See the New Mad Sociologist at http://madsociologistblog.wordpress.com

Archive for 12. June 2009

Dogmatic Propoganda and the Need for Sociology

Before reading this post, please watch the linked video.

There.  How do you feel? Are you scared? Do you think that civilization as we know it is coming to an end? Do you think something radical must be done in order to stave off the impending disaster of Europe and the United States becoming Muslim nations?

If so, that means that this video accomplished its goal; that is, it scared the hell out of you, instilled a sense of xenophobia, a perception that the barbarians are at the gates.  It is propaganda perpetuated by a tunnel visioned, dogmatic worldview. And it is this kind of media that is the reason why sociology is so important.

The video presents itself as informative and vouches demographic data that is, most likely, accurate. But in presenting this data, without deeper analysis, it is presenting a bias.  Add on top of that the ominous music, the overgeneralizations and the insinuations, and undertone of a solution that promotes an ethnocentric, Christian dogma and xenophobia and even sexism.

The plot of the video is clear.  What Muslims were unable to do after the crusades, that is conquer civilized Europe militarily, they will do demographically.  Muslim immigration and fertility rates are such that they threaten to overwhelm nations with much lower fertility rates. So there’s a tripartite of danger facing Euro-Americans: Muslim immigration, high Muslim fertility rates and low Euro-American fertility.

The video begins with dire descriptions of low fertility. It correctly notes that the replacement fertility rate to maintain a stable population is 2.1. (This is the average number of babies born to each woman in the country? Come on, how can you have .1 babies?  Think of it like this in real terms: Out of 10 woman, 9 should have two children and the tenth should have 3).  Below that number the population will decline, above this number the population will increase. Fair enough. But the video goes on to note that at a fertility rate of 1.3 the population can never recover and the society is doomed for collapse. The source for this number appears to be a magazine article from the New York Times that details a concept called “lowest low fertility.”

But the video’s claims of imminent societal collapse is not supported by history.  I can think of no societies that have ever experienced this problem, nor have I found anyone who can think of such an example. When has this ever happened in history? How have these numbers been determined? The video is silent on this matter. But the insinuation is clear.  The fact that women are not putting out the babies is leaving Euro-American culture vulnerable.

And waiting on the perimeter, like jackals ready to feed, are the Islamists. The video explains that Muslim immigrants into Europe, specifically France and England, the seats of the Enlightenment and modern European history, and the United States constitute a veritable invasion (though the video does not use this term explicitly, it is a clear inference).  The video cites scary numbers of Muslim fertility rates dwarfing that of Europeans. Then, if you haven’t gotten the message, the video claims that in the very near future, France and England will be Muslim nations, or Islamic Republics.

The math is simple:

Low Euro-American fertility + High Muslim Fertility + Muslim Immigration = Fall of Euro-American Civilization

When confronted with such a simple algorithm, the sociologist is inclined to call shenanigans, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Though the video never specifically makes this claim, it treats Islam as a single cohesive entity.  Furthermore, by associating their pointed demographics with Muslim extremism, namely Momar Qadafi explaining how Islam will conquer Europe without guns, Islam is reduced and generalized as a representation of its own radical elements.  According to Gallup and the noted book, Who Speaks for Islam,the radical fringe of Islam is a small minority, at most 7% (based on the belief that the attacks of 9/11 were justified). Indeed, Islam is a much more diverse religion and culture than expressed in the video.  Islam is divided into 2-4 major denominations with numerous subdivisions.  What’s more, these subdivisions don’t necessarily recognize the others as legitimate versions of Islam.

denominations of islam

 

denominations of islam 2

Muslim immigrants also represent the cultures of perhaps as many as 100 different nations.  These nations have varying levels of religiosity and are not necessarily averse to democracy and freedom according to Gallup.  Muslims in America are an example of the kind of diversity represented by Islam as compared to other major religions.

religiosity

 

Moslem diversity

So an influx of Muslims into any particular country does not represent the kind concerted and coordinated dynamic as insinuated by the video.  But the invasion metaphor is not uncommon among nationalist or religious xenophobes. Nativists in all countries have a particular attachment to the “invasion” paradigm, from critics of the so called low cultures of southern Europe during the turn of the century to the fear of Mexicans perpetuated by contemporary pundits.  The invasion metaphor should not come as a surprise.

But immigration is not an invasion.  Immigration is a social movement, subject to sociological dynamics.  When groups emigrate they are subject to significant social pressures to conform to the dominant cultural elements of the host culture.  Unlike a true invasion or cultural imperialism, immigrants are subject to expectations of assimilation and/or pluralism. It’s unlikely that Muslims will be any different than others. The Center of Immigration Studies (CIS) has an interesting summary of Moslem immigration to the United States.Though the CIS does pay inordinant attention to “Islamists” who, according to the CIS, do have an invasion agenda, the research does suggest that Muslims are undergoing very similar social pressures as any other immigrant group in American history:  Cultural distinction and isolation of the first generation immigrants confounded by a “dual identity” of the second generation.  This dual identity includes sexual and ultimately marital relationships, called biological assimilation.

As immigrants into Euro-American society, Muslims are subject to conforming pressures of Euro-American society, including democratic values.  According to research done by Gallup, Muslims are not averse to concepts like freedom of speech, women’s rights or democracy.  Granted, most Muslims share an affinity for Sharia law, but are moderate enough to suggest an integration of democracy with Sharia.  Regardless, the vast majority of Muslims are not represented by the stereotype of radical extremists as presented by “friendofmuslims'” video.

The most interesting dynamic that I’ve seen comes from Gallup and their research on Islamic women.  The majority of Islamic women, even in the most oppressive cultures, profess a desire for equality, access to the the job market, education and political participation.  In societies that offer such opportunities it’s likely that Muslim women will ultimately take advantage of such. This is demonstrated by reports of Moslem girls wearing traditional coverings when they leave the house, but changing into contemporary clothing when they get to school. What’s more, as women achieve parity with men, the fertility rates tend to decline. We should see how this influences Muslim fertility rates in Europe and the United States.

 

gender parity

 

It should also be interesting to see how Muslim immigrants respond to secular influences.  Muslims do tend to have higher levels of religiosity, but not so much higher that one would assume a mass radicalization of the immigrant cadre.  The CIS points out that secular influences do have a moderating effect on many Muslim immigrants, though immigration could reinforce Islamic orthodoxy by creating a comfort zone and reorientation toward familiar values.

 

It goes without saying that the picture of Muslims painted by this video is inaccurate.  But what’s most interesting to me was the undertones of the video that were not explicitly stated.  If Muslim immigration and fertility disparities between Muslims and Euro-Americans (which the video ultimately ties to Christianity) is the threat, then what is the defense? The video does not explicitly make this claim, but it’s not hard to read between these very thick lines. The solutions are clear: restrict Muslim immigration, and start having more babies.

 

The former solution is the norm for xenophobic  Nativists of all cultures. But the latter is an interesting, though not unique, suggestion. Women aren’t popping out enough babies. Despite the well researched benefits of lower fertility, a shaky hypothesis of cultural collapse is offered.  If we are to stop the barbarians at the gates, women are going to have to start doing their duty and make babies.  This idea is much like that presented by the Quiverful Conviction, that it is the duty of Christian women to have as many babies as possible and thereby guarantee the future empowerment of Christianity as the secular population decreases. It’s also similar to programs devised by Hitler and Stalin to encourage women to do their duty to the state by producing more Aryans or workers…or soldiers. Again, this is not explicit in the video, but the insinuation is obvious.

Videos like this, presented as information, but presenting a narrow, xenophobic worldview, are designed to inspire fear in the audience–fear of the other.  It reinforces neo-tribal conflicts through its use of mindless fear-mongering. This is the very ignorance that should be the focus of sociology and any enlightened discipline.