I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Marty Peretz and anti-Muslim stereotypes

Marty Peretz's new blog, "Spine," is basically a museum for every anti-Arab/Muslim stereotype and caricature that exists. Each day, one can read about how primitive, violent, deceitful and generally horrible Arab Muslims are. Peretz's blog has revealed that he is basically a glorified (though otherwise quite standard) LGF commenter who happens to own a magazine.

Peretz's latest complaint about Arab Muslims is of the strain commonly voiced by Pat Buchanan and VDARE about Latinos -- namely, that the primitive peoples are reproducing like rabbits and are overwhelming the better educated classes (what Kieran Healy described as: "someone’s always worried that group x are breeding like flies"). Specifically, Peretz claims that Muslims are having large families because they're uneducated and thus don't understand that small families are superior and necessary for a family to be "truly loving" (emphasis added):

Some 2 percent of the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza are Christians. Not so long ago they were roughly 15 percent of the Arab population. The rest are Muslims, all Sunnis. What explains the decline? Birth rates, of course. Christians are better educated than Muslims (all over the Middle East), and they know that if you want to raise a productive, truly loving, and educated family, you'd be wise to raise fewer children and give them all more attention.

Peretz also claims that in addition to Muslims breeding like flies, the Christians fled the region because -- needless to say -- "their living among Muslims was a frightful experience."

I would imagine that most anyone with a large number of children would take great offense at Peretz's claim that only small families can be "productive" and "truly loving." I wonder what Sen. Orrin Hatch (6 children), Sen. Rick Santorum (6 children), former Sen. Jake Garn (7 children), Sen. Jim Bunning (9 children), Sen. Robert Bennett (6 children), Sen. Sam Brownback (5 children), and Joe Kennedy (9 children), to name just a few, think of Peretz's claim that smart people have small families because only such families can be "truly loving" and are necessary to enable children to get the attention they need and deserve.

But leaving aside its offensive qualities, Peretz's warning about Arab and Muslim breeding habits is completely misleading. It is true, as a general proposition, that predominantly Muslims countries have a higher birth rate than those in the Western world. And it is also true, in general, that the wealthier and more educated a society becomes, the lower the fertility rate is (mostly because birth control and abortion become more readily available, because women have opportunities outside the home, and because poor women with access to poor health care suffer high infant mortality rates and need to have large numbers of children to replace the ones who die).

But the real determinant of high birth rates is not whether someone is Muslim, but whether someone is religious. Peretz seems not to have heard that not only Islam, but also Christianity generally, Catholicism specifically, and Judaism consider large families to be anything from a great blessing to a non-negotiable mandate from God. That's why both the evangelical Religious Right and the Catholic Church so adamantly opposes birth control, and Orthodox Jews have among the highest birth rates of anyone in the world. For that reason, equating Muslims with large birth rates -- scary to Peretz though it may be -- is completely dishonest because devout adherence to any religion, not to Islam, is the most reliable predictor of large numbers of children.

In fact, contrary to Peretz's insinuations, Orthodox Jews in the Israel have a substantially higher birth rate than Muslims in Israel. From a U.N. Report (.pdf) on World Population trends:

Fertility patterns in Israel revolve around three major ethno-religious groups. The Jewish nonreligious group . . . has a total fertility rate of about 2.1 children per woman as of 1995-2000. Arab Muslims had a total fertility rate of 4 children per woman as of 1995-2000. The Jewish ultra-Orthodox and national Orthodox population . . . had a total fertility rate of between 6 and 7 children per woman as of 1995-2000.

The same Report explains why this is so: "The religious ideology of the Orthodox Jew is strongly pro-natalist. . . . It seems very unlikely that this will change."

By contrast, several Muslim countries have experienced a substantial decrease in birth rates. From the same U.N. Report: "Fertility in the Islamic Republic of Iran was over 6 children per woman during the early 1980s. By the end of the 1990s, it had reached replacement levels (2.26 children per woman)." Thus, the birth rate for Iranian Muslim women is roughly equal to that for non-religious Israelis women, and is roughly 1/3 of the birth rate for Orthodox Jewish women in Israel. Just compare those facts to Peretz's sloppy, misleadingly alarmist complaints about Muslim birth rates.

A similar fertility report found: "According to Devorit Angel, the Central Bureau of Statistics' official responsible for the analysis of childbirth trends, after 15 years during which the fertility rate in Israel's Muslim population remained stable at 4.7 children per female, a slight decline has emerged in recent years and the figure in 2003 was 4.5. Orthodox Jews have an average of 6.4 children."

And while many population centers are growing, population projections over the next 50 years are far more notable for their religious and racial diversity than for the nightmare of Muslim domination via breeding which keeps Peretz and others up at night:

The uneven nature of population growth is evident from the fact that during the next 45 years just nine countries are expected to account for half of the world's projected population increase: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, the United States, Ethiopia and China.

An even casual review of Peretz's blog reflects that (like LGF) he has almost no interest whatsoever in any topic other than the Middle East, and specifically in the project of demonizing Arabs and Muslims. Hurling these sorts of fact-free, bigoted insults towards "Muslims" is the staple of his blog and, apparently, of his world-view.

There are plenty of people who advocate aggressive and militaristic policies in the Middle East who are not motivated by this sort of bottom-scraping hostility, but there are many, many people like Peretz who seem driven by anti-Muslim animus and little else. For that group, American military action need not make geopolitical sense as long as it entails lots of bombs dropping on the right countries and the right people.

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