Muslim women wearing headscarves walk in an immigrant-heavy district of Berlin, Germany. 

Germans are less tolerant of Muslims than their western European neighbors and feel threatened by Islam — largely due to lack of contact with them, according to a survey released Thursday.  Only 34% of Germans in the west of the country and 26% in eastern Germany think positively of Muslims, according to a poll by the University of Muenster. In comparison, 62% of Dutch, 56% of French, 55% of Danes and 47% of Portuguese hold positive attitudes on Muslims.


The survey polled 1,000 people in each country and each part of Germany. The margin of error was plus or minus three percent.

According to the poll results, less than 30% of Germans in the west of the country favor allowing new mosques to be built. In the east, less than 20% 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.

“The differences between Germany and the other countries are downright dramatic when it comes to personal attitudes toward Muslims,” the head of the study, sociologist Detlef Pollack said in a statement. “Among Germans there is a strong feeling of being threatened by Islam.”

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.

Thilo 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 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 suggested that one of the main reasons for Germans’ negative view on Muslims may be a lack of contact with them.

“The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive,” he said.

In western Germany, 40% said they have had a few contacts to Muslims, while in east Germany only 16% said they had personal encounters with Muslims. Contacts with Muslims were most frequent in France, where 66% reported knowing Muslims.

Even 20 years after Germany’s reunification, the 4.3 million Muslims in this country of 82 million live mostly in the western part of the country. Most of them are Turkish and first came to Germany as so-called guest workers in the 1960s and 70s.

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.

Via USA Today