CNN reports that nearly one in four human beings is Muslim, based on a new extensive survey by the Pew Forum for Religion in Public Life.
The number of Muslims they estimate, about 1.5 billion, is the one I have been using for some time based on my own back of the napkin calculations, but one often sees in the press estimates of one billion or 1.2 billion. The Pew conclusions are higher than the researchers had expected going into the study.
If current demographic trends continue, moreover, the world could level off at about 9 billion persons in 2050, and nearly 1/3 of those could well be Muslim. The really big Muslim populations are not in the Middle East, which is largely arid and wouldn’t support such populations. It is in relatively well-watered places such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia in Asia where the bulk of Muslims live. Pakistan now has about 170 million people but is likely to rival the current US population of 300 million in the next few decades. (When I first went to Pakistan in 1981 I think its population was, like, 70 million).
I don’t think most people in the West realize the implications of the likelihood that one-third of humankind may soon be Muslim. We don’t have a real sense of scale in the US. We don’t realize that Brazil alone is nearly as big as the US in area, or that the US could be fitted into East Africa. We don’t realize how huge Iran is, or what it implies when we call India a subcontinent.
One of the implications is that the US is a little unlikely to thrive as a superpower in the 21st century if its more venal and bloodthirsty politicians go on barking about “Islamo-fascism” (they never said Christo-Fascism even though Gen. Franco in Spain was a good candidate for the label) and denigrating Islam and Muslims and seeking to militarily occupy their countries and siphon off their resources. That kind of behavior may have worked in the 19th century before Muslims were mobilized, but it does not work now.
The Muslim world is the labor pool of the next century, and is also the custodian of much of the world’s fuel. New American crusades of the sort favored on the right of the Republican Party may finally induce imperial overstretch and deeply harm the US. Some 5 percent of the population cannot dominate by force 25 percent of the globe and what may eventually be 33% of the globe.
Obama’s strategy, of positive engagement, is the only viable way forward.
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