European anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic feeling falls in wake of Charlie Hebdo terror attacks

Growing economic strain, divisions between EU members and a heightened fear of terrorist incidents have not contributed to a rise in racism and xenophobia, new research suggests

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The Independent Online

Europe in 2015 can seem like a pretty challenging place, with growing economic divisions, threats of Grexits and Brexits and the memory of the January terror attacks in Paris still very fresh.

But despite fears that those pressures could lead countries to turn inward, new research suggests bigoted and xenophobic views have actually decreased across the continent in the past year.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found that far from a rise in public antipathy towards Muslims, Jews and Roma in the past year, people expressed more positive views of all three groups.

In France, where radical Islamists gunned down 12 people at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo while there was a simultaneous attack on a Jewish supermarket, respondents overwhelmingly said they had positive views of both Muslims and Jews.

The percentage who said they had an “unfavourable” view of Muslims was down, from 27 per cent to 24 per cent, compared to 76 per cent this year who said the opposite. This year 92 per cent of respondents in France said they had a “favourable” view of Jewish people.

Anti-Muslim sentiment remains high compared to anti-Semitism

In the UK, views of both groups had similarly improved – 72 per cent of Britons in 2015 said they had a “favourable” view of Muslims, a big increase compared to 64 per cent last year. Those with a positive view of Jews increased too, from 83 per cent to 86 per cent.

Italy and Poland remained in 2015 the countries most likely express negative views towards Jews and Muslims. In both countries, the number of people with an unfavourable view of Muslims outnumbered those with a favourable view by 2 to 1.

Italy and Poland overwhelmingly anti-Muslim

But Pew also noted that anti-Muslim sentiment was disproportionately a right-wing phenomenon in Europe. It said French people who place themselves on the right (37 per cent) of the political spectrum were more likely than people on the left (15 per cent) to bear unfavourable views of Muslims – and noted a similar pattern in other countries.

But xenophobia down across Europe

Asked how they felt about Roma people, the continent was divided in half. The UK (54 per cent favourable), Germany (52 per cent favourable) and Spain (58 per cent favourable) were majority pro-Roma.

But Poland (48 per cent unfavourable compared to 41 per cent in favour), France (60 per cent negative) and Italy were all mainly anti-Roma – in the latter’s case, by a huge 86 per cent to 9 per cent.

Pew said that women had a noticeably more positive view of Roma than men do in both the UK (58 per cent among women vs 49 per cent among men) and Spain (64 per cent vs 54 per cent, respectively).

Bruce Stokes, Pew’s director of Global Economic Attitudes, said that despite reports detailing “a number of hostile actions” against minorities in recent years, “the activities of a few are not necessarily reflected in the views of the general public”.

“The 2015 Pew Research Center survey was conducted after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the simultaneous attack on a Jewish grocery store, perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris,” he said.

“But, in the wake of these events, there is no evidence that the atrocity sparked new public antipathy toward Muslims in any of the six European Union nations surveyed.”

Pew said the poll of 6,028 people in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain was conducted between 7 April and 13 May.