Why do non-Muslims fear Muslims

The Germans' fear of Islam

The cashier in the supermarket wears a headscarf. Korans are distributed in the pedestrian zones of the city centers. The once invisible backyard mosques are disappearing more and more. Instead of them, more and more representative buildings are moving into the inner cities and thus into the center of society. Islam is part of the reality of life for Germans - and that scares many. "To be honest? For decades we have fought for equality, have achieved a lot. And now women voluntarily put on headscarves. I don't want that and that scares me," says a 39-year-old woman from Cologne with an academic background. Attitudes like these are not uncommon. In the debate about the Cologne Grand Mosque, for example, massive fears of the population about a previously foreign religion come to light - and these are apparently widespread.

'Endangering' a real danger

Politician Bosbach

The CDU politician Wolfang Bosbach does not see a general fear of Islam within society, but does see a justified fear of violent Islamism. About 40,000 Islamists lived in Germany. A small but considerable number of them are considered to be violent. Those "whom we describe as 'threats', who therefore act out of a religious-extremist conviction, represent a real threat to Germany's security". So this is not about imagination, but about very specific danger. Eight failed or unsuccessful attacks in Germany made it clear that the threat was real, said Bosbach. In this context, constitutional protection officials speak of a very small group of people. Less than one percent of Muslims are assigned to the Islamist spectrum. But: They apparently shape negative images of Islam and Muslims, contribute to widespread prejudices and a diffuse fear that can lead to hostility towards Islam.

Fears of foreign infiltration widespread

Social psychologist Zick

For ten years, Bielefeld University conducted a survey on the various facets of misanthropy. Islam was also discussed with the conclusion that fear of this religion was relatively widespread in Germany. Only 19 percent of Germans are of the opinion that Islam goes well with German culture. "That is the lowest agreement in Europe that we have found," says the social psychologist Andreas Zick, who also supervised and evaluated the study. 46 percent of all Germans are afraid of foreign infiltration, around 30 percent have specific fears - for example of terrorist attacks. The vast majority of Muslims living in Germany, however, are peace-loving. Then why is fear of Islam so widespread? And where do these fears come from? According to Andreas Zick, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, certain stereotypes - that is, opinions about certain characteristics of Muslims - became deeply anchored in society. "Even so many years after the terrorist attacks, it is difficult to decouple that many people associate Islam or Muslims with terror, with Sharia, with a foreign religion that does not suit Germany." That is problematic. Some of the people actually feel something like fear and have the feeling that something is coming their way that cannot be controlled. But a large part of them let themselves be infected by populism: "Since the terrorist attack we have also had new political movements that are incredibly agitating with the alleged danger of Islam and the danger posed by Muslims," ​​says Andreas Zick.

Populism fuels phobias

Members of "Pro Deutschland" demonstrated in front of a Berlin mosque in August 2012

An example of this are the right-wing extremist parties "Pro NRW" or "Pro Germany", who are defending themselves against the new mosque in Cologne-Ehrenfeld or elsewhere with aggressive posters and borderline slogans. The message between the lines is clear: Islam is dangerous and there is no place for Muslims in Germany. The religion of Islam is politically abused - and vilified - not only by Islamists but also by right-wing populists. The sociologist of religion Detlef Pollack from the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" at the University of Münster advises differentiating between the terms "fear" or "Islamophobia" and "Islamophobia". Because the widespread fear of Islam is essentially a very diffuse feeling, while Islamophobia is a judgment that goes back to certain evaluations. The sociologist of religion sees parallels between xenophobia in the early 1990s and today's Islamophobia insofar as both are also socially and structurally conditioned: "That means people who feel they are disadvantaged are more prone to such feelings of foreign infiltration or to Islamophobia. "

A taboo on fear, a German quality?

Sociologist of religion Pollack

But why is fear of Islam more widespread in economically well-positioned Germany than in other European countries? That could have something to do with the macrostructures, says Detlef Pollack: "Much of what is perceived as problematic in Germany when living together with different ethnic groups or religious identities is not openly discussed in public." Perhaps the characteristic German is the characteristic of being special wanting to behave correctly and tend not to address problems directly. Then they would tend to be swept under the rug. "And then one is completely amazed that there is such a high level of prejudice, fears, and feelings of threat." But if fears are not clearly articulated, they cannot be corrected.

Fears can be dealt with constructively by influencing them through reasonable arguments and thus losing their threatening character. A lot of awareness-raising and educational work is just as important as contacts between people of different origins and religions. The imminent opening of the representative Cologne mosque, planned for this spring, could help to reduce fears if it takes place in a climate of trust and openness.