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German Mistrust of Muslims and Islam Grows

Rainer Sollich (sms)May 20, 2006

Experts fear new conflicts after a study published this week showed most Germans doubt the Western and Islamic worlds can peacefully coexist. Mistrust of the 3 million Muslims living in Germany appears to be growing.

A "spiral of conflict" could be starting in Germany, the study warnedImage: AP

In spite of official attempts to promote dialog among religions, distrust of Islam continues to grow, with 60 percent of Germans expecting tension between traditional German society and immigrants from Muslim countries, according to an Allensbach study commissioned by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

"Germans are increasingly of the opinion that a lasting, peaceful coexistence with the Islamic world will not be possible," the researchers said in the survey, released Wednesday.

Some 56 percent of Germans said they believed a "clash of cultures" already exists, partly a result of recent incidents that received a large amount of media attention, according to the survey's authors Elisabeth Noelle and Thomas Petersen.

Germans less willing to show tolerance to Muslims

Betende Muslime in Kreuzberg
Germans' image of Muslims has been getting worse since Sept. 11, 2001Image: AP

The case of a Berlin "honor killing," a quarrel over two Bonn students who wore burkas to school and discussions concerning increasing schoolyard violence among immigrant children have all made headlines in the German press recently.

"In view of the diffuse feeling of being under threat, and the suspected intolerance of Islam, the readiness of Germans to show tolerance to the Muslim faith is sinking," Noelle and Petersen wrote.

Germans' esteem for Islam has been falling since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, with 83 percent of the 1,076 Germans questioned in the survey agreeing with the statement that Islam is driven by fanaticism. That amount was 10 percent higher than two years ago. A majority, 71 percent, said they believed Islam to be "intolerant," up from 66 percent.

When asked what they associate with the word "Islam," 91 percent of respondents connected the religion to the discrimination of women, and 61 percent called Islam "undemocratic." Eight percent of Germans associated "peacefulness" with Islam.

Willing to limit freedom of religion

Most Germans don't believe a mosque should be built in a community that doesn't want itImage: picture-alliance / dpa

About 40 percent of Germans queried were willing to limit the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion if constricting the practice of the Muslim religion would lead to fewer violent Muslims choosing to live in Germany. Over half of those who took part, 56 percent, agreed with the statement, "If some Muslim countries forbid building churches, then it should be forbidden to build mosques here."

There was one result amid the responses that improved the mood of those working on intercultural dialog: two-thirds of Germans said they believed Islam does not pose a threat, but that radical, politically motivated individuals are behind extremist acts.

The survey's authors wrote that "there is a pattern of polarization" widening the gap between Germans' feelings of their own situation and "the others," which could be the "beginning of a spiral of conflict."

"Since the end of the World War II, the German population has had a particular aversion to conflict," Noelle and Petersen wrote. "But in regards to Islam, the fronts are obviously getting harder."