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Islam as a threat

Marcus Lütticke / mll
April 29, 2013

A major study of attitudes towards religion says Germans approve of openness towards other religions. But many are still suspicious of Islam.

Two Turkish women with headscarves pass a blond woman as they go shopping Photo: Roland Weihrauch dpa/lsw
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Former German President Christian Wulff earned much praise but also much criticism when said in a speech during his tenure, "Islam is also a part of Germany."

The criticism can be partly explained by the "Religion Monitor," a survey put together for the Bertelsmann Foundation. The findings have been published, and among them is the fact that half of all Germans believe that Islam does not fit into the Western world.

The study, which surveys views on the social significance of religion and values, was carried out in Germany and 12 other countries, and included the views of 14,000 people.

Pierre Vogel addresses his followers Photo: Arne Dedert dpa/lhe
Islam in Germany is very often linked to extremists, such as the preacher Pierre VogelImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Among the Germans, 85 percent agreed or tended to agree that one should be open towards all religions. They saw most religions as an enrichment, especially Christianity, also Judaism and Buddhism, but a majority of 51 percent saw Islam as a threat.

Media influence

Detlef Pollack, the sociologist who co-authored the study, says that this negative perception could be due to the lack of personal contact between Christians and Muslims. More people in eastern Germany see Islam as threatening than in the West, even though the east is home to only two percent of all the country's Muslims.

But Pollack also notes that people have even less contact with Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, all of which are seen more positively than Islam, and he argues that the media have a lot to do with that: "The picture the media give of Buddhism or Hinduism is that of peace-loving religions," Pollack told Deutsche Welle. "Their picture of Islam is more about fanaticism and aggression."

Self-critical Muslims

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, agrees. "In the media we often see a very distorted picture of Islam," he says. Extremist groups are often shown, and frequently no distinction is made between religion and extremism, as when, after the Boston Marathon attacks, the bombers were said to be part of an "Islamic network."

But Mazyek also sees reason for self-criticism: "The Muslims have to roll up their sleeves, get more involved in society and make it clear that they are committed to this country."

Politicians and churches have been trying to encourage dialogue between the various religions for years now. The Muslim communities have held an "Open Mosque Day" every October 3 since 1997, while Jewish communities also regularly invite non-Jews into their synagogues.

But it's not just in Germany - in many western states, Islam is seen as a particular threat. That applies to 76 percent of Israelis, 60 percent of Spaniards, 50 percent of the Swiss and 42 percent of US citizens. In contrast, in India, only 30 percent see Islam as a threat, and in South Korea, it's just 16 percent.

Open Mosque day in Berlin Photo:Jülide Danýþman, Berlin
Muslims have opened their mosques to the wider public regularly since 1997Image: DW

All the same, there are differences among western European countries: France, Britain, and the Netherlands all see Islam in a more positive light than does Germany.

Pollack argues that this has something to do with the educational level of the Muslims in each country. "In Germany we have very few highly educated people among immigrants," he says. "That influences people's attitudes, especially towards the Muslim immigrants."

In other countries, educational opportunities are better, and there's a larger proportion of immigrants who are moving upwards socially.

There are some optimistic findings in the Religion Monitor: a clear majority of Christians, Muslims, and those without religion all agree that democracy is a good way of governing the country - that's the view held by 80 percent of Muslims and those without religion, and by 90 percent of Christians. And a majority of all the groups asked is also in favor of the separation of religion and state.

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