Muslims and Europe: Surprisingly positive

PARIS — One year after bombings by Islamic extremists in London sparked intensive soul-searching across Europe about Muslim integration, a new survey has turned up surprisingly positive attitudes, both among European Muslims and in society in general.

The poll, carried out by the Pew Global Attitudes Project this spring in 13 countries, with special oversamples of Muslims living in Britain, Germany, France and Spain, found that “Muslims are generally positive about conditions” in their countries of residence.

“In fact,” Pew said, “they are more positive than the general publics in all four European countries about the way things are going in their countries.”

Among non-Muslim Europeans, overall attitudes toward Muslims did not worsen and in fact in some ways they improved, despite the events of the past year: the July 7 attack in London, which killed 52 people; rioting across France in the autumn by youths, many of Muslim origin; and the rage ignited by Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The survey also found that:

• The entry of women into modern roles is apparently welcomed by many European Muslims.

• European Muslims show signs of favoring a moderate version of Islam.

• The majority of European Muslims do not see many or most Europeans as hostile toward Muslims.

• More French people today see immigration from the Middle East and North Africa as a good thing than did so a year ago.

The survey, released Thursday, found that Muslims in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain were far more worried about unemployment – a bread-and- butter issue of interest to Europeans in general – than about Muslim women taking on modern roles in society.

Britain stood out, with larger numbers than elsewhere describing themselves as “very worried” about Islamic extremism, the declining importance of religion among Muslims in their country, or the influence of pop culture.

Muslims in all four countries agreed that the quality of life for Muslim women was better in the West.

Among Muslims in Europe who see a struggle within Islam between moderates and fundamentalists, most support the moderates. But allegiance to fundamentalism is not insignificant; in Britain, where a relatively high number (58 percent) agree that there is such a struggle, 15 percent of the Muslims side with the fundamentalists.

Other replies also tend to temper Muslims’ positive views about general conditions in Europe.

“Many Muslims, especially in Britain, worry about the future of Muslims in their country,” the Pew study states.

And while Muslims in Europe do not generally view Europeans as hostile, there are noticeable frictions. In France, 37 percent of the Muslims polled said that they had had a “bad experience” in the past two years attributable to their race, ethnicity or religion; in Britain, 28 percent reported a bad experience.

In various ways, Germany deviated from the other three countries. It had the fewest Muslims reporting a bad experience (19 percent), but the most saying that many or most Europeans are hostile to Muslims (51 percent). With such differences, “no clear European point of view emerges with regard to the Muslim experience,” the study said.

The majority populations often worry that a growing Islamic identity could lead to violence. But many also worry that it could keep Muslims from adopting the national customs and way of life. In Germany, Britain and Spain, big majorities saw immigrants as wanting to remain distinct, as did a small majority in France.

The French have been softening their attitude on this issue. In the spring of 2005, just 36 percent of the French thought that newly arrived Muslims wanted to adopt French customs; that jumped to 46 percent this year.

Pew found levels of Muslim identification to be as strong among European Muslims as in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jordan.

In all four European countries surveyed, majorities of Muslims said that they identified first as a member of their faith, and second as a citizen of their country. But the percentages differed widely. In Britain, 81 percent saw themselves first as Muslim, and only 7 percent first as British. In France, however, 46 percent saw themselves first as Muslim, and 42 percent first as French.

(Among Christians, by comparison, 59 percent in Britain see themselves first as British and 24 percent first as Christians. In the United States, a full 42 percent identify themselves first as Christians and second as Americans.)

The survey found no perceptible rise in animosity toward Muslim immigration in Spain, France, or Germany.

But in Germany, with its large Turkish population, immigration from the Middle East and North Africa was seen as “a good thing” by only 34 percent of the general public, with the majority – 59 percent – describing it as a bad thing. Even among the Muslims living in Germany, most did not favor immigration from these areas.

In Britain, 57 percent said that such immigration was a good thing, in line with previous surveys in May of last year and in 2002. In France, 58 percent saw it as a good thing, up from 55 percent last year.

Where European Muslims differed most sharply from general populations was on foreign affairs, Pew found.

While general publics in the four countries surveyed did not give the United States high ratings – Britons were most favorable, at 56 percent – Muslim views were far less favorable, toward both the country and Americans. The U.S. “war on terror” is also extremely unpopular among Muslim populations, with 83 percent opposed in Spain, 78 percent in France, 77 percent in Britain and 62 percent in Germany.

By contrast, Iran – which has upset the West with its nuclear program – has the support of many Muslims, especially in Britain and Spain.

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International Herald Tribune, France
July 6, 2006
David Rampe

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday July 8, 2006.
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