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Intolerance in Europe: new study sounds the alarm

With Representative Peter King's Muslim radicalization hearings opening recently and with anti-Muslim sentiment reaching a fever pitch in the United States, it’s worth looking across the Atlantic and see how other Western societies are dealing with religion and ethnicity. The results should sound alarm bells, writes Alan Nothnagle.

10 April 2011

A new study by the Berlin-based examines just that. Mind you, Europe is the continent that brought us the Crusades, the Inquisition, nationalism, chattel slavery, modern imperialism, scientific racism, anti-Semitism, various fascist and xenophobic ideologies, and also National Socialism with everything that involved. How do Europeans feel about “the Other” sixty-six years following the end of World War II?

Intolerance, Prejudice And Discrimination: A European Report examines anti-democratic mentalities in eight European countries. It was prepared by Prof. Dr. Andreas Zick, Dr. Beate Küpper and Andreas Hövermann for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s “Project on Combating Right-wing Extremism” with funding provided by the Compagnia di San Paolo, the Volkswagen Foundation, the Freudenberg Foundation, the Groeben Foundation and the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.

In 2008 the researchers interviewed representative samples of 1,000 persons aged 16 and above in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, France, Hungary, Italy, Germany, and Portugal.

The researchers found that Europe as a whole is roiling with latent racist and xenophobic resentments. Such feelings are not limited to the margins of society – i.e. to such usual suspects as the uneducated, the unemployed, the culturally deprived – but breed at its very core. Europeans particularly dislike Muslims.

Fifty percent of Germans and sixty percent of Dutchmen, Portuguese, and Poles believe that “Islam is a religion of intolerance.” While an average of 70 percent of Europeans regard immigration as an “enrichment” to their cultures to some degree, “about half of all European respondents said that there were too many immigrants in their country and that jobs should be given to non-immigrants first in times of crisis.”

Despite decades of “Holocaust education,” Jews remain among the continent's least beloved groups. Seventy-two percent of Poles and 68 percent of Hungarians believe that “Jews seek to benefit from their forebears’ suffering during the Nazi era.”

Forty-eight percent of Germans share this view compared to just 17 percent of Dutch people . However, the Dutch hate Muslims just as much as everyone else. A mere five percent of Dutch people thought “Jews have too much influence in the country,” whereas a remarkable 50 percent of the population in largely Jew-free Poland believed this.

Africans still have a hard time in Europe, with around a third of Europeans claiming that there is “a natural hierarchy of races,” with whites on top and blacks at the bottom. A majority of Europeans also entertain sexist attitudes, believing that women should pay more attention to their roles as wives and mothers. Eighty-eight percent of Hungarians 87percent of Poles felt this way, while the Germans and Dutch were the most liberal at 50 percent and 36 percent respectively.

Overall, while just about everyone appears to dislike Muslims, one can observe an otherwise clear decline in sexism, racism, and xenophobia as one moves from eastern to western Europe, particularly towards the northwest.

This is particularly evident in regard to views on homosexuality and the greatest bête noire of all, gay marriage: Eighty-eight percent of Poles oppose it, whereas only 17 percent of Dutch people see it as a problem.

It is interesting to note that Italians largely reject the notion of same-sex couples going legit, but are simultaneously among Europe’s least racist peoples. Only 27 percent of Italians felt as if they were “strangers in their own country,” compared with 46percent of Britons, although over sixty-two percent thought “there are too many immigrants” – an even higher number than in the UK.

The study examines a wide spectrum of social and political patterns. The researchers learned that “These at first glance very different prejudices are interconnected. Those who denigrate one group are very likely to target other groups too.

Although prejudices sometimes appear to be isolated they are in fact closely interconnected. Three ideological orientations are especially associated with group-focused enmity: authoritarianism (an underlying attitude espousing law and order and discipline), Social Dominance Orientation (advocating social status hierarchies) and the rejection of diversity (a general rejection of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity within a country).”

The study examines a broad range of related topics, including views on the death penalty (seventy percent of Hungarians want it back compared to just 19 percent of Germans), feelings of powerlessness, attitudes on participatory democracy, and the desire for "a strong leader."

It also addresses a perennial question: Does religion make people more moral and ethical? When it comes to getting along with our fellow human beings, the answer is a definitive “no”:

What emerged was that the extent of sexism and homophobia clearly increased with religiosity. Religious people have a significant tendency towards stronger prejudices against women and homosexuals. For racism we found a similar tendency in a weaker form. The effect of religiosity on anti-immigrant attitudes, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attitudes was small and differed from country to country, making it difficult to generalize except to note that religiosity does not necessarily protect against these prejudices either.

Not surprisingly, the study highlights the correlation between xenophobia and authoritarian movements – and I hope Rep. King and mouthpieces of the American Right take note of this finding before they consider their next steps:

The ideology of inequality … expresses itself in the treatment of others as inferior, in extreme nationalism, in racist categories, in social Darwinism, in totalitarian norms and in an emphasis on ingroup homogeneity. The conviction that violence is a legitimate means for regulating conflicts leads to an acceptance of its use.[…] This group-related generalized hostility endangers democracy and inscribes its signatures into conflicts and violence. If prejudices – often traded as fact – are accepted rather than combated in the European Union intolerance is likely to increase. The extent of prejudice in a society is therefore an indicator not only of extremism, but also of the failure of established democratic forces.

Alan Nothnagle is a freelance writer, YA author and interpreter based in Berlin, Germany. He regularly writes on European political and cultural issues.

Comments   

0 #1 Mike 2011-04-10 16:15
"The researchers found that Europe as a whole is roiling with latent racist and xenophobic resentments"

Excellent, it is good to hear that xenophobia and racism is rising in Europe.
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