Survey Says: Islam is a Global Menace

In an exclusive for the German conservative newspaper Die Welt on April 26, 2013, the German Bertelsmann Stiftung released international survey results concerning popular perceptions of Islam.  The polling of 14,000 people in 13 countries during November and December 2012 indicates broad-based concerns about the compatibility of Islamic beliefs and behaviors with free societies.  Those who continually invoke Islam as a "religion of peace" will apparently have to do more in future years than just complain of "Islamophobia" in order to improve Islam's international image.  Yet rather than engage in open debate, Muslims and their allies often seek merely the imposition of silence upon Islamic controversies.


One of three enlargeable graphics with the online news story presents an unfavorable view of Islam from 11 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States).  Presented with the statement "Islam is not compatible with the Western world," responses from Israel, France, Spain, and Switzerland all exceeded the 50% affirmation mark.  Spain (65%), a country often one-sidedly praised for having witnessed an Islamic Golden Age in the Middle Ages, even exceeded jihad-embattled Israel (60%) in this incompatibility index.  Israel, in turn, was just about one point ahead of Switzerland.  Canada, Sweden, and Germany itself were all fairly evenly divided on the question, with Germans in the provinces of the former Communist East Germany having some six points more disapproval than West Germans.  The lowest perception of incompatibility came from Muslim-majority Turkey, where even 25% saw an incongruence. 


The story's lead graphic showed that in Germany itself, 57% of East and 49% of West Germans perceived Islam as a "threat [Bedrohung]" as opposed to the 31% of West and 21% of East Germans who saw Islam as an "enrichment [Bereicherung]."  For the Germans, the second most-threatening belief system (or Weltanschauung, to use this German-derived scholarly term in its native context) was atheism's complete lack of religion.  Over a third (36%) of West Germans found atheism threatening, while only 16% from the formerly Communist East were averse to this Marxist doctrine.  More menacing for East Germans was Judaism, which drew the equal disapproval of 19% of both East and West Germans.  Christianity, in contrast, had clearly the most favorable ratings, with 76% of West and 64% of East Germans deriving enrichment therefrom.


Only with respect to the statement "Democracy is a good form of governance" did German Muslims make any pro-Western appearance in the study.  Edging out East German affirmation (76%), 80% of surveyed German Muslims showed approval for democracy.  West Germans in total had an 88% approval rating, with Protestants (90%) leading Catholics (86%) and those without any religious denomination (80%) in approval. 


Social conservatives, though, might welcome German Muslim responses to the survey's questions concerning abortion, same-sex "marriage," and euthanasia.  Here Muslims showed the most conservative responses amidst increasingly secularized Catholic, Protestant, and denomination-less Germans.  Concerning all three issues, however, at least a third of all Muslims expressed liberal positions.


If there was anything wrong with Islam, German Muslims themselves did not seem to notice.  In response to the statement "that in religious questions my own religion above all is right and other religions tend to be wrong," 39% of Muslims confidently affirmed their faith's orthodoxy.  By contrast, only 12% of Catholics and 11% of Protestants expressed such theological certitude.  A third of all German Muslims also felt that religious leaders should influence governmental decisions -- "clearly more," Die Welt reported, than all other German religious groups.


The survey thus reveals widespread suspicions of Islam around the world, even as Muslims themselves in a perhaps not unrelated trend express greater religious certainty than more doubting modern religious communities.  Such simultaneous Muslim confidence and non-Muslim concern calls into question advocacy in Europe and elsewhere that Muslims receive more favorable treatment in media and education.  These advocates claim that negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslim stem mainly from prejudice fostered by inaccurate societal portrayals.  Yet Islam's far-reaching unpopularity among free societies might very well have a factual basis, something that both non-Muslims and perhaps unjustifiably confident Muslims would do well to study. 


Many Muslims and their various allies, however, often want to suppress speech critical of Islam, as demonstrated this past April 23 at Birmingham, United Kingdom rally.  There, 25,000 Pakistani-descent Muslims from the United Kingdom and elsewhere gathered to "protect the honor and legacy" of Islam's prophet Muhammad.  A Sufi leader at the rally, Alauddin Siddiqui, described to the media the rally's purpose as showing how the recent Innocence of Muslims "film insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has caused hurt to Muslims all over the world." 


Siddiqui called it "not fair that some people insult Islam every day and preach hatred through their actions and words."  Muslims, according to him, "welcome debate and constructive criticism of our religion but insults are unacceptable."  Siddiqui saw "inflammatory language" as "contributing to the rise of extremism amongst youth in western countries."  Calling for yet greater restrictions on speech in Europe, Siddiqui decried a "lack of legislation" in this area.


Such speech restrictions are unlikely to solve any problems.  If perpetrators of Islamic "extremism" such as jihad terrorism actually receive inspiration for their crimes from elements of Islam and not any victimization through "inflammatory language," then more speech critical of Islam, not less, is necessary.  Muslims seeking a benign interpretation of their faith, and even Muslims deciding whether they want to continue being such, would actually be among the most important beneficiaries of such an unhindered examination. 


On the other hand, speech suppression can do nothing to quell smoldering suspicions of non-Muslims towards Islam and its followers.  Indeed, such censorship is precisely one of the reasons why many regard Islam as anti-Western in the first place.  Only brisk winds of frank, free speech can clear the air and lay bare the actual facts concerning Islamic faith.  Such truth will set free Muslims and non-Muslims alike.