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MARCH 11, 2011 8:51AM

Intolerance in Europe: A new study sounds the alarm

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 Peter King
Ready to rumble:
Representative Peter T. King (R-NY)

WITH REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING'S Muslim radicalization hearings opening this week and with anti-Muslim sentiment reaching a fever pitch in the United States, it could be enlightening to look across the Atlantic and see how other Western societies are dealing with religion and ethnicity. A new study by the Berlin-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation released today 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 sixteen and above in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, France, Hungary, Italy, Germany, and Portugal respectively.   

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 seventy 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 sixty-eight 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 seventeen percent of Dutchmen . However, the Dutch hate Muslims just as much as everyone else. A mere five percent of Dutchmen thought “Jews have too much influence in the country,” whereas a remarkable fifty percent of the population in largely Jew-free Poland believed this.

60% of Hungarians think there are "too
many Muslims" in their country

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 and eighty-seven percent of Poles felt this way, while the Germans and Dutch were the most liberal at fifty percent and thirty-six percent respectively.  

Overall, while just about everyone dislikes 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 seventeen percent of Dutchmen 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 twenty-seven percent of Italians felt as if they were “strangers in their own country,” compared with forty-six percent of Britons, although over sixty-two percent thought “there are too many immigrants” – an even higher number than in the UK.

Anti-Semitic caricature 
Do "the Jews" have too much influence?
50% of Poles think so

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 nineteen 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.


Racial hierarchy 
Is there a "natural racial hierarchy"?
30% say yes

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.   

Admiral Horthy 
Hungarian strongman Admiral Miklós Horthy
(right) with his wife and a key political ally.
70% of Hungarians say: "What the country needs most is
a strong leader who does not bother about
parliament or elections."

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Interesting article ..Thanks. It does more or less pierce my little fantasy that those in Europe are more tolerant and forward thinking. My guess is that those in western countries are in fact exactly that way on specific issues( say gay marriage) but perhaps not generally. I would suggest it is tied slightly to religiosity.

I happen to live in the southern United States which is more conservative socially and politically and everybody here is pretty vocal about Jesus being in their lives. I am originally from Canada and my more conservative friends there were still generally less religious than their American counterparts and less freaked out by changing social roles but just as stringent on economic issues.

Anyway you get my point as will other readers who will no doubt lecture me on my judgmental attitude toward religion and then make a claim about how many "progressive" Christians they know.

Good read and well written.
Thanks. The study makes for fascinating reading. You can access the entire PDF from the link I supply in the text.
Interesting though this study is, based on interviews with only 125 people from each country (or 1000 - the wording is unclear) in only 8 countries, I don't think it can present anything close to a fair or realistic depiction of the situation across Europe regarding attitudes to race and religion - or to anything, for that matter. Of course every country - every community, in fact - has pockets of conservatism, extremism, and intolerance, but they are, in the main, atypical and not representative of the population as a whole. I live in the UK where we have, for example, gay marriage and great public demonstrations against organisations, political parties and individuals seen to be racist. The alliance between George W Bush and Tony Blair damaged the perception of the British as a tolerant society when these figures attempted to conceal trade interests behind moral rectitude - as if that made it all right - but overall we are a progressive nation of peaceably co-existing diverse cultures. We're not a nation of saints, obviously - no country is - but to state that we are "seething with hate", as the cover headline states, is unjust and untrue.
This was really interesting, though in many ways, alas, not very surprising. We were recently reminded of anti-semitism still being a pretty big issue here in Europe, with the much publicized John Galliano debacle. As for the study's findings on Europeans' views on Muslims in their countries, I can confirm that here in France there is a lot of tension about this. I think a lot of it has to do with certain incompatibilities between extremists (and not the majority of Muslims I know who live here and have integrated well, while still celebrating their own cultures and beliefs) and the French national ideal/laws. I hope that one day, prejudice and fear will truly be extinguished on all sides, and that this study will be as troubling and outdated as the images you very intelligently included with it.
@Fancy Rats
Sure, that's been my experience in Britain, and I'd say the same for Germany. I think what the study is getting at is that xenophobic resentments are indemic in these societies, and can be activated using the right imagery and keywords. For example, while anti-Semitism was latent in Germany in the 20s, few people really cared about it until the Nazis started pushing their buttons. But as I said above, check out the study itself - it makes for enlightening reading.
Europeans used to look down their noses at the US for its racism towards blacks. This was at a time when there were very few minority groups in Europe, and it seemed a holier-than-thou attitude, which is not to say there wasn't racism here. But now that their Muslim populations have grown, it's no surprise that they are sinking to the same low. After all, as you say, they gave us the Inquisition etc.
Fascinating! I had always assumed Euros were more progressive in these arenas.
I am a Brit, Ex Soldier, I like to think that I am tolerant of all races. You are right that most certainly Brits are beginning to get totally pissed of with our cousins from Pakistan and other Muslim countries. The reason for this is that they came to the UK in their droves to avoid persicution in their own countries, they stagger over huge swathes of Europe to get to the UK. They then settle down, claim social welfare, housing benefit and child allowance often for children that they claim to still be in their own country. They send out squads of radical biggots who set about blowing up our generous country to enhance their beliefs, killing inocent women and children. They gather and chant at our British Soldiers funerals that, 'British soldier should burn in Hell.' Then they wonder why the British people cannot stand the sight of them. We are not raciest we welcome many races from the rest of Europe with open arms. But I'm sorry when in Rome do as the Romans do!
In fairness to the majority of Muslims I am sure that they want a peacful existance, however the Mullas at Friday Prayer have a lot to answer for.
The study is overdue and important...but honestly, nothing surprising here.

Then again, I have a picture given to me by my grandmother of several relatives among a group of townspeople outside Kiev--standing at the edge of a freshly dug pit.

"Never forget"-- yeah, no kidding.
Damned Europeans! Pocahontas daddy got it right the 1st time.
Mmm'kay, C-A ... I sure hope you intended sarcasm on that comment. If you are serious, then I think you gotta bit of a problem there...

As for Europeans being post-racial and all that good stuff? Just take a look at how the modern Gypsies are regarded. The civil-rights era American South doesn't hold a candle to it.
Although I agree with the article's condemnation of bigotry, I find it slightly ironic that people are being urged to be tolerant of a group that is, as a whole, intolerant of differences themselves. I don't want to generalize about Muslims since the term covers people with a wide range of beliefs. But religious Muslims are often not very tolerant at all when it comes to issues like gay marriage, equality of women, etc. I don't think that means that we should be xenophobic or make generalizations about groups of people. But I do think that it means we should stand up more forcefully for our principles, and say, "we believe that all people are equal, and that includes gay people and women and all other groups. If you want to live here, you should at the very least have a tolerance for these principles". (And I think this applies equally to all religious groups, not just Muslims.)
Depressing statistics Alan. Do you know if teh survey was sufficiently large to break it down by age? Is it possible that younger folks aren't so prone to this bigotry?
Some days, I hate everybody
This isn't really news, in that this has been evident to me, personally, since visiting in 92 and there was anti Turkish/Muslim violence in Spain and Germany. I was obvious with Turkish/Muslim violence in Denmark in 1999 and repeatedly the last few years.
There is a direct conflict with capitalism and equality. I don't think Europe is not capitalistic, it just has a balance with some socialism, as does America. Which is apparently getting nipped in the bud, along with women's rights and gay rights. Not sure where we are with Black rights. There is anti Black sentiment (now focused on our president) and there is anti Black legislation (which I don't believe is happening but I can't be certain). If you don't want to enforce equality, just start chipping away at anything that is not you. In the case here and there, that "you" is mostly white, male, Christian, unscientific, and hostile to everyone that wants to share "his" natural environment.
"Do the Jews have too much influence?" you ask.

I'd like to point out that if one goes back to the articles here at Salon after Oliver Stone made his anti-Semitic remarks along the same lines, you'll see that many ON THE LEFT actually believe this as well.

It was, for this reader, actually terrifying to see those comments from Leftists who, in my view, have let their hatred of Israel slide into anti-Semitism. I'd also point out that Stone, to no surprise for me, got a pass from Salon, and the left in general, as well as a slobbering and respectful interview with the former after his despicable remarks.

BTW, worry about Islamic terror, which worries Muslims too, is not a sign of bigotry. In fact, to not care about what can happen in some of their communities and to some of their young men, is, in my view, the real bigotry.

If you want to know how some observant Muslims in America feel about "Jihad" and get another perspective, see the work and website of Dr. Jasser of Phoenix. He is a brave man as well as an observant Muslim.
now you know why my own prejudice has strengthened greatly in recent years: it began with unreasoning rage against people who let their dogs shit on my flowerbeds, and has grown to encompass the whole human race.

i am hopeful that the impending mass extinction will solve the problem, but fearful it will be too late for me to enjoy.
yes, Europe is worse than the rest of the world is why immigrants prefer the US. And that Europe is more racist than the rest of the world was common knowledge in India even thirty years ago
It is alarming - and "country needs most is a strong leader who does not bother about parliament or elections" that is a dangerous thought in a democracy. Hope Americans do better ;)
I guess we are doomed to be hateful and begrudging for eternity and more.
Europe "roiling" indeed. To conflate anti-Semitic Poland with a lively multicultural place like the UK is ridiculous.

Tolerance is a two-way street. I've sat in German courses with immigrants who have been in Germany for 15 or 20 years and who are only learning the language because the government now says they have to.
You put such amazing work into your articles. Your sheer professionalisim is a credit to your character. This is why I hate you. You raise the standard around here and hacks like myself look like dogfood.

I'm not coming up to this level.
The dialectics of history seems to show that we are headed for a global dictatorship, whether in this country the Republicans certainly appear to be preparing the ground, or in the Middle East where one leader will arise to bring together the disparate revolutions currently going on, or in Asia where a single strongman will unify the people under one ideology. I was brought up to believe in the phrase "Power to the people". Let's hope the people get the message and learn to believe in themselves.
I'm probably going to be unable to properly communicate my thought here due to limited education, vocabulary, intelligence but here goes. Not a completely accurate poll exists. They ask generalized questions that often lead the respondents to have to make a choice between their real opinion and the choices available. There are also cases where respondents will answer one way if asked but behave differently in their lives. Even the understanding of the wording of the questions skews the data since a person may have lived in a world where a particular group has been singled out for one reason or another and they misuse that group to indicate something that isn't quite the same as the answer may appear.

Not to say that racism, religious and ethnic prejudices are not dangerous or growing in Europe but that it may not be exactly as this study concludes. I do agree with what you are saying, I just question a lot of studies since as a person involved for a time with research and statistics I have a somewhat greater understanding at the way polls, and studies can be manipulated to arrive at a conclusion that supports the opinion of those who commission the studies.
This is very possible - you will be acquainted with the saying about "lies, damn lies, and statistics." I'd say the study is less interesting for the raw numbers than for the correlations the authors make. If, as someone in the know when it comes to surveys, you have any ideas on how such a study could be made more accurate, I'd love to hear about it.
Both the German PM and Britains PM say multi-culturalism is a failure. America has always been the successful melting pot of the world when its immigrants chose to assimilate into their new country. But the world has changed, we have immigrants wanting to turn their new country into the cesspool from which they fled and who have no tolerance for freedom of speech and women's rights and gay rights. Bullying Americans for their liberty. We'll see how it ends up.
@Fancy Rats, sorry, but there is no gay marriage in the UK. There is something called "Civil Partnership". But it is not marriage. Civil partnerships in in the United Kingdom, granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, give same-sex couples rights and responsibilities comparable to civil marriage. "Comparable" being the key word.

If you want a proper example of gay marriage, go to Spain or the Netherlands, or even Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa or Sweden.
@AOG We're still at the civil partnership stage, but legislation to commute it to marriage is at the final stage in the parliamentary process. Embarrassed though I am by the fact we have David Cameron representing us in the world (he looks more like a school prefect than someone in whom I'd put any trust or believe had any authority), seems he and the Lib Dems occasionally do something right.
It is interesting that the various comments denigrate the study without reading it, although it is readily available through the link above.
The study involved >1000 subjects in each of the countries and the poll questions were direct and unambiguous.
It is further interesting that some people making comments actually seek to justify their feelings as not being prejudice but based on reality.