Survey finds Europeans wary of interaction with Islam

Europeans feel more threatened by the possibility of interaction with the Muslim world than Americans or Israelis, according to a new report.

christ islam 88 (photo credit: )
christ islam 88
(photo credit: )
Europeans feel more threatened by the possibility of interaction with the Muslim world than Americans or Israelis, according to a new report on the state of Muslim and Western interaction. This first "Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue," conducted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Georgetown University, looks at how Muslim and Western societies perceive and relate to each other at the political, social, economic and cultural levels. The report finds that majorities in populations around the world believe that violent conflict between the West and the Muslim world can be avoided, but they also share a great deal of pessimism about the state of the relationship. The deep division between Islam and the West is captured by the low level of optimism reported in the 2007 Gallup Organization Survey of Population Perceptions and Attitudes. The average score for the 21 Muslim and Western countries surveyed is 37 (where 100 is the most optimistic). In all but two counties surveyed (Bangladesh and Pakistan), a majority believed the interaction between Western and Islamic communities is getting worse. Another common denominator between Muslim and Western nationals is the tendency to blame the other for deteriorating relations. Among both Muslim and non-Muslim majority, the proportion who say they think the "other side" is committed to better relations rarely rises above a minority of 30%. Three in four US residents say the Muslim world is not committed to improving relations with the West; an identical percentage of Palestinians attribute the same apathy to the West. At least half of the respondents in Italy (58%), Denmark (52%) and Spain (50%) agree that the Muslim world is not committed to improving relations. Israelis represent a notable exception: almost two-thirds (64%) believe the Muslim world is committed to improving relations. But majorities of residents in nations around the world say that better interaction between the Muslim and Western worlds is important to them. Surprisingly, Iranians were among world leaders in this category, with 70% saying interactions were the West were important. Although most Muslims say the Muslim world respects the West, many of them feel (ranging from 62-84%) that the West does not respect them. Western citizens tend to agree, with fewer than half agreeing that the West respects the Muslim world. One area of disagreement, however, is the reverse - Muslim attitudes towards the West. Muslims tend to agree that they respect the West, but those in Western countries, including 82% of Americans, disagree. The writers of the report suggest that the discrepancy between the way Muslims think the Muslim world regards the West, and the perspective of Westerners, may have to do with a Western tendency to conflate negative opinion of the US, common in the Muslim world, with a rejection of the West and its values as a whole. An important finding of the report is the emergence of citizenship and integration as the second most powerful shaper of the state of dialogue after international politics. "The combined effects of the agenda-setting impact of media and the demographic shifts in Europe are bound to propel the issue of citizenship and integration to the center of the West-Islam dialogue in the coming years," the report states. The percentage of Muslim population in the EU-15 is expected to rise from 4.3% in 2006 to approximately 10%-15% by 2025, with a higher concentration in urban areas of up to 30% in countries such as France, Germany and Holland. "The World Economic Forum believes that like all other global challenges, it will take the collaborative effort of all stakeholders - from government, business, religion, media, academia and civil society - to preempt any crisis, create alliances and find solutions," said Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. Over the course of 2008, the Community of Islam and the West Dialogue will invite leaders from various walks of life to engage in a concerted dialogue and debate of the most important issues, in particular the area of citizenship and integration.