, or at least of disturbingly large parts of it."
Princeton University's Bernard Lewis once told the German newspaper Die Welt that "Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century." At the time, European political elites expressed outrage at the prediction. But if current trends persist, Lewis (and Gaddafi) may yet be proven right.