by Rabbi A. James Rudin
Muslims Have Already Changed Europe. Is The United
In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was questioned why our oldest ally, France, and America's post World War II creation, democratic Germany, refused to join the United States in deposing Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld imperiously dismissed both nations, calling them "Old Europe." He was sharply criticized for his public put down of the French and Germans, but whether he intended it, the American defense chief was demographically correct.
Recent research studies all tell the same story: falling birth rates in France, Germany, and other Western European nations mean their populations are not being replaced. Married couples with even as few as two children are rare, and the median age of residents in these countries is climbing. Fears about the political and economic viability of "Old Europe" are being openly expressed.
While this severe downturn is taking place, Western Europe is also experiencing an extraordinary influx of newcomers, including many Muslims. Mosques are being built, but not without tension and controversy. Catholic leaders in Rome have expressed concern about the anti-Christian sermons emanating from the new Muslim house of worship in the Eternal City. Muslims have established separate schools and some extremists openly boast that Europe will soon become part of the Islamic world, avenging the Christian military victories centuries ago in Spain and Vienna. Muslim zealots claim Islamic hegemony is only a matter of time as their youthful population increases while the "Old Europe" population decreases.
That is one reason why Pope John Paul II is so insistent that the official documents of the European Union specifically refer to the "heritage of Christian Europe."
Of course, Jews have always been an integral part of European history. In fact, the Jewish communities of Rome and Greece actually pre-date Christianity. But the relentless attacks against European Jews through the centuries -- massacres, expulsions, forced conversions, the Crusades, pogroms and finally, the Holocaust -- have tragically reduced Europe's Jewish once large population.
One thing is clear. The political and religious future of "Old Europe" is, to use Wall Street language, "in play," and facing a "hostile take over" by Muslims.
Could something similar be in store for the United States? Not likely, but some American demographic trends closely parallel Western Europe.
Although Jews first arrived in what is now the United States in 1654, every American schoolchild knows that white Christian males, many of whom came from Britain and Rumsfeld's "Old Europe," created our nation. The ugliest part of early American history was the institution of slavery imposed by whites upon Africans that began in 1619 and legally continued for nearly 250 years.
The percentage of whites in America, once an overwhelming number, is shrinking as America's Hispanic and Asian populations continue to grow. While the size of the African-American community has remained relatively constant, it still constitutes nearly 15 percent of the total population.
Because the slave owners were usually white Protestants, they passed their own religious beliefs to their black slaves. And because Spain and Portugal were Catholic imperial powers that colonized Central and South America, most Hispanics in the United States today are Catholics, though this is changing as many Latinos are turning to Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. The traditional Asian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism are also growing in America, reflecting recent immigration.
But it is the increasing Islamic population that draws the most attention and concern. And no wonder. The Sept. 11th terrorists were all Arab Muslims and the Justice Department's anti-terrorism arrests and trials since then have centered almost exclusively on Muslims living in the United States. At the same time, Islamic organizations loudly predict their community will soon surpass Jews in number and become America's second-largest religion after Christianity.
In addition, there are troubling reports that Islamic schools in the United States, including the Islamic Saudi Academy located not far from George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, are indoctrinating their young students with large doses of anti-Western, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish teachings.
Historically, as wave after wave of earlier immigrants came to America, they adapted to and adopted the core values of our constitutional republic. One of those shared ideals is freedom of religion and respect for religious diversity free of bigotry and prejudice.
Will today's immigrants follow that same pattern? No one knows the future, but clearly the United States is in a period of enormous religious and political change. The results of that change will decisively determine what kind of America will emerge in the years ahead.
Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser. He is also the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.