32% of the French population is Muslim, and the country is composed for 28% immigrants. These are the estimations of the French based on a public opinion survey published in The Guardian. The actual figures show that France is made up of about 10% immigrants and 8% Muslims. Sociologist Nacira Guenif-Souilamas discusses the reasons for these disproportionate results.

“This distorted view takes place within the context of evident misinformation. It allows for a racist ideology to develop and to transform into a self-fulfilling prophecy, that’s to say that one has created problems where there weren’t any. The Muslim becomes an ideal culprit, that which is inexorably linked… to crime, to the monopoly of social benefits, to the failure to comply with republican values or to the equality of men and women.”

Guenif-Souilamas also points to the very real consequences of these collective representations of French Muslims. She argues that a young woman who has a Muslim-sounding last name would have less of a chance of getting a job than another candidate whose last name sounds more Christian. “When we see that veiled mothers are prohibited from accompanying their children on school field trips because they could potentially be guilty of proselytizing, we can say that Islamophobia has invaded all strata of our society,” she says.

However according to demographer Michele Tribalat, the overestimation does not only concern Muslims or immigrants. She argues, “Public opinion has an extremely limited culture and statistical understanding…It is wrong about almost everything and not only about the proportion of Muslims or immigrants.”

“Actions or substantive arguments that enter into conflict with our convictions would not be important if our opinion came from knowledge and was not founded on social proof, that’s to say, on the beliefs of many,” said Tribalat.

However, she adds that “As the Islamic State triumphs in Syria and Iraq it is hard to deny the reality of worries that relate to Islam. The exaggeration of the Muslim presence in public opinion is at the center of these worries.”

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