IFOP REPORT: The perception of Europeans on Islam

Over the past several years polemical and controversial issues related to Islam have emerged in European societies. Amidst a number of highly mediatized fundamentalist attacks, tensions have focused in recent years on debates about the wearing of headscarves, mosques being vandalized, and the integration and naturalization of immigrant populations, all of which are also mobilized by extreme right political parties.

Approximately 12-13 million of Europe’s 377 million inhabitants are Muslim (4% of the population), and most live in large cities. France has the largest population, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. These four countries have very different models with which to frame the aforementioned debates. This study examining the perceptions of Europeans in these countries on Islam had five principal findings:

That concern with Islam is present but secondary
That Muslim populations are perceived to have largely failed to integrate
That the visibility of Islam is a principal issue
That there is a general rejection of political Islam but an acceptance of private beliefs
That there are important generational differences in how Muslims integrate

Germany’s Far-Right Campaigns with Xenophobic Posters & Islamophobic Video

20./ 21.12.2011

Officers of Berlin’s Federal Police Department searched the offices of Germany’s extreme right-wing Nationalist Democratic Party (NPD) shortly before Christmas. The search was a reaction to the party’s xenophobic and islamophobic campaign for the Berlin state elections in September. The party used various posters that violated the dignity especially of Muslims living in Germany; one poster, for instance, showed a cartoon drawing of a woman with a headscarf, a man with a turban and a black person on a “magic carpet” with the comment “Have a nice trip home”. Furthermore, the party published an islamophobic video on their website. However, the police search for evidence against the two leading members of the party was not successful.

The search of the party’s offices in Berlin was shortly after the second attempt to ban the party altogether. Following the arrest of a former NPD member suspected of being involved in the murder of nine foreigners, the interior ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states had agreed to set up a working group to launch a new legal case against the party. Germany’s Interior Minister Friedrich explicitly articulated the aim to outlaw the party.

French Far Right group positions against Muslims

News Agencies – December 10, 2011

The extreme right Bloc Identitaire, or Identity Bloc, has lashed out at Islam while dining on pork roast and local wine — off limits to practicing Muslims. The group, an emerging force on France’s far-right scene, likens Muslim immigrants to invaders threatening the identity of the French heartland and menacing European civilization. The movement — with a wild pig as its logo — is gaining traction through its blend of Islam-bashing and romanticizing of French rural culture.

Increasingly, it is being used as an “idea box” for the National Front, a well-established far-right party and force in European politics that could play a crucial role in French presidential elections five months away. The Bloc’s campaign against mosque building and its wine-and-pork strategies are also finding a more mainstream audience in the country.

Bloc Identitaire militants ferret out plans by Muslim communities to build mosques and campaign to stop them. An “identity guerrilla” pamphlet spells out how to raise awareness of Muslim initiatives, from mosques to halal food restaurants, and infiltrate culture or sports clubs popular with Muslims.

Freedom Party named “New Radical Right” in Netherlands

A report investigating polarization and radicalization across the Netherlands has named Geert Wilders’ Freedom Pary (PVV) the ‘new radical right’, a party with a national democratic ideology but without extreme right wing roots. The study, completed by four researchers at Tilburg University, notes that the party’s views on Islamisation and non-Western immigrants appear to have a discriminatory nature, the result of favoring “the familiar”. The study identifies the Freedom Party’s organization as authoritarian, not democratic. Wilders, in a comment to ANP, called the report “scandalous”.

French thinkers Kouchner, Williame and Benbassa weigh in on Swiss minaret ban

Bernard Kouchner claims to be scandalized by the Swiss vote on minarets, calling it an “expression of intolerance.” Marine Le Pen, the vice-president of the extreme right congratulated the Swiss populace for the vote.

Jean-Paul Willaime, director of the European Institute of Religious Sciences, claims that the Swiss response is more of a secularist response to religion in the public sphere than one counter to Islam. However, he warns that it is the state and public institutions which are secular, however, not civil society. Islam, says Willaime, has become the litmus for European interrogations on identity, particularly because the vestiges of religious heritage and concern for religion still remain despite widespread secularism. Esther Benbassa, director of the Ecole pratique des hautes études (EPHE) suggests that in the era of globalization, fear creates a desire to create oneself against an Other, who today, are Muslims.

Leaked report labels Dutch PVV party “extreme-right wing”

Geert Wilders’ PVV party is an ‘extreme right-wing’ grouping and a threat to social cohesion and democracy, according to a report leaked by Volkskrant. The report, which has yet to be finalized, was created by three academics for the home affairs ministry and looks at polarization and radicalism in the Netherlands.

Ministers and the researchers are still discussing the final changes. Volksrkant notes that as it now stands, the report describes the PVV as an “extreme right-wing party which is mobilizing anti-Islam sentiment and hatred of governmental system”.

Media coverage around the leak has tracked responses to the report throughout the week. Wilders responded furiously to the report, calling Integration minister Eberhard van der Laan and D66 leader Alexander Pechtold, who had publicly responded to the report, “accomplices” of Mohammad B., Theo van Gogh’s murderer.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted in the aftermath of the report found 50 percent of the Dutch think the PVV is on the extreme right of the political spectrum and 66 percent think Wilders is stimulating a fear of Islam. A further 46 percent think Wilders is encouraging a hatred of the government.

A protest demonstration against party leader Geert Wilders was held Monday evening in the city of Arnhem. 200 protestors marched peacefully while the PVV met behind closed doors.

Survey studies radicalization among radical youth in the Netherlands

According to a study released by the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism (NCTB), extreme-right youth strongly define themselves against Muslims, while fundamentalist Muslim youth barely bother with the right-radical subculture. The survey also suggests non-Muslim youth think, on average, more negatively of Muslims than the reverse.

The study was conducted by the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht for the NCTB, to investigate why youth radicalize. It included interviews with extreme-right and fundamentalist Muslim youth, as well as an internet survey of over 1300 13-21 year olds.

The survey notes that Muslim youth experience “symbolic threat” while extreme-right youth experience a more “concrete” danger. Neither group radicalizes because of perceived individual lack of opportunity, responding rather to feelings of injustice for their “own group”. Both groups reject terrorism but tend more strongly towards violence when they feel the system of authority is not legitimate.

Fears of an Islamic Revolt in Europe Begin to Fade

Five years ago bombings and riots fuelled anxiety that Europe’s Muslims were on the verge of mass radicalisation. Those predictions have not been borne out.

A district of derelict warehouses, red-brick terraces, and vibrant street life on the canals near the centre of Brussels, Molenbeek was once known as Belgium’s “Little Manchester”. These days it is better known as “Little
Morocco” since the population is overwhelmingly Muslim and of North African origin.

By day, the scene is one of children kicking balls on busy streets, of very fast, very small cars with very large sound systems. By night, the cafes and tea houses are no strangers to drug-dealers and mafia from the Maghreb.

For the politically active extreme right, and the anti-Islamic bloggers, Molenbeek is the nightmare shape of things to come: an incubator of tension and terrorism in Europe’s capital, part of a wave of “Islamisation”
supposedly sweeping Europe, from the great North Sea cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam to Marseille and the Mediterranean.

Neo-Nazis and their opponents protest in Cologne

The West German city of Cologne experienced two demonstrations today. One was a gathering of several hundred promoters of the extreme right protesting against Muslims in Germany and a planned mosque in Cologne. Several thousand people also gathered for a counter-protest called by politicians, church officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations. No serious incidents were reported. The events were monitored by 5 600 police officers, including police on horseback.

The promoters of the extreme right were convening a so-called “Anti-Islamic Congress”. In their speeches, they called Germany a “dictatorship of political correctness”. Extreme left-wing individuals tried to disrupt the gathering, but police did not let the anarchists reach the neo-Nazis, preventing a repeat of the violence of September 2008 that accompanied the first “Anti-Islamic Congress”. This time police did not permit the right-wing radicals to come near Cologne House and told them they had to hold their event at a different place in Cologne. A march to the Cologne mosque, now under construction and a particular thorn in the side of the neo-Nazis, was also forbidden. Both bans were upheld by first-instance courts and, in the early hours of Saturday, by the German Constitutional Court as well. According to DPA, experts are warning against the neo-Nazis’ “undemocratic and xenophobic ideology.” This was also why the counter-protest of several thousand people took place, refusing “to leave the streets to the brown birds”, a reference to the brown shirts worn by members of the “Hitler Youth”, the erstwhile youth organization of the fascist NSDAP.

“Today’s signal is clear: Democrats are united against right-wing radicalism, racism and instigation,” Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the German Green Party, told DPA. Mayor Fritz Schramma declared that there is no room in Cologne for an extreme-right ideological platform.

German-Jewish Writer Opposes Anti-Islam Conference

A well-known Holocaust survivor has said he strongly opposes the international anti-Islam conference slated to take place in Germany next month, despite his critical stance on Islam. German Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano has come out strongly against the planned so-called Anti-Islamization Congress — a meeting of extreme-right European political forces — planned for Sept. 19-20 in Cologne. The right-wing extremist groups Pro Koeln and Pro NRW are organizing the event, with the aim of issuing a declaration opposed to the purported “Islamification” of Europe. Big names in xenophobia: The meeting will be attended by some of the most inflammatory names in European race politics, including Jean- Marie Le Pen of France, Austria’s Heinz-Christian Strache, and Belgium’s Filip Dewinter. In the past, the Pro Koeln and Pro NRW have invoked comments by Giordano, who has said he considers German integration policy a failure. He has also warned of “false tolerance” in the prosecution of foreign juvenile delinquents. But Giordano now says he does not want to be “instrumentalized” by the extreme right at the conference.