OTTAWA — Muslim immigrants are no more a threat to western countries than earlier waves of Catholic and Jewish newcomers were in their day, Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders told an audience here earlier this month.
Saunders, an author and award-winning journalist, explored the perceived threat of Muslim immigration to the western world in his recently published book The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?
Saunders shared his thoughts, his reasons, and the background to his research at Ottawa’s Temple Israel on Jan. 17.
“There is something very Canadian about an evening which consists of a WASP talking to Jews about Muslims,” he said in his introductory remarks.
Having lived in the northern part of London for the past decade as the Globe’s European bureau chief, Saunders observed the interactions of immigrants from Muslim countries with their native-born western neighbours.
He felt “touched by the unsettling experience of not entirely trusting people around me,” he said of living in neighbourhoods with high numbers of Muslim newcomers.
“I started to research this subject on my own and looked at this latest wave of religious minority immigrants in the west,” said Saunders. “Sixty years ago, there was fear of immigration by Catholics from Europe. Since Catholics had many children, there was a fear that they would become a majority and would try to impose their religion on the country.”
Saunders compared similar fears in the past about Jewish immigrants and said his book details statistics showing that family sizes among ethnic immigrants haven’t changed much at all and that the fear of being overtaken by a majority of “others” is groundless.
“This book tries to separate what we should worry about from what we should not. Antisemitism, Islamic terrorism and failed integration are serious worries. I am investigating the idea of what is causing the problems on the ground,” Saunders said.
Much of the fear is spread by unsubstantiated anecdotes, “like a virus, through email… this becomes part of the background noise and forms our ideas,” he said.
Saunders believes that much of the perceived trouble in immigrant neighbourhoods is caused by the economic realities of the times, rather than any religious overtones.
If there are no jobs available, especially for uneducated and unskilled youth, people tend to congregate, hang out and perhaps get into trouble.
This, says Saunders, would happen to any group and not just – or particularly – Muslim immigrants.
Canada, said Saunders, has one of the fastest growing Muslim populations, with approximately 940,000 Muslims in the country today. He quoted statistics that indicate Muslim families have an average of 2.4 children, higher than the Canadian average of 1.7 children.
“However, this distorts the picture, because within a couple of generations, they have the same number of children as the rest of the country,” he said.
As the book’s title suggests, Saunders concludes that there’s no threat to the west in Muslim immigration.