Fundamentalism II: A survey of Muslims in Europe

December 10, 2013 • 11:38 am

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:

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 6.23.39 PM60% 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
migration background]

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.

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 6.26.45 PM

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.

h/t: Alexander

64 thoughts on “Fundamentalism II: A survey of Muslims in Europe

  1. This comment will be controversial, but this study appears to confirm most of what Sam Harris has said on the topic of Islam and fundamentalism.

      1. And Pat Condell, for years has expressed the same basic views as Sam Harris (and Professor Coyne)and received much criticism from secularists. Many may not like his style or manner but the message is very similar, and I agree. In his videos he, definitely, does not mince words.

        1. Hmmm – I criticise Pat Condell because he’s waaaay too right wing for me.

          He may be often correct – or at least in the right ball-park – on matters of religion, but he has expressed a series of right-wing views on politics, women and migrants (a nasty recent video on the Roma, for example). These I do not like one bit.

          Condell has previously endorsed UKIP (a xenophobic, anti-immigration party with links to European fascist movements), and spoken positively of Robert Spencer/Pamella Geller’s paranoid mania. He has also come very close to endorsing the EDL (English Defence League – if you’re not familiar with them, the EDL is an aggressive, right-wing collection of street-fighting football hooligans who deliberately target areas where the populace of Muslims is high and start fights with them, etc).

          I couldn’t give a toss about Condell’s style or manner (some things need to be said, and said plainly), but I do care about the promulgation of right-wing views. As is his right, he is welcome to espouse them, but I shall not be endorsing Pat Condell.

          1. The issue, as I see it, is that a great many of “us on the left” can’t bring ourselves to overcome the fear of being called “islamaphobic” and “bigoted” and opt instead for wishful thinking and self deception when it comes to the destructive character of Islam. This leaves the field open for paranoid right-wing nut jobs, many of them inclined to the very sort of thinking that motivates the worst in Islam.

            The answer is not to, as someone elsewhere on this page commented, “be patient” and “kill them with kindness”. The answer is to clearly and loudly demand that religion be blocked from controlling public spaces and insist that religion be granted no privileged status in public debate.

          2. (and, I should have added, to speak out as clearly against bigotry from the right that seeks to deny civil rights on the basis of religion/race/sex… call Pat Condell out when he wanders into bigot-land, but not shy away from calling out religious apologists for fear of being lumped in with right wingers.)

          3. Absolutely. That is why the spinelessness of UK Universities in the face of gender segregation is damaging as well as shameful.

            And remember that Islam, while heavily skewed towards the worst aspects of religion, is no more completely homogeneous than Christianity. I do not know how influential groups like The American Muslim (at are, but if we do not recognise them as allies, we are fools.

          4. EXACTLY! Do not be intimidated by the “ISLAMAPHOBIA” accusations! It’s never easy to call the emperor naked…but, if it’s true…say it!

          5. I seem to remember corresponding with them some time ago about creationism, which they oppose. They seemed real enough to me, but I have no idea how broad their base is.

          6. Well…call me Susie Cynical but I doubt that a propaganda/image site is beyond the scope of pervasive Islam.

          7. “Well…call me Susie Cynical but I doubt that a propaganda/image site is beyond the scope of pervasive Islam.”

            I do myself very much doubt that the extreme and violent enemies of reason would be able or willing to argue against themselves so plausibly.

            But if Zoolady prefers this interpretation, nothing I can say will dissuade her.

  2. One problem is that this is self-reinforcing. As you note, the study group comes from Muslim countries known for their comparative liberalism. That suggests that the immigrant communities are more fundamentalist than their source communities, and a reasonable hypothesis is that increased fundamentalism is a defensive response to perceived threats. Native dislike of immigrants spurs fundamentalism, which provides more reasons for dislike, which results in more fundamentalism, and so on. I see no easy way out of the cycle.

    It would be nice if there were a comparable study on immigrant minorities of other religions in the same countries, if any. That would at least show us if this situation is unique to Islam. Native Christians are not as good a control group.

    1. I agree. The study would have been much more powerful if the variable of “time in the larger culture” were controlled. Immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century used religion as an identity marker – hence Catholics were more Vatican-centric than in Europe, Jews were more orthodox than in Europe, etc. Familiarity breeds assimilation.

      Uncontrolled variable, and no amount of statistics can fix that.

    2. As you note, the study group comes from Muslim countries known for their comparative liberalism

      The resurgence of fundamentalism in Turkey and Morocco may show that this assumption of liberalism is no longer valid anyway.

  3. I’m not sure native christians were a great choice of control group. Ideally you’d like to compare immigrant turkish muslims (for example) with immigrant turkish christians. Otherwise, you’re not sure whether what you’re seeing comes from the ‘muslim’ part of that description or the ‘immigrant turkish’ part.

    It’d also bee good to compare immigrant turkish muslims with second generation, third generation, etc… muslims (from Turkey if you can find’em in decent numbers, but realistically you’d probably have to expand that).

    My prediction: christian turks immigrating to Europe are going to answer those questions a lot like their muslim (ex-)countrymen, while muslims who have been in europe for N generations are going to resemble the christian control group more and more as N becomes large.

    1. On the contrary, I suspect that (especially) 2nd generation immigrants are far more fanatic than their parents. It is this group which is often characterised by the cultural divide between parents and their new society.

      1. did you read the recent article in the sunday times about the woman who wore a full face burka for a week in london as a social experiment, she found that many of those who chose to wear it were 2nd generation (to the consternation of thier parents) because they wanted to assert thier religious beliefs via dress

      2. Fair enough. I still think the control group is flawed and therefore the survey doesn’t tell us much. It certainly doesn’t convince me that islam is the causal factor here.

        1. It is impossible – literally – to get perfect control groups, when you can’t split the population into double-blinded groups yourself. Regardless of how this study had been carried out, it would have been easy to find potential flaws, such as:

          – Christian immigrants from Turkey come from a different part of the country or have a different socioeconomic background
          – Christian immigrants in Germany are part of a largely Christian society and not alienated in the same way as Muslim immigrants

          It is extremely important to bring a healthy dose of skepticism, whenever you are are dealing with the soft sciences. It would be foolish to trust everything, but it is no less foolish to dismiss all results which go against what you would prefer to be the truth.

          1. True enough, however since there appears to be strong correlation between certain attitudes and religiosity, especially Islamic religiosity, the next logical step is to figure out why so that we can fix it. You’ve identified some possible reasons. If we could test those reasons, we could probably find a solution.

  4. Data like this makes me fear for Western European culture.

    What will happen to the Louvre? The D’Orsay? All those glorious nudes….

    A Muslim majority could choose to destroy all the art of the western world…and it’s been done before!

      1. Not to mention the cathedrals, universities, etc. Islam does NOT support freedoms of thought, education or artistic impulse.

  5. As a single point in time measure this is alarming. The most important question, however, remains unanswered – how do these attitudes change over time…if at all? If we can detect a “softening” in these attitudes we might be able to find out what causes this and do more!!

  6. I agree that the Christian control group should be recent immigrants if the Muslims questioned were also 1st generation immigrants. Try the survey again in a generation or two.

  7. Recent polls show Geert Wilders’ PVV as the largest party in the Netherlands. When these results seep through in the popular press, I’m afraid I’ll live to see them on the pluche seats in The Hague.

  8. Well, we now a root cause for out group hostility, supported by data so now we just need to narrow down the solutions that have the most impact for the least amount of effort.

    1. Well, one alternative is a widespread campaign starting in schools that show what the problems of ingroup/outgroup thinking are, which will require a lot of effort and problably, like so many government campaigns, have an unmeasurable effect.

      Another one is to stop all immigration from muslim countries and send anyone even halfway suspected of planned extremist activities back to the country of origin after a short trial behind closed doors.

      Hmm, I wonder what path western governments will pick.

  9. I’m always puzzled about the Muslim opposition to homosexuality. Gay sex is all over the Arab world. Young men have little access to dating women hidden behind burkas or walls in many Islamic countries, so they play amongst themselves.

    Is it because they feel guilty about it and pretend it doesn’t happen? Or do they not consider that to be homosexuality?

  10. One effect of Muslim fundamentalism in the UK has been the emergence of a specifically Muslim creationism. Does anyone know what, within Islam, this is based on?

    Disturbingly, Genesis-based creationism has also become powerful among orthodox Jews in the UK in the last generation. here one can of course point to the text of Genesis.Is there a Koranic or Hadith analogue?

    As for Sam Harris, I don’t think he knows a Sunni from a Sufi.

    1. The creation myths in the OT and the Quran are largely the same. I think muslim creationism is relatively new as compared to the evangelical version, and almost completely ‘borrowed’ from the latter.

      1. Indeed; the former (secularist) Turkish govt invited the Institute for Creation Research to advise on the curriculum, and the then minister of education parroted the “only a theory, why isn’t it yet a law?” argument. And the influential lunatic Adnan Oktar (“Harun Yahya”), who wants to restore the caliphate, has his team virtually cutting and pasting from Christian YEC materials, and reaches out to ultra-Conservative Israeli rabbis.

  11. I have to admit to agreeing with Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens attitudes towards Islam. But I’m going to be tested over this in the near and far future.

    My son has recently married a Muslim girl and we are expecting a grandchild next year. She is rather lackadaisical about her religion, but here’s hoping our grandchild does not grow up to be the terrorist who blows up the MCG.

    1. If her parents were anywhere NEAR devout the marriage would not have gone ahead. Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women, not vice versa.

      You’re probably OK with that one!

  12. This is not entirely surprising. First, it is probably NOT the moderates who are emigrating. With the exception of political refugees, the majority of migrants will probably be poor and uneducated people searching for work. Note for example that many Turkish laborers recruited to Germany in the 60ies etc came from some of the most rural parts of their country and that they were recruited for factory work, not because Germany needed dentists. So there is a good chance that they did not bring the most liberal strain of their home country’s religion with them.

    The other thing then is that migrants often become very conservative because they are trying to maintain their own culture in a sea of different influences. They often attempt to ‘freeze in time’ what they grew up with – even as the next generation back in the old country may be much more liberal, only the emigrants don’t notice. The same is true, apparently, for many German emigrants to South America or suchlike.

    1. Remember, too, that many EU countries have good benefits to help migrants ”resettle” and ”integrate.” The Dutch have had many problems with this.

  13. As someone who meets Islam on daily basis, this is something that’s very clear. While the fundie-christs are stupid and annoying, the fundie-islams are stupid annoying and dangerous.


  14. One cannot deny that greater fundamentalism leads to greater amounts of reprehensible beliefs.

    But what is the reason for this fundamentalism? One is undoubtedly cultural inertia: fundamentalist parents beget fundamentalist children. One must remember that all of Europe was once filled with violent fundamentalist Christians who murdered dissenters and heretics, and it’s taken many centuries, and countless wars, to reach this far.

    But another means of explaining this glut Muslim fundamentalism might be immigrants withdrawing from a surrounding society that largely despises them. It is known that more oppressed portions of society, portions that experience more social hardship, are more religious – look at African Americans, and women, in American society. And it cannot be denied that large portions of European society are incredibly xenophobic, even racist. Look at the BNP, and all of its supporters. Hell, even Cameron’s Conservative Party, not too long ago, used as an election slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”. Who can honestly say that Arab, North African, or Turk immigrants won’t be discriminated against and hated by their largely secular European neighbours? And don’t tell me non-believers and atheists can’t be racist or xenophobic, because we all know that’s not true.

    And also do not neglect the hatred and fear Europeans have had against Muslims and Middle-Easterners for centuries, since the time of the Crusades, and the rise of the Ottomans. Since religion is largely dead in Europe this fear and hatred has taken on an ethnic tone. Look at, for example, Anders Breivik: a confessed atheist, but obviously violently xenophobic, and Islamophobic in particular. So he killed people he thought were complicit in permitting what he thought was an invasion of dark-skinned foreigners into Europe.

    European society largely despises the dark-skinned foreigners coming to their shores and coming across their borders. And when these largely Muslim immigrants feel the heat of their neighbours’ hatred, they will naturally retreat into the cool of their people’s culture, which will for immigrants from largely Muslim nations mean their people’s religion, clinging to it like a security blanket, some of them even fantasizing how they might violently get back at their Western bullies. Of course they’re going to be attracted to more extreme ideologies, or at the very least ignore the influence of Western secularism. Why would they dare hold the values of people who hate them?

    Overall I think we need only be patient, and for the moment tolerant. Kill them with kindness, and wait, and eventually Muslim fundamentalism will die out in the West, even if the religion doesn’t.

    1. Also, due to society-smashing imperialists, the folks who would stand up to them are often the nasty bastards. This is also seen in the former Soviet states. Sometimes the imperialists ally with one source of nasties, too (e.g., US and Saudi Arabia), which then gets “out of control). In the latter case, Wahabism.

  15. “Having said that, one should not forget
    that in Western Europe Muslims make up a relatively small minority of the population.”

    One has to wonder, though, for how long.

    1. I believe they are the fastest growing segment due to a high birth rate and high migration rate.

      “How long will this be true?” indeed!

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