Relations between Muslims and the West

Feelings between citizens of western countries and the Muslim world have not improved in recent years; in fact, they continue to worsen. That is the conclusion of a study by the Washington Pew Institute that was conducted in 14 countries. Peter Philipp reports

Statistic Pew Institute Study
The study surveyed Europeans and North Americans as well as Muslims living in Europe, in Arab countries, North Africa and Indonesia. The respondents were asked what they thought of the West or of Islam, and about their view of terrorism inspired by Islamist fundamentalism

​​Among other things, the study concludes that neither side has a uniform view of "the Other"; however, certain prejudices persist and are changing only slowly, depending on the region.

Still, Richard Wike, director of the Pew Project, saw several things he had not expected: "I do think there were some surprises there. For example, we found out that a majority of the population is unconvinced that Arabs were responsible for the attacks on September 11."

Decreasing support for terrorism

In connection with terrorist attacks, the Pew Institute registered dramatic decreases: in Pakistan there was a greater drop in support for suicide attacks and all forms of violence against civilians. A truly drastic decrease in support for terrorism could be seen in Jordan.

"Somehow that's not really very surprising: we often see this kind of decrease in countries that have just experienced a terrorist attack," says Wike. "In Jordan we had the terrible attacks in Amman last year."

For example, emotional trust in and support for Osama Bin Laden has also diminished in large parts of the Muslim world, probably for the same reasons. But the view that terrorist attacks are justified under certain circumstances persists despite a sharp decrease. It is startlingly high in Nigeria, where 46% of respondents justified terrorist attacks.

And even in Europe this view persists among Muslims: in France, Great Britain and Spain it is held by a seventh of the Muslims who live there. At the same time, Europeans have varying attitudes toward the Muslims.

"There are a number of interesting results in Europe," says Richard Wike. "In a way, France and Great Britain are similar on the one hand, while Germany and Spain are similar on the other. While France and Britain have a more positive attitude, Spain and Germany have a more negative, pessimistic attitude toward the Muslim world and its views, for example with regard to democracy."

Link between the old homeland and the new

While this assessment goes for Muslims of all kinds – that is, Muslims in each given European country as well as people living in the Muslim world – Muslims living in Europe tend to have a much more nuanced and positive view of their new homelands than that of Muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia or Nigeria.

A majority of European Muslims are quite willing to accept the social values of their environment, and they increasingly see themselves as a bridge or a link between the new homeland and the old.

Surprisingly, Germany comes off especially badly in the study: though unlike France, Spain and Great Britain it has not had to experience Muslim terrorist attacks, and though the majority of Muslims in Germany are a largely monolithic block of former Turkish guest workers without political tendencies, much less terrorist ones, 70 percent of Germans describe relations between Muslims and the west as bad – the highest statistic in the poll.

Wike of the Pew Institute has no explanation for the difference between Germany and other European countries: "But it is true that the approval rating for Muslims in Germany is lower than elsewhere.

"Not as low as in Spain, but lower than in Britain and France. What we do at Pew is, we ask the questions and report the results. And we hope that this prompts dialogue and gives information to people who are interested in these issues. So that it helps them and gives them something to build on."

Peter Philipp


Translated from the German by Isabel Cole

Commentary on the Pew Institute Study
Damaged Image
The results of the Pew study show that Muslims in Germany suffer from a particularly negative image. Ülger Polat believes that this is due to one-sided, over-emotional debates in society about such issues as forced marriages or honour killings

Interview with Irmgard Pinn
"Integrate Muslims into European Pluralist Traditions"
The EUMC study on anti-Semitism in Europe states that anti-Semitism is widespread among young Muslims. In this interview with, Irmgard Pinn, sociologist, Muslim convert and member of the board of the Forum of Independent Muslims, critically reviews some of the findings

Human Rights Report
Mapping the Discrimination against Muslims in Europe
The renowned IHF-HR organisation has recently published a report on the discrimination against Muslims in Europe. Its findings: After 9/11 discriminations have increased – but in many cases public institutions have protected their rights. Ala Al-Hamarneh reports

Pew Institute Study "Muslims in Europe"