Surveys allow new insights into Europeans’ rejection of Muslim immigration

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Official condemnation of the ban

In the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the liberal media has often looked for European moral leadership in an age of Trumpism.

Many of the continent’s politicians struck a similar tone, arguing for the need to uphold European values in the face of xenophobia and racism. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, as well as the leaders of the largest factions in the European Parliament, emphasised the EU’s willingness to stand up for “European legal culture and fundamental values”.1) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170131IPR60380/meps-firmly-condemn-us-travel-ban-in-debate-with-federica-mogherini

Similarly, the Bloc’s national leaders seemed to develop a common position against the Trump administration and its ‘Muslim ban’. At the gathering of the Union’s 28 heads of government in Malta earlier this month, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was rebuffed for what the continent’s leaders deemed her too concessionary stance vis-à-vis the incoming US administration.2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-malta-summit-european-leaders-rebuff-theresa-may-bridge-donald-trump-us-angela-merkel-francois-a7561106.html

Sobering survey results

Against this backdrop, the results of a survey commissioned by Chatham House are sobering. Carried out between December 12, 2016, and January 11, 2017, the survey interviewed 10,195 participants from 10 EU countries, asking them about their preferences regarding Muslim immigration.

Across the continent, an absolute majority of 54.6 per cent agreed to the statement that “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”. The strongest rejection of Muslim migration came from Poland (71 per cent), as well as Austria, Hungary, Belgium, and France (all above 60 per cent).

Only in Spain and the United Kingdom does the share of those supporting drastic immigration restrictions fall below the 50 per cent threshold. And in no country does the proportion of those actively disagreeing with the statement that “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped” rise above 32 per cent.

(Moderate) cleavages according to gender, age, and rural/urban divide

The survey results highlight that men are slightly more likely than women to favour shutting the door to Muslim immigrants (57 to 52 per cent). Among the 18 to 29 year-olds, the share of those supportive of a restrictive policy is lowest (at 44 per cent), while it is highest among senior citizens above the age of 60 (63 per cent).

Higher education levels correlate with decreased anxiety about Muslims: 59 per cent of respondents with only secondary education or less supported preventing further Muslim immigration, compared to 48 per cent of respondents holding a university degree. Finally, the rural population is slightly more critical of Muslim immigration than its urban counterpart.

While these factors are of interest, they nevertheless do little to change the overall picture. Across all groups and cleavages, there are solid majorities favouring a restrictive attitude to the immigration of Muslims, with only few categories falling below the 50 per cent threshold.

Comparison with the US

At first sight, these figures strongly mirror the opinions of the American public. In a Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted on 30 and 31 of January – i.e. shortly after the executive order was signed – 48 per cent of Americans asserted that they ‘agreed’ with the Executive order blocking refugees and banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.3) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/02/polls-widespread-backing-trump-travel-ban

It is worth noting, however, that the Chatham House poll was conducted prior to President Trump’s inauguration and thus did not explicitly reference a ‘Muslim ban’. Rather, it spoke of curbing Muslim immigration in more general terms.

European support for the Muslim ban?

These differences in timing and in the question asked might have important repercussions for the interpretation of the survey data. Most notably, a position generally supportive of curbs on Muslim immigration does not necessarily translate into support for the US administration’s Muslim ban.

In Germany, for instance, 53 per cent of respondents expressed desire for a stop to the arrival of Muslims when questioned for the Chatham House survey. In an Ipsos poll conducted in early February, 2017, however, only 26.2 per cent of German respondents supported strict rules governing Muslim immigration on the model of President Trump’s executive order.4) http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/umfrage-deutsche-wuenschen-sich-mehr-trump-politik-in-berlin/19239790.html

This striking discrepancy might point to the fact that it is easier for some respondents to advocate for a blanket restriction on Muslim immigration as long as this remains a somewhat abstract policy. The concretisation of such restrictions in the form of the presidential executive order might drive home the starkness and injustice involved in such a ban. The recent events in the United States also provided powerful images of demonstrators and of families torn apart at American airports that might have swayed German public opinion.

Outsourcing the dirty work

Does this mean that the claim to moral superiority voiced by European leaders criticising the new American administration is justified, after all? Are Europeans and their governments true to their self-styled image of the upholders of ‘Western values’? – Arguably not.

Instead of stopping immigration at European airports – and thereby creating a media stir comparable to the aftermath of the US President’s executive order – the EU has relied upon agreements that outsource the ‘dirty work’ to third states removed from European shores and out of the sight of European citizens.

This is the substance of the EU-Turkey deal that closed the Balkans route; an approach that the EU now seeks to replicate with a second agreement involving Libya. Although the officially recognised government controls only a small sliver of the Republic of Libya, it has been identified as a suitable partner by the Europeans.

Nor have European leaders been deterred by the conditions reigning in the migrant camps in Libya, which a leaked report by German diplomats described as comparable to “concentration camps” in which daily executions are used “to make room for new arrivals”.5) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-malta-summit-leaders-warn-strand-thousands-refugees-libya-deal-concentration-camps-crisis-a7560956.html The European anti-immigration policies might be less eye-catching than Donald Trump’s showmanship; yet this does not make them any less deadly.

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