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A poll on European attitudes toward immigration, Islam and terrorism, partly disclosed this week, found that a majority of Europeans don’t want any more Muslim immigration. That is, they appear willing to support the ban which U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to impose in the United States, presently being challenged by the courts.

The poll, still not complete, surveyed 10,000 people in ten European states, and was conducted by Chatham House, the semi-official foreign affairs institute in Britain. Responses to the most controversial issue, on Muslim immigration, were released in summary form before the bulk of the survey. It was designed to show the temper of Europeans on the central political issues of the day: the greatest of these being immigration.

When confronted with the blunt statement “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”, an average of 55 percent of respondents agreed: 25 percent neither agreed nor disagreed and 20 percent disagreed.

In only two countries – Spain and the UK – a minority of people agreed with that statement. In Poland, 71 percent of people agreed with it, as did a majority of respondents in Austria, Germany and Italy.

In the United States, poll evidence suggests a similar sentiment – but generally lower support for the Trump ban. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 49 per cent of Americans agreed with the order, while 41 per cent disagreed. The Reuters poll also showed that 31 per cent said the ban made them feel “more safe” and 26 per cent said “less safe”.

The major difference is that the United States has a temporary travel ban as policy and no European country does. It’s also the case that the United States now has an administration which wants to highlight Muslims’ connection to terrorism – while in Europe, the parties on the populist right who would likely agree with that view don’t have the same degree of power. (A handful are or have been minority members of largely center-right coalitions – in Norway, Denmark and Finland.)

In Europe the mainstream politicians have tended to congratulate themselves for “taming” these groups, but taming parties whose sharp edges are rounded by the spoils of office isn’t a solution. The brief experience of the Trump presidency is that success, at least temporarily, goes to those who stay on the hard side of immigration politics.

It remains to be seen just how hard. Now that a federal appeals court has refused to reinstate the travel ban, the U.S. government could ask the court to have a larger panel of judges review the decision or appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is already clear that the president’s senior counselor and new member of the National Security Council, Steve Bannon, believes the attempts to create a caliphate amount to “a very unpleasant fact… that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s…going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today”.

Previous surveys show that in Europe, anti-immigration views are stronger among the less well-educated. But it’s also true that rich, well-governed countries with strong welfare states, high education levels and relatively low unemployment – such as Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden – host large and popular far-right parties, which have hostility to immigration and to Muslim communities at the centre of their politics. At the same time, countries with very small Muslim communities, such as Poland and Hungary, are among the most hostile.

Politicians of the centre-left and centre-right have, in the past, sought to reassure voters that Islamist terrorism accounted for fewer deaths than a bad day on Europe’s roads. But such reassurances are counter-productive. People do not fear the commonplace: they fear communities which often keep themselves apart and whose radicals justify violence by pointing to the Western military interventions in Muslim states.

The more urgent question is whether or not those who support a ban on travel and immigration from Muslim-majority countries will lead nationalist parties to victory. The Netherlands’ legislative election is in mid-March: Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which advocates deporting Muslims, is still narrowly in the lead in the latest polls. Wilders says he doesn’t hate Muslims, but does hate their religion, and has charged mainstream politicians with “refusing to define the elephant in the room, which is Islam”. In Denmark last September, a new party of the far right – the Party of the Danes – handed out “anti-migrant” spray in the port city of Haderslev.

To describe the new far-right parties in Europe as “populist” is to categorise them as outside the pale of mainstream, liberal politics: to admit that they are popular is harder.

But they – or at least their policies – are. The dark night of fascism has not fallen on America, nor on Europe, and isn’t likely to, but fear and rejection of immigration haunts both. In 2017 Europe will show, in the Dutch, French and German elections, how dark the night can be.

John Lloydco-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow.

3 Responses to “Does Europe fear Muslims more than the United States?”

  1. Dr A Rahman

    The author has pointed out some very pertinent points and I, living in Europe, concur with them. The Europeans and probably Americans do not dislike or hate moderate Muslims. It is only when devout Muslims want to put Islamic teachings to practice in the Western World, problems arise. There are numerous Islamic teachings which should have been discarded centuries ago but are still in practice as Wahhabi theology insists on following them to the letter. Unless Islam is reformed, the modern day world will discard Islam, I think.

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  2. Sumit Mazumdar

    This article is superficial, as is the survey it cites. Unless a survey makes clear distinction between economic migrants and refugees, the questions asked make no sense. It is well known that of the more than a million who ran to Germany last year no more than half were from war-torn countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The other half included economic migrants from Iran, Pakistan and other countries. Beyond that, the article also does not clarify a huge difference between western Europeans (those who reside west of Poland) and the USA. Only 2% of western Europeans attend church, compared to 45% of Americans. Thus while in the US Christians and Muslims who do not believe in secular governments and education can sometimes find common cause, the possibility of that in Western Europe is close to zero. Thus, Europeans are threatened far more by immigrants who refuse to integrate and by political Islam than Americans. Finally, there have been far more instances of political violence or other ‘acts of hooliganism’ by Muslim immigrants (I am thinking of the mass groupings of women in Cologne, Germany on new year’s eve 2016) in Europe than in the US.
    In the end the key question is: are the immigrants willing to accept the norms of the host countries — and in Europe this means complete equality of women and men as well as acceptance of homosexual relationships or not? Europeans feel threatened because they are afraid that outsiders will come in and by taking advantage of their democracy — which was earned through centuries of struggles — will move the goalposts to an unacceptable place.

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  3. Sukhamaya Bain

    Any person is wrong when he/she equates banning Muslim immigration to fascism. He/she needs to look up the Oxford Dictionaries to find the definition of ‘fascism’. Most people who are for banning Muslims are neither extreme nor authoritarian on banning immigration; they are regular people who can see the problems with too many Muslims in their countries. The fact of the matter is that most Muslim-majority countries have laws favoring Islam/Muslims and/or ‘denigrating’ non-Muslims.

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