The site WZB, which stands for “Wissenschaftzentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung” (my translation: “Berlin Center for Social Science Research”), has conducted a survey whose results were just published in a paper by Ruud Koopmans, “Fundamentalism and out-group hostility Muslim immigrants and Christian natives in Western Europe” (free download at the link; WZB’s summary is here). The motivation for this work was the controversy about whether Muslim immigrants and their descendants living in Western countries had fundamentalist religious beliefs, or were more moderate—perhaps because moderates tended to migrate or, after migration, became tempered by living in Western society. While we know quite a bit about Christian fundamentalists, there has been little attempt to compare Islamic with Christian fundamentalism in the West.
Koopmans’ paper is based on a WBZ-funded survey of 9000 respondents “with a Turkish or Moroccan immigration background” living in six Western countries; Germany, France, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria. Note that Turkey and Morocco are not known as hotbeds of Muslim extremism. There was also a Christian control group described in the survey paper. Although I’m not a sociologist, the study seems to me to have been well designed and controlled, with possible contaminating factors considered and statistically investigated. Two sets of questions were asked (indented matter from the paper):
1. Questions about the degree of fundamentalism
Following the widely accepted definition of fundamentalism of Bob Altermeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, the fundamentalism belief system is defined by three key elements:
– that believers should return to the eternal and unchangeable rules laid down in the
– that these rules allow only one interpretation and are binding for all believers;
– that religious rules have priority over secular laws.
These aspects of fundamentalism were measured by the following survey items that were asked to those native respondents who indicated that they were Christians (70%), and to those respondents of Turkish and Moroccan origin who indicated they were Muslims (96%):
“Christians [Muslims] should return to the roots of Christianity [Islam].”
“There is only one interpretation of the Bible [the Koran] and every Christian [Muslim] must
stick to that.”
“The rules of the Bible [the Koran] are more important to me than the laws of [survey country].”
Here are the disquieting results:
60% of Turkish and Moroccan Muslim immigrants want a return to the faith’s religious roots (as opposed to 20% of Christians); 75% think only one interpretation of the Qur’an is possible (as opposed to about 17% of Christians surveyed vis-a-vis the Bible); and 65% of the Muslims say that scriptural rules are more important than the laws of the country where they live (only about 12% of Christian countrymen agreed). Overall, 44% of Muslims agreed with all three statements, as opposed to fewer than 4% of Christians. In other words, there’s an alarmingly high level of fundamentalism among Islamic residents of these countries—a level far exceeding that of Christian fundamentalism. And remember, migrants from more “extreme” Islamic countries weren’t surveyed.
These results were not due mainly to economic or class differences, for regression analysis controlling “for education, labour market status, age, gender and marital status revealed that while some of these variables explain variation in fundamentalism within both religious groups, they do not at all explain or even diminish the differences between Muslims and Christians.” And younger Muslims were no less fundamentalist than older ones. In contrast, Christian fundamentalism was stronger in older than in younger Christians.
2. Questions about attitudes toward outgroups. The study’s second part involved surveying the Muslims’ and Christians’ views on the following four statements:
“I don’t want to have homosexuals as friends.”
“Jews cannot be trusted.”
“Muslims aim to destroy Western culture.” [for natives] [JAC: note that the question asked differed based on the person’s background.]
“Western countries are out to destroy Islam.” [for persons with a Turkish or Moroccan
Here are the results, which speak for themselves. I’ll just summarize the huge differences by saying that more than 40% of Muslims displayed hostility to at least one outgroup, and more than 25% to all three. That compares to about 2% of all Christians.
Again, a regression analysis showed that religion was by far the most important predictor of hostility toward outgroups, and the degree of fundamentalism (as shown in part I) was predictive of the degree of hostility toward those outgroups. In other words, religion poisons everything, more fundamentalist religion conveys more deadly poison, and Islam is deadlier than Christianity.
This survey will give no solace to those who claim that Muslims living in the West are a relatively moderate and outgroup-friendly society. (This comports with the author’s note that, in a 2006 Pew survey of Muslims living in the UK, France, and Germany, about half believed that the 9/11 attacks were not carried out by Muslims, but orchestrated by the West and/or the Jews.)
Here are Koopman’s conclusions:
When we take into account religious fundamentalism, this turns out to be by far the most important predictor of out-group hostility and explains most of the differences in levels of out-group hostility between Muslims and Christians. Also the greater out-group hostility among Turkish-origin Sunnis compared to Alevites is almost entirely explained by the higher level of religious fundamentalism among the Sunnis. A further indication that religious fundamentalism is a major factor behind out-group hostility is that it is also the most important predictor in separate analyses for Christians and Muslims. In other words, religious fundamentalism not only explains why Muslim immigrants are generally more hostile towards out-groups than native Christians, but also why some Christians and some Muslims are more xenophobic than others.
These findings clearly contradict the often-heard claim that Islamic religious fundamentalism is a marginal phenomenon in Western Europe or that it does not differ from the extent of fundamentalism among the Christian majority. Both claims are blatantly false, as almost half of European Muslims agree that Muslims should return to the roots of Islam, that there is only one interpretation of the Koran, and that the rules laid down in it are more important than secular laws. Among native Christians, less than one in 25 can be characterized as fundamentalists in this sense. Religious fundamentalism is moreover not an innocent form of strict religiosity, as its strong relationship – among both Christians and Muslims – to hostility towards out-groups demonstrates.
These data should make us think twice about characterizing suspicion about Western Muslims’ beliefs as “Islamophobia.” There are pervasive and pernicious beliefs here, ones that could motivate pernicious actions.