[Interview] Our Islamic Future. Why the EU is like the Roman Empire and what alienated Muslims will do about it: a 2050 perspective

Posted on 05/05/2018


In medieval Europe a ruler could force a religion on his region, says dr Greg Lewicki in an interview for Alukah.net by Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd. Now, thanks to democracy, the rule returns inverted and it is a region that can force a religion on a ruler. This is why in 2050 Islam will continue to grow even if some Europeans will be against it.


Q: In your paper on Toynbee, you speak of European Union as an “universal state” and some groups within European Muslim community as “internal proletariat”. Could you elaborate on European Muslim community as “internal proletariat”?

GL: We must start with Arnold Toynbee and his model of civilizational evolution. Toynbee was one of the few historians, who wanted to write about history from a global and long-term perspective. He was not satisfied with history of present events. We can say he wanted to acquire a birds-eye-view on history. This is why he kept writing not only about history of nations or cultures, but on the history of the whole civilizations (such as: Islamic, Western, Hindu or Far Eastern) that last many, many centuries. He wrote twelve big, fat volumes on those issues, called  “A Study of History”. Luckily there is also an abridgement by D.C. Somervell. Anyway, Toynbee believed that each of civilizations has a religion or religious-philosophical system at its heart. According to Toynbee religions are chrysalides, or “generators” of civilizations. Islamic civilization is, of course, based on Islam and the Western civilization is based on Christianity.

According to Toynbee, religions create a sense of unity above political, cultural and ethnic divisions. After all, the English word “religion” comes from Latin word “religio” which means “a bond”. So religion is primarily something that binds the souls of people together. In the language of big data I could say religion is a networking factor in the chaotic world of cultures. Of course, Iranians, Arabs or Turks, or Indonesians have different cultures; of course, among Muslims there exist misunderstandings and even conflicts. However, the unifying idea of umma above those divisions exists as well.

“Latin ‘religio’ means ‘a bond’. Religion is a networking factor in the chaotic world of cultures”

I say all this because  the term “internal proletariat” is also related to religion and umma. This will become clear if we look at the model of a lifecycle of civilizations by Toynbee, based on the history of Graeco-Roman civilization. So Toynbee believed that in the history of every single civilization there comes a time, when it forms an “universal state” – a great political entity across many cultures, religions and ethnicities. Among those who live in such multicultural state there is “internal proletariat” – a group of people who feel psychologically alienated; and alienation means they technically live “in” a universal state, but they feel “alien”, they do not feel they really belong to this state in terms of identity.

There may be many sources of this alienation: they are political, economic, social or religious. The internal proletarians might feel discriminated by the universal state, or they might feel it does not reflect their values, or many other things. As they experience discomfort, they frequently resort to religion as their consolation that gives them a feeling of unity. Toynbee called them “proletariat” because Latin world “proles” means “offspring” or “children” – and the members of internal proletariat frequently feel they do not contribute to the public life in other way than by supplying the children.

An example of a universal state in the past was Roman Empire in the period of “Roman peace” (Latin Pax Romana) that lasted for almost three centuries. In such great and multicultural state many things may go wrong – people struggle, political factions compete, revolutions take place, cultures interact and religions search for the new believers. Wars break out. At some point, however, people are exhausted so the governors of universal state declare universal peace. To make it stable, they promote a philosophy of tolerance that justifies the peace, they give more freedom of expression and action to the people. Thanks to this, suddenly, many of those who have felt alienated and supressed can speak freely. This moment  allows internal proletariat to start its historical role. The proletariat starts to promote their religion down-to-top, temple after temple, as the tolerance of universal state allows this. They create a network of identity, mutual support and trust, thus influencing culture. To give you an example of such process from Roman history: the Pope Saint Leo I believed the creation of Roman Empire was a part of God’s plan, because transportation routes (very efficient roads and sea-faring routes) made fast travel possible. This, together with freedom to spread the word of God, allowed Christianity to create an ordered hierarchy of parishes throughout the whole Empire. At some point Christianity indeed spread to become a dominating religion of the Roman Empire. What is more, even after the empire collapsed, Christianity managed to create a brand new civilization. So, summing up: internal proletariat of religious people can in fact generate a new civilization or spread an existing civilization effectively, of course under certain conditions.

“Pope Saint Leo I believed Roman Empire was a part of God’s plan, because at some point it allowed Christianity to spread”

Now, regarding your question: Toynbee was trying to identify both universal state and internal proletariat in modern Europe. In short, he failed, but he left valuable intuitions for people like me to continue his work. In my paper “Return on Toynbee” (in English) and my book (not available in English) I identify universal state as European Union (EU) and some groups within Muslim community as a possible “internal proletariat”. Why? Because when you look into multicultural psychology and studies of alienation, it becomes clear that some Muslims feel alienated within EU. Of course, many of them do not feel this way, but causal forces of history are frequently a minority at first.

Although it is unclear what percentage of Muslims currently feels alienated, it is clear that those who do feel alienated have an expansive religion at their disposal and they can have numerous offspring. Their alienation may be stimulated by many things, such as: the feeling of being religiously discriminated, wrong EU policies, lack of integration or willingness to integrate, low social standing, low inter-cultural competence, low income or even spatial segregation that stimulates prejudice of the host culture. Anyway, all these different factors may add up, contributing to the final outcome of explosive alienation. In the meantime, European Islam interacts with the Western civilization in EU in the process of mutual learning. This may generate great syntheses in the future.

Q:  I don’t know what European Muslims or internal proletariat use to achieve their goals. When the universal state rejects them and segregates them into a kind of hermetically sealed box of poverty and discrimination, they appear more desperate and more likely to resort to extreme measures.

GL: Toynbee is of only limited help in answering this question. The internal proletariat generally uses the benefits of universal state such as free speech, easy transportation and opportunities for preaching to create international and institutional bonds between the people. With time, the proletariat becomes more integrated as it develops global, centralized infrastructure of temples and networks of support that provide spiritual comfort for believers. Toynbee also believed that proletarians could choose either violent strategies (attacks, riots) or peaceful strategy (proselytizing) and that the second is much more effective in the universal state. An example: to increase its impact, Christianity in Rome worked out a system of parishes governed by the Canon Law – a law that regulates the operation of the whole Christianity that was based on Roman Law. This was very effective step! It allowed for doctrinal  unity and universal coordination. However, in case of Islam today there is no similar global, international Islamic hierarchy, there is no centralization, so there is less coordination. Many countries compete for attracting the respect of the umma. It might sound absurd at first, but “structuring” Islam is a thing to consider as an efficient strategy for internal proletariat. If an European Islamic hierarchy or Canon Law existed many things would be easier. For example, the radicals could be stigmatized more effectively and the image of Islam in Europe could be improved faster. Islam could not be easily hijacked by charismatic preachers who support violence. So more people “from the outside” would be inclined to know it. But then, there would have to be a consensus between the European Muslims and countries that help them financially as to how such centralized body would look like.

“It might sound absurd at first, but if an European Islamic hierarchy or Canon Law existed many things would be easier”

When speaking of strategies, we must also be aware that Muslims are not dhimmis from the perspective of today’s Europe. This means nobody is preparing social policies that aim at their long term extinction or expulsion from the continent. In other words, there is no discrimination in the liberal principles. Those principles do not aim at supressing or weakening Muslims. Of course, there exists a discrimination. But in many cases it is rather processual, not institutional discrimination. I mean that European Union today is thousand times more tolerant that Roman Empire. To give you an example: let us imagine for a moment Islam exists in the ancient Roman times: the Muslims would be forced to recognize the God-Caesar as their first God instead of Allah; there would be bloody revolts on the streets targeted at them; they would throw Muslims to the lions’ dens for the variety of weird reasons; the Muslims would not receive public support related to cultural integration or religious preaching. And so on. Compared to the past, today’s internal proletariat in Europe has much easier life. After all there is democracy in Europe which means social change can be brought about down-to-top, from local to global level. So the Muslims in EU do not have to go for top-to-down- model. In other words, they do not have to fight for the global advantage only to beg the emperor “Look, we are useful, we should not be killed or persecuted!”. No, they can make their lives, and express themselves even if life is tough and they are discriminated. We already observe this down-to-top change in the EU: in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods, districts or towns both local rules and sensitivities change and the public space is getting “more Muslim”, more halal-friendly and starts to reflect Muslim culture more. Look at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, look at London with its Muslim mayor.

Having said this, it is true that “the sealed box of poverty and discrimination” as you term it, is a burning problem in many places across Europe, because this sealing, or segregation, only contributes towards more segregation. The Nobel prize laureate Thomas Shelling has shown that some ethnic or religious segregation emerges in almost every multicultural society and that you do not have to be racist to actually support this process by your subconscious decisions. It is somehow in our biological nature that we feel more comfortable among people that are “like us”. This very preference results in a global phenomenon: people in general tend to group themselves according to religious or ethnic variables. There exist EU policies to change this, but they are not very effective. Unfortunately.

“The Nobel prize laureate Thomas Shelling has shown segregation emerges in almost every multicultural society”

When it comes to Muslims choosing “extreme measures” as a result of frustration and poverty, there is some interesting research that shows that  it is sometimes spiritual alienation that is more important than economic alienation. For example, some anti-Western terrorists are well educated and rich – which means in spite of good economic standing they are still spiritually alienated. This alienation is both a challenge and opportunity for moderate Islamic preachers, an opportunity to penetrate these alienated souls and to tell them that extreme measures are not something good; to tell them that in emulating the Prophet Muhammad it is the peaceful Mecca period of life, and not Medina period that is worth emulating in today’s European Union. This is in fact what Toynbee would encourage: he claimed any proletariat can choose a way of violence or peace. In the long run it is only the peaceful strategy that can make the culture of internal proletariat more attractive in the eyes of the host European culture.

Another strategy for internal proletariat to gain influence is by simply having a lot of children that follow a proletarian religion. But this is not as simple as it may sound. Why? Because in Europe low fertility is not always related to decadence or infertility but it has “structural” causes. By “structural” I mean that the good and healthy conditions of life in the European Union come at a price. The amount of money people earn and spend, amount of time people have to work, all this creates a structure of personal choices that “makes” people have less children. EU is based on technologically advancing economies and to bring up a child that will be competing on the job market for a well-paid job you need a lot of effort, lot of money and a lot of time. An example: imagine you have a million dollars. You can spend it on one child or on five children. It is of course an oversimplification – we don’t speak of very rich people, we speak of the majority –  but as a general rule you can have a lot of poorly qualified children or a few well qualified children, who are thus potentially more successful in the job market. So unless you belong to a class higher than the middle-class, your great fertility sometimes may mean less success for your children, because you have to divide resources. And your less qualified children may get frustrated and alienated and some of them are prone to extreme measures! To counter this negative processes the internal proletariat of the future may choose to have less, but more qualified children that will be successfully competing in the circles of European elites. In other words, Islamic proletariat in Europe of the future could be gradually focusing on developing more cultural, economic and social capital. But if they choose such way, then after one, two or three generations its fertility rates might get lower to become similar to the European level.

“If, on average, there are more children than 3-4 per family, the country may become unstable”

Another thing about fertility: the Demographic War Index by NATO lecturer Gunnar Heinsohn suggests that an optimal average fertility rate is frequently not more than 3-4 children per mother. If, on average, there are more children than this in a society for more than a generation or two, the country in some cases may become unstable, as the excess of young adults cannot find a place in a social system. If they cannot lead a satisfying life in the country, they start to feel miserable, so they start to think of revolts or migration or conquering neighbours. This is precisely what is now happening in many countries. For example, according to Pew 75% Nigerians would gladly move to Europe if they had resources and opportunities. A similar potential of expansion and migration was notable in the era of great geographical discoveries in XV century – Columbus and the first settlers in America often had as many as 7 or more brothers and sisters. The local systems of well-being could not absorb them all so they have chosen to discover new lands. Same with XIX and XX century in Europe and the colonial era: the third or fourth excess sons of Europe started to rule in India or Africa. This is because humans are like water, the excess has to flow out – this way or another. So internal proletariat will have to keep in mind that too many children does not always translate into success. High birth rates may lead to destabilization and alienation – unless properly channelled.

Q: In your paper you mention seven logically possible scenarios of an ongoing interaction between the Western and Islamic civilizations on the territory of the EU. In your opinion what is the most probable  scenario?

GL: This is one of the most difficult questions for both a scholar and a foresight consultant. Toynbee was writing about this in his book “Civilization on Trial”, in the essay “Islam the West and the Future”. But his answers are not satisfactory as he did not have access to oceans of data we have at our disposal today. What is more, he did not identify some Muslims as internal proletariat of Europe, so he had difficulties in recognizing their potential historical role.

Anyway, for now the Islamic civilization takes roots in Europe and the outcomes of this interaction will be very interesting, considering Pew estimates that by 2050 10-14 percent of EU citizens will be Muslims and there will be some European regions where Muslims are in the vast majority (for example 80 percent). I think that around year 2100, Muslims could constitute as much as 20 or 30 percent of European population.

“Around year 2100, Muslims could constitute as much as 30 percent of European population”

A great question is whether Islamic civilization will grow further and whether it will create an integrated and coherent network of mosques and other institutions that would be an equal player, comparable to network of Christian parishes or a network of lay institutions. My prognosis is that in many countries of Western Europe Islam will be gaining followers and by 2100 in Europe Islam will become a major, important regional power, politically and culturally. However, it could be struggling with some institutional difficulties and  fragmentation because of lack of a single institutional hierarchy and because of internal ideological divisions as to interpretation of what Koran actually allows for.

By 2100 we will also experience the consequences of what I call a neomedieval era in Europe, an era similar to the one we had in late Roman Empire during its transformation into Middle Ages. I write more about it elsewhere, but in short, it is an era characterized by such things as great migration, return of religion to public life, cultural fragmentation, segregation and de-territorialization of law – so it is possible that instead of one legal system in, for example, France, there will be many legal systems depending on one’s choice of identity. It is quite possible that you will be able to choose whether you want to be judged by a lay law, or the law inspired by Christian tradition or Sharia tradition. In this context Muslims will be reworking its Sharia tradition. It is probable there will be no unity among them, so some will choose more conservative interpretations and some of them will choose more open approach to Sharia. There will be tensions about this in some countries and this cultural change will cause frictions, divisions, political separatisms and segregation.

“Many Europeans could be aggressive towards Muslims and Muslims could refuse integration. This may cause political separatisms and strengthen segregation”

Firstly, many Europeans could become aggressive towards Muslims. Secondly, some Muslims could refuse cultural integration, rejecting European culture and becoming aggressive towards non-Muslims. However, in other regions of Europe, where Muslims constitute more than 50 percent, Islam will be a stabilizing and unifying factor. Even in places where it will constitute 20-30 percent of population, Islam will be an important decisive factor in politics and culture. All thanks to democracy and the idea of free speech. Why? Let me give you an example: in the authoritarian medieval Western Europe there was a rule called “the one, who has a  region, has a religion” (Latin “cuius regio, eius religio”). It meant that a ruler of a region was arbitrarily choosing a religion that must be followed in the area. However, in the neomedieval Europe around year 2100 an opposite rule will hold: “the one who has  religion, has a region”. It means that in a democratic environment that does not have a central leading culture, a dominating religion or values in the area will be a ruling factor (Latin “cuius religio, eius regio”). This is because democracy can effectively channel dreams and wants of social groups in a bottom-up manner.

Sticking to scenarios from my academic essay, this means that around year  2100  a scenario IV will hold: an era of Western civilization in EU that is undergoing fast Islamization in many regions according to the rules that game theory scholars call “hierarchical networking”. It is a rule that suggests Islamization will have very different intensification in different regions of Europe. It will be very fast in some places and very slow or even non-existent in other places. Political fragmentation and even separatisms will be the components of the process.

One other important factor to be taken into account is that a world around 2100 will be a world that has already underwent a profound technological transition – it will be less dependent on fossil fuels such as oil, and the reserves in many Muslim countries will be depleting. It is important because many oil-exporting countries currently support European Islam. So after 2050 the Muslim countries that finance development of Islam in Europe will have to find a sustainable way to reshape their economies to raise their reliance on technological innovation. Otherwise, their power and their impact on European Muslims will falter. From our prognoses based on the data from State Power Index 2018 I co-authored, in the next two decades the Islamic civilization, understood as sum of Muslim countries, will keep more or less constant level of international power. In the same time the leading Western civilization, understood as North America, Europe and Australia will be weakening. And the Confucian civilization (including China) will be getting stronger, eventually outsmarting the West around 2050 as to international power.

As to Europe, in the long run some other scenarios can evolve from scenario IV, which – as I said before – denotes the West undergoing Islamization. I am almost sure by 2100 or even by 2050 a great Muslim personality will emerge in Europe. It will be a great historical figure remembered by generations, who will try to deeply link Islamic and Western traditions. Such synthesis is already in the air as writings by Nayef Al-Rodhan and many other Muslim thinkers suggest. It will be conducted by a personality comparable to Averroes or Aquinas. In this spirit, if Islamic civilization will properly digest Westernization,  the scenario number II will also be possible: the scenario assumes Islamic civilization in Europe will have a potential of not only reshaping European Union, but also outlasting it, just as Christianity outlasted Roman Empire.

“A dangerous scenario could be total de-westernization of Islamic civilization in Europe”

I must also add that one dangerous scenario could be scenario VI, namely separation of civilizations, leading to scenario III, that is total de-westernization of Islamic civilization in Europe. It is not the most probable scenario, but Toynbee would certainly agree that it would be harmful for both Islam and the West. It would bring more segregation, alienation and violence to all and it would basically make Europe a worse place to live; a place that is very different from Europe  we know today –  with its focus on free speech, advanced technology, health and science.

So we have to remember that the internal proletariat of today may belong to the powerful European elite of tomorrow and that much of European history is now in the Muslim hands. But we also have to remember that with great power there comes great responsibility.

Q: Thank you very much, professor Greg Lewicki.


Dr Greg Grzegorz Lewicki – foresight consultant for private and public sector, journalist, philosopher, TEDx speaker. Graduate of London School of Economics with a focus on game theoretic modelling of religious interaction as well as Maastricht University with a focus on future of science. Within his PhD at Jagiellonian University he studied evolution of socio-political complexity and the notion of “a civilization”. Greg served as an international observer at UN Commission of Social Development in New York and authored reports for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also participated in prognostic projects financed by the European Commission. His recent publications include: “State Power Index” (2017, 2018), the first index that measures and compares power of 168 countries in the world in 7 dimensions, including hard and soft power; “Cities in the Neomedieval Era” (2016), an anthology that develops the idea of the New Middle Ages into a tool for prognostics and an essay “Return of Toynbee. European Union as universal state, Muslims as internal proletariat” (2017). His essays were translated into 5 languages. Contact: www.greglewicki.com.

This is an edited version of an interview, originally entitled “Greg Lewicki and Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd discuss the future of Muslim internal proletariat in Europe and civilization theory by Arnold Toynbee” and published on a Muslim, Saudi Arabian portal Alukah.net on 30.04.2018 [URL: http://www.alukah.net/world_muslims/0/126821/]