A study by a local NGO in Germany found that half of the respondents perceived Islam as a threat. The percentage of such people was higher in eastern Germany — where very few Muslims live — at 57 per cent than in western parts at 50 per cent.
Conducted by Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor in the Spring of 2019, the survey found 30 per cent of people interviewed in the east did not want Muslims as neighbors while only 16 per cent said so in the west. The findings of the survey suggest that people who have regular contact with Muslims are less likely to perceive Islam as a threat.
The study found that just about half of respondents thought that religious plurality enriched society, but only one-third thought so in case of Islam. Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism were considered enriching by a majority.
However, Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar, religious expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung, doesn’t interpret these findings as Islamophobia because only a minority of citizens showed a clearly anti-Islamic view such as asking for a stop to immigration of Muslims. She says distrust of Islam is due to many people perceiving Islam less as a religion and more as a political ideology.
Aiman Mazyek of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany told Deutsche Welle that a big part of the problem was the propaganda of right-wing extremists and populists who are more prevalent in the east. He said he had expected worse from the study. Despite constant presence of an anti-Islam narrative in media and politics, 50 per cent still did not see Islam negatively, he said.
However, another expert traces the problem back to the influx of a large number of immigrants in Germany in recent years.
According to Dresden-based political scientist Werner Patzelt, perception of Islam as a threat was due to the immigration policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 which changed attitudes in Germany. “Germany has had a significant Muslim minority for many years which was a Turkish minority, without significant problems,” Patzelt told The Local. “This was something that passed as normal and nothing to worry about.”
According to Patzelt, crimes committed by asylum seekers and refugees, such as mass sexual assaults in Cologne during the 2015-16 New Year’s Eve celebrations, gave reason for widespread worries.
On more people in eastern Germany viewing Islam as a threat than in western Germany where most Muslims live, Patzelt said eastern Germany never experienced significant immigration from Muslim countries before, and many people didn’t want it.