A Troublesome Truth About Europe’s Muslims


Erik Voeten points to a survey revealing that ample majorities of Muslims living in several Western European countries hold fundamentalist religious views, such as that there is only one acceptable interpretation of the Quran and that it supersedes the laws of the country in which they live:

This study is bound to attract ample media attention (it already has) and will be seen as a verification for political parties with extreme views, such as Geert Wilders’s PVV in the Netherlands. This is not an issue per se, facts are facts, however uncomfortable they may be, and from what I can tell, this is a professional survey (technical report here) done by a reputable academic scholar. Indeed, the survey was conducted in 2008, and the researchers appear to have waited until now to publicize these findings. Nevertheless, I wished that the publication of a sensitive survey like this would be partnered with a bit more information. For example, I could not even track down country-specific marginals for the main survey questions and key analyses in the article come without tables or graphs.

Still, the finding that 54 percent of Muslims in these six Western European countries believe that the West is out to destroy Muslim culture can hardly be ignored.

A Dutch newspaper, Trouw, cites Arabist Jan Jaap de Ruiter who argues that Muslims have a tendency to give “socially desirable” answers to survey questions. Even if this is true, I’d still be very concerned that the apparent socially desirable answer is that Jews should not be trusted and that the West is out to get Muslims. An added concern is the absence of generational differences in the survey responses; suggesting that this is not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon.

Cas Mudde downplays the survey:

In the end, the main question is: What does this all mean? Most media only report [Ruud] Koopmans’s warning against the intolerance of Muslim fundamentalism. However, in a very nuanced conclusion, he also stresses that religious fundamentalism should not be equated with support for, or even engagement in, religiously motivated violence, and emphasizes that Muslims constitute only a small minority of West European societies. Hence, “the large majority of homophobes and anti-semites are still natives.”

Rachel Gillum responds to the survey with one finding that Muslims in America are no worse than Christians:

Just over 57 percent of the general American population believes that “right and wrong in U.S. law should be based on God’s laws,” compared to 49.3 percent of U.S.-born Muslims and 45.6 of foreign-born Muslims.  About a third of each group believes that society should not be the one to determine right and wrong in U.S. law.  Such numbers reveal that the general American population is more fundamentalist than the average European, and that Muslim Americans are less fundamentalist than European Muslims, according to the Koopmans study.

She tries to explain the difference:

The bulk of Muslim immigrants in the U.S. today arrived during or after the 1990s, the large majority pursuing economic opportunities and advanced degrees. Muslim immigrants in the U.S. are thus just as wealthy as, and tend to be better educated than, the average American. This high-skilled migration flow to the U.S. stands in contrast to the low-skilled labor immigration that Western Europe attracted following World War II to help rebuilding efforts. More immigrants were later admitted into European countries to meet rapid economic growth, allow family reunification and provide asylum.  Muslims in Western Europe have had significant issues with poverty and integration, making up around 20 percent of the low-income population, compared to 2 percent among U.S. Muslims.