The Demographic Winter
The latest issue of The Nation features a disturbing cover story by Kathryn Joyce on how the American religious far-right is tapping nativist insecurity in Europe to take its made-in-the-USA anti-choice message global.
The imminent demise of Europe is a popular prediction these days, with books such as Catholic scholar George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral, Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan, Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept and Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West all appearing since 2001. The 2006 film Children of Men sketched a sterile, dystopian world thrown into chaos for lack of babies (though with less blatant antiabortion implications than the Christian allegorical P.D. James novel on which it was based). The media increasingly sound the alarm as Eastern European countries register birthrates halved since the last generation. And on February 11, the Family First Foundation, a profamily group in the same movement circles as [Steve] Mosher and [Christine] de Vollmer, released a documentary dedicated to the threat: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family.
What was a conservative drumbeat about Europe’s death has become mainstream media shorthand, complementing ominous news items about Muslim riots in France; Muslim boycotts in London; Muslim “veil” debates in Denmark; and empty European churches transformed into mosques, with calls to prayer replacing church bells. Evangelical luminary Chuck Colson, head of the vast Prison Fellowship ministry and a close ally of George W. Bush, espoused a conspiracy theory in which he construed an Islamic Council of Europe handbook for Muslims trying to keep the faith abroad as a “soft terrorism” plot for takeover. The late Oriana Fallaci lambasted Europe’s transformation into a Muslim colony, “Eurabia.” And in a recent political match in Switzerland, a campaign poster depicted a flock of white sheep kicking a black sheep out of their pasture, “For Greater Security.” The refrain is that the good-faith multicultural tolerance approach of the Netherlands has been tried and has failed, which is arguably a few polite steps from Mosher’s summary of the problem: that Muslim immigrants are simply “too many and too culturally different from their new countries’ populations to assimilate quickly…. They are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide.” Or, as he declared while rallying a gathering of profamily activists last spring in Poland, “I want to see more Poles!”
Or more Russians, or more Italians, as the case may be. The fever for more “European” babies is widespread. The last two popes have involved themselves in the debate, with John Paul II pronouncing a “crisis of births” in 2002 in an anomalous papal address to Italy’s Parliament and Benedict XVI remarking on the “tragedy” of childless European couples and beatifying an Italian peasant woman for raising twelve children.
At the national level, in 2004 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered a “baby bonus” of about $1,000 to parents who had a second child, and Russia, which has a history of pronatalist policies, including its 1980s-era “motherhood medals,” sweetened the offer to its citizens with several birth initiatives for hesitant couples, including an $8,900 award to families who produce a second child and a stipend of 40 percent of salary to women who leave work to become stay-at-home moms. One Russian province made novelty news worldwide with its Day of Conception on September 12, when residents of Ulyanovsk got time off work to “conceive a patriot” for the country. Prizes for successful delivery nine months later include refrigerators and cars. The theme is present enough in the popular consciousness that a Swedish underwear company cashed in on the anxiety with a provocative ad campaign featuring a cast of Nordic men wearing EU-type lapel pins, commanding Swedes to Fuck for the Future and Drop Your Pants or Drop Dead.
The nativist motivations for such campaigns move beyond the subliminal at times. Elizabeth Krause, an anthropologist and author of A Crisis of Births: Population Politics and Family-Making in Italy, tracked that country’s population efforts over the past decade and found politicians demanding more babies “to keep away the armadas of immigrants from the southern shores of the Mediterranean” and priests calling for a “Christian dike against the Muslim invasion of Italy.” The racial preferences behind Berlusconi’s “baby bonus” came into embarrassing relief when immigrant parents were accidentally sent checks for their offspring and then asked to return the money: the Italian government hadn’t meant to promote those births.
The American Christian right, increasingly seeking influence abroad, has recognized that this anxiety over shifting national identities creates fertile terrain for spreading its ideology of traditional sexual morality as a quick fix for a postmodern age.
Related: Chris Hedges has more on the “creeping Christian chauvinism [that] has infected our political and social discourse” and how “[t]he public denigration of Islam, and by implication all religious belief systems outside Christianity, is part of the triumphalism that has distorted the [US] since the 9/11 attacks.”