This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Reality versus Perception of How Many Muslims Live in Europe

The terrorist attacks by Islamic Jihadists in Paris and Brussels have sharpened the already divisive debate about the flood of migrants from the Middle East to Europe. Even before these attacks, the presence of Muslims in Europe was exaggerated by European respondents to opinion polls, according to data put together by The Economist. Take a look at this map:

In France, 8% of the population was Muslim as of 2010, but an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that the average respondent thought the figure was 31%. In Belgium, a 6% Muslim population translated into the perception of a 29% Muslim population. 

A possible explanation for this is the fact that the terrorist groups have been so closely affiliated with Islam, even though the vast majority of Muslims have no sympathy for their cause. The combination of natural xenophobia combined with a terrorist fear skews perceptions. George Friedman puts it this way:
When we see pictures of terrorists calmly pushing luggage carts in an airport, it is not their courage that stands out, nor their willingness to die, but the sense that death does not mean to them what it means to us. We speak of dehumanizing people by regarding them as “other” or alien. These terrorists are “other.” They are not like us in the fundamental sense that they say they prefer death over life—and by every indication, they do. We are, of course, terrified by the randomness and the violence of the terrorists, but what is more frightening is the terrorist himself.
Recognition of the problem is at least a first step to dealing with it. Treating it as a disease may be the right approach. You isolate the disease, get rid of it, and then vaccinate the rest of the population against it coming back. I know, terrorism is complicated, but so are most diseases.

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