Swimming against the current: Emmanuel Todd on Islam and the West

In his new book 'Le Rendez-vous des civilisations', French demographist, sociologist, historian and political scientist Emmnanuel Todd, with fellow scientist Youssef Courbage, prove, with scientific data based on demographics, birth rates, education, and some other factors studied by demographists, that Islam is a religion moving toward secularisation, as other religions did before.

This is an excerpt from an interview with Todd published in the French magazine Marianne, and translated in Truth.org.

"Iran worries some observers more than Iraq did before the American intervention.

The question of Iran presents itself in the form of a stream of images and facts difficult to interpret as seen from France. There are the absurd statements of President Ahmadinejad, images of women covered in black and the ambient Islamophobia. All that masks the deep reality of Iran: a society in the midst of rapid cultural development, in which there are more women than men enrolled in university, a country in which the demographic revolution has reduced the number of children per woman to two, as in France or the United States. Iran is in the process of giving birth to a pluralistic democracy. It's a country where, certainly, not everyone can stand for election, but where people vote regularly and where swings in opinion and majority are frequent. Like France, England and the United States, Iran has lived through a revolution that is stabilizing itself and where a democratic temperament is blossoming.

All that must be related to a religious matrix in which the Shiite variation of Islam values interpretation, debate and, ultimately, revolt.

For a simple Western observer, the similarity between Shiism and Protestantism is not particularly obvious.

It would be ridiculous to push this comparison to the extreme. But it is clear that - just as Protestantism was an accelerator of progress in European history and Catholicism was a break - Shiism today brings a positive contribution to development, notably in the domain of birth control: Azerbaijan, certainly post-Communist, but also Shiite, has a 1.7 fertility rate, while the Shiite Alawite regions of Syria have completed their demographic transition, unlike the majority-Sunni regions. In Lebanon, the Shiite community, Hezbollah's social base, was behind on the educational and social levels, but is in the process of catching up with the other communities, as one sees in the development of fertility rates.

Iran is also a very big nation that demonstrates a realistic awareness of its strategic interest in a region where most of its neighbors possess the nuclear weapon: Pakistan, (and, via the presence of the American Army) Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel. In that context, the reasonable European attitude would be to accompany Iran in its liberal and democratic transition and to understand its security preoccupations.

In your book, you make the altogether surprising hypothesis of a possible secularization of Muslim societies.

To the extent that within the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Buddhist worlds, the drop in fertility has always been preceded by a weakening of religious practice, one must wonder whether the Muslim countries in which the number of children per woman is equal to or less than two are not also in the process of experiencing, unknown to us - and perhaps also unknown to their leaders - a process of secularization. That's the case of Iran."


Also: Secularism and Islamism in the Arab World (thanks Issam)


Naj said...

Ah, another French Mullah-lover! :))


I just want to add one comment from my observations (and those of my social scientist family members):

The lowering of birth rate in Iran has nothing to do with secularization. It has to do with
1) education (offered in the remotest of villages of the country. Unknown to many, and ridiculed by the narrow minded city-dweller bourgeois, are the "free universities" that have popped in almost every small town of the country. The quality of education in these centers doesn't match that offered in big universities, however, their value in terms of creating an access to education to men and women who are the baby-makers of the future cannot be denied.)

2) availability of birth control (pills and condoms given for free at clinics set up by the government. It is now required, legally, by young men and women to obtain a "sex training certificate" before marrying. They need to attend a class and learn about birth control, sexually transmitted disease, and etc.)

3) economic realities and a culture of "child-centerism" that compels, even the most rural people to wish proper education and life style for their offsprings. Besides, women are an integral part of the Iranian workforce. Working women, do not have time for child rearing, as the western world has realized! This is not a religious or secular correlate, it is an economic one.

4) the "religious" teaching that "a man must bring children to world, only if he can feed them and attire them properly."

Anonymous said...

Sophia ,

Have a look at :



Sophia said...


I don't doubt that education is the main factor in lowering birth rates. Actually, I did not read Todd's essay and will soon but I was just reporting what the journalists reported from conversations with him.

Todd predicted the fall of the soviet union 25 years before it happened on the basis of child mortality rates and other demographic data.

Sophia said...

Thanks for the link.

Amre El-Abyad said...

Dear Sofia,

But we mustn't forget that Iran power is not in our favour as Arabs.

It was Iran that faciltated the inavasio of Iraq. It is Iranian elemnts that are responsible for the most horrendous ethnic clansing crimes in Iraq. It is Iran that is pushing millions of Iranians into the south of Iraq, where Persian is almost an official language now.

It is Iran that is deliberately highlighting the secatrian discourse and dismissing Arab natinalism a heresey, because that is only way it could play a role in this region where it has ben shut out for thousands of years, except during the days of the barabrian Achamaenid and Sassanid empires.......

It was Iran' ideologiew that dragged Iraq into an 8 years of bloody war against theIR FANATIC IDEOLOGIES.

It wa Iran thatsupplied Israel with oil in 1973 and spilled the noble Egyptian blood.

Just a simple question, how do you make your Arab identity consistent with your deence of Iran?

Naj said...


And I just commented on the journalist's report of the conversation with him.

You know, in Persian we have a saying: "empty stomachs don't have a faith"

I tend to seek an economic agenda in everything going right or wrong in the world, rather than a religious or nationalist one.

Sophia said...

Dear Amr,

I want to reassure you that I am Arab before everything else. This said, I am an atheist, I don't have a religion, although my religious background is Christian.
I am not defending Iran. I am not defending other countries either. I have copied an excerpt from an interview done with a demographist who made some conclusions on Islam based on a scientific study, not opinions.

If we are to play the blame game, I think one has to be ill sighted and realy fanatic to blame the Iran Iraq war and its atrocities on Iran. This war was the responsibility of puppet Saddam who went into it at the demand of his US masters.

You have to understand also Amr that saudis have done nothing but harm to everything Arab. And you have to undertsand that when the US will be done demolishing Palestinians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Iranians, as they are planning to do, it will be Saudi Arabia's turn. If you look at the history of the US, it always turned against its puppets. Do I have to remind you of Noriega, Saddam, and the rest ?

Please open your eyes. There is no arguing about that. It is people like you who play the division game the US has been implementing in the ME who are damaging the future of the Arab world. Don't blame Iran for our misfortunes, blame yourself and your sectarian attitude.

I have nothing common with Iranians except what I may have with the rest of humanity, but I cannot have something common with Arabs when they deny themselves the very essence of humanity , the freedom to think for themselves, by siding with the ennemy who want to destroy us, USrael.

Amre El-Abyad said...

Dear sofia,

Iraq had no choice but to go to war with Iran. The Iranian Khomeinists were resisting the baathist attempts to secularise and modernise the south.

"Bani Sadr" the second man in Iran stated the the revoliution will only stop in Bahgdad.

Khomeini enticed the southern Iraqis to revolt!

Iraqi embassy in Tehran was besieged while Iranian revolutionaries were shouting death to the Baath..........

Iraq had no choice but to break the back of Iran, in order to secure itself and its modernisation project............

American intersts went along with Sadam at this time. But we all have to remeber that he didnt sell out the Palestinians, otherwise they wouldn't have got in him in 1990.......

Time has proven the long vision of Sadam, now, after the fall of Iraq, we have all have witnessed the Iranian grudge manifesting itself in Iraq and how and destructive Iranians could be.

About Saudis, No one has done Arabs more Harm than the house of Al Saud. There, I quote the house the angry Arab saying that there can never be progress in the region, so long as they are in power.

Secondly, may I know why have you presumed that Iam Saudi symapthiser?

Does this mean that anyone who defends the Arab identity of Iraq, stands up to the Iranian crimes and sympathises with the innocent Iraqis whom the Iranians are massacring, is by defintion a Saudi sympoathiser?

It is not about Saudi Arabia and Iran, but rather the future of the entire Arab world and Arab culture. If Iran extends its influence in Iraq, then that will be begining of the end of ARABISM

Wassim said...

Hmm..thanks for posting, I'd be interested to read more about this guy. I don't think Islam and secularisation are compatible simply because Islam is ahistorical to the context that secular politics exists within. My initial reaction is this is just wishful thinking on the part of the researchers.

Sophia said...


Wishful thinking ? You didn't read the book. And this is not a theoretical research, this is a scientific research. Although, it is a certain kind of Islam, namely shiism. When you look at protestantism and catholicism you realize that roman catholicism is ahistorical, but not protestantism.

Sophia said...


As you are blogging from Syria I wanted to remind you that there is a religion in your country that is very well secularised, the Alaoui religion, which is the religion of your president.

Elizabeth said...

I'm somewhat fascinated with Shiism, which in my opinion resembles Christianity in some ways and probably can conform to the modern world better than Sunni Islam.

Since March 29th 2006