The future of Islam and its absence

Spengler has a new column that points out the coming collapse of Islam as a demographic entity. I have thought for years that Iran, if the population ever succeeds in overthrowing the regime, will abandon Islam as its first priority. Spengler points to a column by David Ignatius that belatedly recognizes a phenomenon that has been noted by others for years.

Something startling is happening in the Muslim world — and no, I don’t mean the Arab Spring or the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. According to a leading demographer, a “sea change” is producing a sharp decline in Muslim fertility rates and a “flight from marriage” among Arab women.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, documented these findings in two recent papers. They tell a story that contradicts the usual picture of a continuing population explosion in Muslim lands. Population is indeed rising, but if current trends continue, the bulge won’t last long.

The second class status of women in the Muslim world has led to important changes in their beliefs, especially about the religion that oppresses them.

Eberstadt’s first paper was expressively titled “Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed.” Using data for 49 Muslim-majority countries and territories, he found that fertility rates declined an average of 41 percent between 1975-80 and 2005-10, a deeper drop than the 33 percent decline for the world as a whole.

Twenty-two Muslim countries and territories had fertility declines of 50 percent or more. The sharpest drops were in Iran, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Libya, Albania, Qatar and Kuwait, which all recorded declines of 60 percent or more over three decades.

The present fertility rate in Iran is about equal to that of irreligious Europe.

Fertility in Iran declined an astonishing 70 percent over the 30-year period, which Eberstadt says was “one of the most rapid and pronounced fertility declines ever recorded in human history.” By 2000, Iran’s fertility rate had fallen to two births per woman, below the level necessary to replace current population, according to Eberstadt and his co-author, Apoorva Shah.

A July 2012 Financial Times story placed the Iranian fertility rate even lower and cited a U.N. report warning that Iran’s population will begin to shrink in two decades and will decline by more than 50 percent by the end of the century if current trends continue.

Nothing like this has happened since the near extinction of Homo sapiens in south Asia due to the Toba supervolcano eruption 74,000 years ago. We are witnessing the beginning of a severe decline in human population. Why ? In Europe it has been attributed to a decline in religious conviction, possibly related to the European civil war last century. In Japan, it may be a delayed effect of the huge casualty count of World War II. France saw something like this “echo effect” of a drop in the male population after World War I.

In Tehran and Isfahan, Iran, fertility rates are lower than those of any state in the United States.

Eberstadt argues that the fertility decline isn’t just a result of rising incomes and economic development, though these certainly played a role: “Fertility decline over the past generation has been more rapid in the Arab states than virtually anywhere else on earth.”

Books have been written about the oppression of women in Muslim countries. Why would women tolerate this ? One reason is fear and the use of force by men. Many young women have been murdered by male relatives when they seemed to adopt western ways in western countries.

Another reason is religious conviction. We have all read about Muslim women sending their children to be suicide bombers.

What happens when religious conviction declines ?

Iran may be one of the world’s most secular countries; some reports put mosque attendance in the Islamic Republic at just 2%, lower than Church of England attendance. When the odious Islamist regime falls at length, we probably will find that there are as few Muslims in Iran as there were Communists in Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like other religions rooted in traditional society, for example the nationalist-Catholic faith that Europeans abandoned after the two world wars, Islam cannot abide the onset of modernity. Some forms of religion can flourish in modernity; Islam is not one of them.

What are the policy implications of this phenomenon ?

The point of my 2006 studies in Iran’s demographics was not academic: I argued that a demographic cataclysm helped explained the apocalyptic mindset of the Iranian leadership, which felt that it had nothing to lose by betting everything on a Shi’ite resurgence under the umbrella of nuclear.

But it does not seem likely that the foreign policy establishment, once having noticed the demographic elephant in the parlor, will draw the obvious inference: a society that suddenly stops having children suffers from cultural despair. The same cultural despair that curtains off the future for families afflicts policymakers. Cultural pessimism is a great motivation for strategic adventures. A nation that fears that it may have no future may be willing to risk everything on the roll of a dice. Iran has one last big generation of military age men, the ones who were born in the early 1980s before the great weapons. Nothing but the use of force would stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with dreadful consequences. With Iran on the verge of building a nuclear bomb, we have hit crunch-time. Will the foreign policy establishment connect the dots in time?

The leaders of the Iran regime seem to be willing to accept suicide if that is necessary to rid the earth of the hated Jew. What if the nation is already on the path to demographic suicide ? The opinion polls of the Muslim world seem to indicate that strict Sharia law is the choice of large majorities.

Specifically, the World Public University of Maryland poll (released February 25, 2009) indicated the following about our putative Muslim ally nations of Egypt and Pakistan: 81% of the Muslims of “moderate” Egypt, the largest Arab Muslim nation, desire a “strict” application of Shari’a, Islamic law; 76% of Pakistan’s Muslims — one of the most important and sizable non-Arab Muslim populations — want this outcome. Furthermore, 70% of Egyptian Muslims and 69% of Pakistani Muslims desire the re-creation of a “single Islamic state or caliphate.”

How many women participated in the poll and how many gave their honest opinion ? They may in fact be voting with their uteri.

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