The West in fear of the East

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Translated by Orkhan Sattarov

Major historic changes leave deep marks in the world history. In some cases they form mentality of nations during many centuries. For example, centuries-long contradictions between the West and the East made mentalities of eastern and western people different. Various polls on European integration state that the majority of the German population stands against accession of Turkey to the European Union. It is not because they have some special prejudice against Turkey, but because the majority of Germans think that Turkey is not a part of Europe. Only 18% in 2008 said that Turkey is a European country. Some factors signal that perception of cultural polarity between the Islamic world and the West is deep inside minds of people. “Turks” and the whole Islamic world associated with them will always be “aliens” for Germans.

This historic factor should be taken into consideration within studying Germans’ attitude to Islam. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ordered to conduct a representative poll which showed what ambiguous feelings German population has about the theme. Many people try to show a differentiated view on Muslims. For a significant part of the population contacts with Muslims are a natural part of their everyday life. However, in recent decade aloofness and mistrust prevail.

The general image of Islam is catastrophic. For instance, respondents were asked to choose the most suitable statement for characterization of the religion out of 21 statements. 83% of them think that Islam is associated with impairment of women rights, 77% - Islam literally follows old religious canons; 70% - Islam is associated with religious fanaticism and radicalism. A significant part of Germany’s population also believes that Islam is ready for violence (64%), hatred (60%), active missionary (56%), and striving for political influence (56%). Only 13% of respondents said that associate Islam with love for neighbors; 12% - with charity; 7% - with openness and tolerance.

These results do not differ seriously from the similar poll conducted in May 2006. However, then results were a bit more negative as people were under impression from violent protest actions by Muslims in connection with publications of Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

The fact that the level of mistrust to Islam is high is reflected in other questions. For example, in 2006 55% of respondents answered positively to the question “Do you think that serious conflicts will appear between the Western Christian culture and the Arab Muslim culture in the future?” Today there are 44% people who think so. In 2006 and today a quarter of respondents believe that such serious conflicts exist even now.

Another question concerned the term of “a clash of civilizations” which was launched into operation by the American political scientist Samuel Huntington. In 2006 46% Germans were sure that such a clash took place in reality; in 2010 this number grew to 58%; now it reduced to 43%. However, these people compose simple majority, as only 34% responded negatively to the question.

36% of German respondents answered that Christianity and Islam can live peacefully together. 53% think that heavy conflicts between these two religions will appear.

At the same time, Germany’s population doesn’t think that all Muslims are aggressive. One of the questions was “There are different views on whether Islam is a threat or not. How do you think: is Islam a threat in general or the threat comes from certain radical groups?” 74% of Germans think that the threat comes from certain radical groups, rather than from Islam in general. Only 19% of respondents believe Islam is a threat.

As for relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany, respondents have pessimistic attitudes. 48% respondents answered positively to the question “Do you think tension in relations with Muslims will grow in Germany in the nearest future and should we be afraid of it?” Only 29% of people see no threat.

The majority of Germans doesn’t support “the peacemaking policy.” Only 27% of respondents think that for protecting peace anything which can insult or provoke Muslims should be eliminated. 52% stated against this thesis. At the same time such a firm position is not mean absence of tolerance to Islam in general. For example, it is doubtful that the majority of Germans would state against construction of prayer towers, like in was in Switzerland in 2009.

The population doesn’t feel big necessity in aggressive reaction to the improved inflow of Islam to Germany. Instead of this the majority of respondents feel discomfort and dislike. One of the questions was “If anybody says: “even though it is a personal business of a person, I don’t like to see a woman wearing a scarf on her head,” do you agree with this statement?” 47% of people responded positively to the question; 34% didn’t agree with the statement.

Along with it, Germany’s population doesn’t understand efforts of presenting Islam as a part of the German culture. “If anyone says that Islam correlates to Germany equally to Christianity, do you agree with the view?” Only 22% of respondents agree with it; 64% answered negatively. At the same time, 47% of people do not see Muslims as a part of Germany. The centuries-long established perception of “our own” and “aliens” cannot be overcome in several years.

Nevertheless, there are signs that relations between Muslims and Christian Germans will improve in the near future. The number of contacts between native Germans and migrants is rapidly growing. In 2004 only 24% of Germans had Muslim friends; today 38% of Germans have friends among Muslim people.