Germans more negative towards Muslims than others
According to a new poll
Only about one third of Germans think positively of their Muslim neighbors, a much lower proportion than in other western European countries, according to a new poll published on Thursday.
In contrast, 62 percent of Dutch and 56 percent of French people responding to the TNS Emnid survey indicated they had positive attitudes towards Muslims.
According to the poll results, less than 30 percent of Germans in the west of the country favor allowing new mosques to be built. In the east, less than 20 percent are in favor. By contrast, more than half of the population in Denmark and two-thirds in France, the Netherlands and Portugal approve of building new mosques.
Lack of contact with Muslims
Detlef Pollack, a Muenster University sociologist who led the study, attributed Germans' views to their lack of contact with Muslims compared to people in other nations surveyed.
"The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive," he said.
The survey broke down the German results into western and eastern responses, reflecting continuing divisions in the once-divided country. Only 34 percent in the west and 26 percent in the east had positive impressions of Muslims, it said.
Contact with Muslims also showed regional differences, with 40 percent of westerners, but only 16 percent of easterners saying they occasionally met Muslims.
French people appear to have the most contact with Muslims, 66 percent of those responding saying they had such contacts.
"If there were a terrorist attack now in Germany, as is feared, this would also be dramatic regarding Muslims," Pollack said. "The majority of the people would feel vindicated in their negative attitude."
The survey was conducted before former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin plunged Germany into a heated debate over Muslim integration in a controversial best-selling book published in August.
Sarrazin's book, suggesting that Muslims' inability, or unwillingness, to speak German may be linked to their DNA, broke a post-Nazi taboo on foraying into genetic theories.
The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive
The massive success of Sarrazin's book cracked open growing anti-immigrant anger among many Germans, who fear that their language, culture and generosity is being abused by newcomers, especially Muslims, who many say live off their welfare state without contributing to it.
Pollack said Muslim integration had not been debated as seriously as in other countries, which could account for the more negative views Germans had.
More than half of Germans surveyed said they associated Islam with discrimination against women, fanaticism, propensity to violence and bigotry.
Pollack noted the survey was carried out in the summer, before German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that multiculturalism had "utterly failed" and before a former member of Germany's central bank wrote a best-selling book claiming German society was being made "dumber" because of the presence of Muslim immigrants.
The other reason why Germans hold such intolerant views on Muslims may ironically be the fact that there have not been any major clash between ethnic Germans and Muslim immigrants, said Pollack.
In other European countries, confrontations such as the cartoon controversy in Denmark, the violent outbursts in the French suburbs or the assassination of Islam critic Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim, have triggered intense debates about the place of Muslims in mainstream society.
Germany, however, has not yet had an intense public debate about Islam and integration, which may be a reason for Germans' intolerance, Pollack suggested.
The survey polled 1,000 people in western Germany, eastern Germany, Denmark, France, Netherlands and Portugal each.