Daniel Korski

What do Muslims think?

What do Muslims think?
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Coffee House readers sometimes complain that we do not talk enough about Muslims and Islam. I have certainly shied away from the subject, fearing that emotion and prejudice, rather than argumentation and empirical data, would dominate the debate. I don’t write about Christians, Jews or Buddhists, so why focus on Muslims? At any rate, I don’t like talking about collective groups, much as I prefer not to be talked about based solely on my heritage.

But now a new study called Muslims in Europe allows for an empirically-based debate about sentiments across a number of Muslim communities. Based on interviews and surveys in 11 European cities, it presents some interesting facts. It does not tell us what Muslims think, of course, but gives a statistically-relevant sample of views.

The first thing that is refuted is the idea Muslims live parallel or segregated lives, or do not feel a sense of belonging or attachment to the city and country where they live. 61 percent of Muslims have a strong sense of belonging to their country and 72 percent have a strong sense of belonging to the city. In Antwerp, for example, over 90 percent of respondents expressed a “very strong” or “fairly strong” sense of local belonging.

Results in the 11 cities differ. Cities where the majority of Muslim respondents saw themselves as nationals included Leicester (82 percent), London (72 percent), Amsterdam (59 percent), Marseille (58 percent) and Antwerp (55 percent). Cities where only a minority of Muslims saw themselves as nationals were Hamburg (22 percent), Berlin (25 percent), Copenhagen (40 percent), Paris (41 percent), Stockholm (41 percent) and Rotterdam (43 percent).

Echoing what many non-Muslims feel, Muslims also want to live in mixed, not segregated, neighbourhoods. Muslim parents worry also about the impact of segregation on their children. A significant majority of Muslim (69 percent) and non-Muslim (67 per cent) respondents “agree” or “strongly agree” that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.

The study shows that Muslim citizens care about the same things everyone else cares about. Across all 11 cities surveyed, daily concerns centre around the need for better quality of education, improved housing, cleaner streets, and tackling antisocial behaviour and crime.

There are differences between Muslims and non-Muslims. For Muslim respondents respect for the law (64 percent) was identified more frequently than freedom of expression (50 percent), while for non-Muslims, freedom of expression (62 percent) came ahead of respect for the law (54 percent). Perhaps unsurprisingly, where you are born matters. 48 percent of Muslims born in an EU country identify equality of opportunity as a key value, compared with 38 percent of those born abroad.

I am glad the survey refutes some of the most evidence-free accusations about Muslims. But it also points out where more work is needed. The data suggests that increased levels of education correlate with a greater sense of cultural identification with the state. For example, while less than one third (30.8 percent) of those with no formal education see themselves as nationals, over half (54.1 percent) of those with a university degree see themselves as nationals. A similar pattern in Britain, France and Germany. There is a lot more, so I recommend you read the report in full.