Germans view Muslims and Islam more negatively than do many of their European neighbors, according to a new pan-European opinion survey; and the majority of Germans also entirely disagree with a recent statement by German President Christian Wulff that Islam "belongs in Germany."

The survey provides strong empirical evidence of a wide disconnect between ordinary German voters and Germany's political class over Muslim immigration and the role of Islam in the country. It also shows that scepticism about Muslims and Islam is not limited to the political fringe, as many proponents of multiculturalism assert, but is shared by voters across the political spectrum.

The survey, titled "Perception and Acceptance of Religious Diversity," was conducted by the sociology department of the University of Münster in northwestern Germany, in partnership with the prestigious TNS Emnid political polling firm. Researchers surveyed 1,000 people each in the former West and East Germany, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Portugal; the survey's margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

The study, officially released in Berlin on December 2, shows that only 34% of West Germans and 26% of East Germans have a positive view of Muslims, compared to 55% of those surveyed in Denmark, 56% in the Netherlands and 62% in France.

Fewer than 5% of Germans think Islam is a tolerant religion, compared to roughly 20% for the Danes, the Dutch and the French. Only 30% of Germans say they approve of the building of mosques, while 50% of Danes and two-thirds of the French and Dutch respondents say they do. The number of Germans who approve of the building of minarets or of the introduction of Muslim holidays is even lower.

Only 8% of West Germans and 5% of East Germans say that Islam is peaceful. When asked what they associate with Islam, more than 80% of those surveyed in all five countries say discrimination of women, 70% say fanaticism, 60% say violence, and 50% say bigotry.

According to the survey, only 49% of respondents in West Germany and 53% in East Germany think that all religious groups should have equal rights, in contrast to 72% in Denmark, 82% in the Netherlands, 86% in France and 89% in Portugal. More than 40% of Germans believe that the practice of Islam should be vigorously restricted.

Only 20% of Germans, and 30% of French, believe that Islam is suitable for the Western world. Significantly, more than 80% of those surveyed in all five countries agree with the statement "that Muslims must adapt to our culture."

The study also reveals a more prevalent anti-Jewish undercurrent in Germany than in other western European countries. A little more than 28% of West Germans and 29% of East Germans have negative attitudes about Jews, the survey says. This compares to about 10% in the Netherlands, 12% in Denmark, and nearly 21% in France.

The director of the survey, a German sociologist named Detlef Pollack, is at a loss to explain why Germans are less tolerant of Muslims than their Western European neighbors. Pollack says one reason may be because Germans have less contact with Muslims. The survey shows that Germans on average have fewer personal encounters with Muslims than do other Europeans, especially the French. (On a country-by-country basis, Muslim residents currently represent about 8% of the population in France, 6% in Holland, 4% in Belgium and Germany, and 3% in Britain.) This leads Pollack to assert: "The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive."

Pollack says another reason why Germans hold negative views about Muslims may be because there have not been any major clashes between ethnic Germans and Muslim immigrants. In other European countries, confrontations – such as the cartoon controversy in Denmark, Muslim violence in French cities or the assassination of Islam critic Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands – have triggered intense debates about the role of Muslims in society. Pollack says that this sort of debate has yet to occur in Germany, and explains (according to Pollack) the sceptical views that Germans have about Muslims and Islam.

An arguably more plausible explanation may be that the Germans who participated in the survey are simply being more honest and open about their true feelings toward Muslims and Islam than are their European counterparts.

In any event, the new survey comes as Germany is fully immersed in a heated national debate over Muslim immigration -- a debate that has been fuelled by the publication in August of an explosive new book titled "Germany Does Away With Itself." The best-seller, authored by 65-year-old Thilo Sarrazin, a prominent German banker who is also a long-time member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has broken Germany's long-standing taboo on discussing the impact of Muslim immigration by highlighting painful truths about the current state of affairs.

Since then, senior German politicians have seemed unsure over how to proceed. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel initially sought to distance herself from Sarrazin's views, and called for his dismissal from the German Central Bank. But after opinion polls showed that most Germans agree with Sarrazin, Merkel, in October, conceded that German multiculturalism has "failed utterly." Since then, she has called on Muslim immigrants to do more to learn the German language, laws and customs.

During a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of German reunification on October 3, German President Christian Wulff, a member of Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), proclaimed that "Islam belongs in Germany" because of the four million Muslims who now live there; but two days later, Merkel said Germany's roots were Judeo-Christian. "Now we obviously have Muslims in Germany. But it is important in regard to Islam that the values represented by Islam must correspond with our constitution. What applies here is the constitution, not Sharia law," she said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has rejected calls from some center-left Social Democrats and Greens for Islam to be recognized as a state religion along with Christianity and Judaism. Speaking on Deutschlandradio Kultur on October 7, he said: "If you now ask: Will Islam be put on the same level as the Judeo-Christian understanding of religion and culture that we have, then my answer is: not for the foreseeable future."

In mid-November, Merkel told the CDU annual conference in Karlsruhe that the debate about immigration "especially by those of the Muslim faith" was an opportunity for the ruling party to stand up confidently for its convictions. "We do not have too much Islam, we have too little Christianity. We have too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind." Germany, she continued, needs more public discussion "about the values that guide us and about our Judeo-Christian tradition. We have to stress this again with confidence. Then we will also be able to bring about cohesion in our society."

On November 16, the CDU passed a resolution stressing that Germany's cultural identity (Leitkultur) is based on the "Christian-Jewish tradition, ancient and Enlightenment philosophy and the nation's historical experience." The resolution also states: "Our country benefits from immigrants who live and work here. But Germany does not benefit from a minority that refuses to integrate, does not want to learn our language, and denies participation and advancement to their children. … We expect that those who come here respect and recognize our cultural identity."

In the meantime, Germany is bracing for possible terrorist attacks amid growing signs that Islamic extremists are preparing an assault somewhere in the country in the coming weeks or months. Says Pollack: "If there were a terrorist attack now in Germany, as is being feared, the majority of Germans would feel vindicated in their negative attitude toward Muslims."

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