Anti-Muslim Attitudes Rise in Europe

Prejudice against Jews and Muslims is increasing in Europe amid heightened worries about globalization and immigration, according to a new international poll.

Nearly half of Spanish respondents reported unfavorable attitudes toward Jews, followed by 36% of Poles, 34% of Russians, 25% of Germans and 20% of French people interviewed, according to a spring 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. In all of those countries, the percentage of people with a poor opinion of Jews has risen since 2006.

While much of the upswing in anti-Jewish sentiment has occurred in the past two years, the increase in anti-Muslim feeling has taken place over a longer period of time, according to the Pew report. In addition, anti-Muslim attitudes are far more pervasive than anti-Jewish attitudes in most of the countries surveyed. Fifty-two percent of Spanish people expressed a negative opinion of Muslims, a view shared by 50% of Germans, 46% of Poles, 38% of French people and 32% of Russians.

"There may be some backlash toward minority groups going on in Europe as a consequence of the EU's [European Union's] expansion and globalization," Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, told the International Herald Tribune.

The attitudes reflected in the Pew survey have found expression in such events as an anti-Islam conference that took place Sept. 19-20 in Cologne, Germany's fourth-largest city. But that gathering did not come off as its organizers had planned. Backers of Pro-Cologne, which had set up the "Anti-Islamization Congress," found themselves massively outnumbered by roughly 40,000 protesters, some of whom obstructed train lines and roads into the city. Although the protests were mostly nonviolent, a small group of demonstrators smashed the windows of a riverboat where Pro-Cologne had scheduled a press conference. Because skirmishes continued between members of both sides, police shut down the event about 45 minutes into the Sept. 20 Pro-Cologne rally, according to Der Spiegel.

Among the far-right notables who'd been expected to attend was Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria's immigrant-bashing Freedom Party, though he reportedly cancelled just before the conference. During Austria's general election in September, Strache's Freedom Party — along with Jorg Haider's far-right Movement for Austria's Future — clinched an unprecedented 29% of the vote. Strache — whom The Guardian described as "the new poster boy of Europe's extreme right" — has called Islam the "fascism of the 21st century" and has been videotaped with German neo-Nazis while dressed in paramilitary garb, according to The Guardian. Though Strache claims he's no neo-Nazi, a court ruled that he showed "an affinity to national-socialist thinking" in response to a defamation lawsuit he filed against a Vienna newsweekly.