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Favourable view of Muslims on the rise in France, poll says

Philippe Desmazes, AFP | According to the Pew Research Center, 76 percent of French people have a ‘favourable view’ of their fellow Muslims

French citizens increasingly have a positive view of Muslims, according to a Pew Research Center survey, a trend that remained unchanged in the months since Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher market in January.


Seventy-six percent of French surveyed said they have a favourable view of Muslims in their country, four percentage points higher than last year, according to the survey published on June 2, five months after Islamist terrorists killed 17 people in attacks in and around Paris.

The attacks sparked debate among journalists, public officials and ordinary citizens on France’s treatment of its 5 million Muslims, raising questions about the lack of integration and potential for radicalisation in Europe’s largest Muslim community. And public opinion on Muslims has remained constant, the survey found, even becoming more positive.

“There has been no backlash against Muslims in French public opinion,” the author of the research, Richard Wike, said in the report.

Moreover, the number of French people who shared strong positive feelings for the group is also up. More respondents have a very favourable view of Muslims than before, with that number surging from 14 percent last year to 25 percent today.

While those on France’s political left tend to have more favourable views of Muslims than the right, attitudes toward the minority community have grown more positive across the ideological spectrum.

Wike attributes this, in part, to widespread calls for national unity in the aftermath of the January attacks and statements by leaders like French President François Hollande that underscored that violent extremists do not represent Islam.

Wike also suggests that the media might have helped shape a positive public opinion by criticising stereotypes of Muslims and drawing attention to the violations of their civil liberties.

The Pew survey on France was based on telephone interviews of adults with a sample size of 1,001 people and a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Basic bias

The results stand in stark contrast to apparently retaliatory acts against Muslims, which more than doubled in the aftermath of the January attacks.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France identified more than 120 “Islamophobic” acts, including 30 attacks against places of worship, in the three weeks following the Islamist militants’ rampage at satirical journal Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

Another study cited in the Global Observatory publication suggested that the French have a basic bias against Muslims that is only likely to rise with the projected increase in the proportion of Muslims in France, which in turn might feed further withdrawal of some Muslims from French society.

Even Pew report’s Wike warned that the respondents’ positive attitudes may not last long, and highlighted a historical parallel.

After Sept. 11, 2001 in the United States, favourable opinion of Muslims increased, he said. But this did not last and sympathy for American Muslims declined gradually.

Instead, Wike notes, the notion that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence took hold.


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