Polls: West Ill-at-Ease With Muslims Living in Its Midst

Western Muslims

Website Citizen Warrior gathers polls from the U.S. and Europe to paint a portrait of growing unease about Islam in the Western world, presented as evidence that “the Great Awakening has begun.”  A few of the polling results cited, with their source links:

FRANCE: Several polls show that more than 70% of the French think Islam is incompatible with democracy and Western civilization. Those polls predate the Charlie Hebdo attack (source).

AUSTRALIA: One in four Australians holds a negative attitude towards Muslims, a national survey has found. It found people were five times more likely to hold negative attitudes towards Muslims than any other religious group. “What we’re finding is negativity towards Muslims is five times higher than towards Christians and Buddhists, so there’s quite a significant issue there,” said Professor Markus (source).

AUSTRIA: A new survey carried out in December 2014 and published January 2015 by Der Standard newspaper shows that 51 percent of the respondents believe that Islam is a threat to Austrian society (source).

BRITAIN: More than a quarter of young adults in Britain mistrust Muslims, a BBC survey shows. Some 27% of the thousand 18 to 24-year-olds questioned said they did not trust them, while fewer than three in 10 (29%) thought Muslims were doing enough to tackle extremism in their communities. A similar proportion of the young people polled (28%) said the country would be better off with fewer Muslims and almost half (44%) felt Muslims did not share the same values as everyone else (source).

GERMANY: A majority of Germans have rejected former President Christian Wulff’s famous statement that “Islam is now also a part of Germany”, with 52 percent against the idea (source).

CZECH REPUBLIC: About two-thirds of Czechs who have used the European election calculator EUvox consider Islam a threat to Czech society, according to an analysis of the results carried out by the Academy of Sciences Sociological Institute, released today. The institute assessed the opinions of 18,000 Czechs (source).

Polls from Italy and Germany showing that roughly half of respondents said they “have a negative opinion of the Muslims who live in their country.”

A wide variety of negative opinions are captured in these polls, which represent a considerable spectrum of survey methods and sample sizes.  Just to contrast the first two results cited, 70 percent of the French believing that “Islam is incompatible with democracy and Western civilization” is a lot more severe than 25 percent of Australians holding a “negative attitude toward Muslims.”

One of the news items collected by Citizen Warrior concerns an unspecified number of pupils at a Scottish school in 2013 using negative terms like “scary” when asked to write down their thoughts about Muslims; this earned them a visit from hijab-wearing women from a Muslim women’s resource center, who had an evidently amiable chat with the kids that included a few odd digressions, such as comparing the hijab to headscarves worn by Mother Theresa and the Queen.  That doesn’t seem like an item that belongs on the same shelf as 57 percent of Germans telling a pollster they regard Islam as “threatening or very threatening to German society.”

There’s also the question of conflating Islam with Islamism, the point at which nearly every discussion of Islam, by everyone from the most affectionate devotee of the religion to the most hostile outsider, runs into trouble.  The most severe critics wonder if there’s a real difference between Islamic theology and its political application at all, judging it to be a political faith that draws no line between secular and religious law.  We’ve all heard the case from the other side of the spectrum that Islam’s problems are the work of a “tiny minority of extremists” who don’t understand their own professed religion.  Some of the news items in Citizen Warrior’s roundup explicitly concern Islamism or “Islamic extremism,” while others are broader expressions of unease with Islam at large.

Everyone desires clarity and honesty in a discussion of this importance.  Muslims who feel they are unfairly viewed with hostility or suspicion blame an incomplete or incorrect understanding of their faith by outsiders, deeply resenting the assumption that every mosque is sympathetic to terrorism.  As several items in the list above illustrate, including the one from Scotland, the common reaction to strongly negative opinions of Islam is a call for more education and outreach.  It is a common Western assumption that bad feelings about any group are largely a product of ignorance, while understanding breeds tolerance.

This desire for clarity should be universal: Western cultural and political elites should make the effort to understand people who are uncomfortable with Islam, too.  Dismissing them as benighted bigots is itself an act of bigotry.  It’s uncomfortable to talk about the real reasons so many outsiders are suspicious of Islam, but a truly tolerant society must be illuminated by courage.  A great deal of what Western elites say to mollify (or, more commonly, intimidate) critics of Islam is laughably simplistic or obviously untrue.  We are expected to beat around some very large bushes, and ignore formidable elephants standing in the middle of the room.


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