Demographic Shifts Are Hitting the Muslim World, Too

And the implications are sobering.

The always interesting David Goldman (aka Spengler) has been writing for years about an approaching demographic collapse in the Muslim world and what he believes to be the likely result. Here he is in 2006:

Aging populations will cause severe discomfort in the United States and extreme pain in Japan and Europe by mid-century. But the same trends will devastate the frail economies of the Islamic world, and likely plunge many countries into social chaos.

By 2050, elderly dependents will comprise nearly a third of the population of some Muslim nations, notably Iran – converging on America’s dependency ratio at mid-century. But it is one thing to face such a problem with America’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $40,000, and quite another to face it with Iran’s per capita GDP of $7,000 – especially given that Iran will stop exporting oil before the population crisis hits. 

The industrial nations face the prospective failure of their pension systems. But what will happen to countries that have no pension system, where traditional society assumes the care of the aged and infirm? In these cases it is traditional society that will break down, horribly and irretrievably so.

Spengler was prompted to revisit the topic again this week, in response to a “wide-eyed” acknowledgement of the Muslim demographic shift by Washington Post journalist David Ignatius:

My 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too) assembled evidence that the decline of Islam as a religion explained collapsing fertility, just as the decline of Catholicism explained collapsing fertility in lands once blessed by large families — Spain, Italy, Poland, Ireland, and Quebec. Iran’s total fertility rate plunged to an estimated 1.6% in 2010, barely above Europe’s rate of 1.5 children per female. In 1979, when the Islamists took power in Iran, the average woman bore seven children. Nothing like this sudden snapping shut of the national womb has ever happened before in all of history. And the rest of the Muslim world is headed in the same direction.

“Something really big is under way — and practically no one has noticed it, even in the Arab world,” Ignatius quotes an e-mail from Eberstadt, one of the best conservative economists working today. But I don’t think it is quite accurate to say that “practically no one has noticed it.” On the contrary, Islamist leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been shouting from the rooftops about the trend for the past five years, as my book reports. Excluding the independence-hungry Kurdish minority, Turkey’s fertility rate is probably around 1.5 children per female, about the same as Iran’s, and a guarantee of national decline.

…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.

Spengler believes this crisis — that of an Islamic “culture in despair” — largely explains the Iranian regime’s frantic push to go nuclear:

Muslim civilization is in catastrophic decline. It is passing from infancy to senescence without ever reaching maturity. Iran has one last bulge generation of military age men, born before the fertility collapse got underway. It perceives one last historic opportunity to achieve Shi’ite dominance. It won’t have another.

…[in my view,] 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.