A new poll published on Friday revealed that a growing number of people in France and Germany hold an unfavourable view of Islam and believe the religion has become too visible in their respective countries.
The study, which was conducted by the polling centre Ifop for French daily Le Figaro, found that 47 percent of French people and 43 percent of Germans felt that the Muslim community poses a “threat” to national identity.
Almost two-thirds of the poll’s respondents in France also said that Islam had become too “influential and visible”, whereas just under half of participants said the same in Germany.
The same study in 2010 found that 43 percent of French people viewed Islam as a threat, while 55 percent said that it was too visible.
A sample of around 1,000 people were surveyed in each country as part of the latest study.
The findings in France, which suggest growing unease with the Muslim religion, come after a year of tragedy during which a total of 147 people were killed in a series of attacks in the Paris area by Islamist gunmen in January and November 2015.
“This poll reinforces the sense that the image of Islam represents a major challenge for French Muslims," Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, or CFCM), told Le Figaro in response to the survey. "Considering the tragic events we’ve lived through, the risk of conflating [Islam and terrorism] is real. Unfortunately, this survey confirms that.”
‘A growing resistance’
But according to the director of Ifop’s opinion department, Jérôme Fourquet, the recent bloodshed in the French capital isn’t the only factor at play.
“The deterioration of Islam’s image in France wasn’t triggered by the attacks, even if those events contributed to it. What we’re seeing is more of a growing resistance within French society to Islam. It was already the case among voters for the [far-right] National Front and part of the right, but it has now expanded to the Socialist Party,” he told Le Figaro.
Earlier this month, France’s Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared his support for banning Islamic headscarves at universities as part of the country's strict secular rules, which separate state and religious institutions. Muslim veils are already banned in state-run schools, along with all other "visible religious signs".
Although Valls's comments sparked an immediate backlash from some within his party, they also reflected changing attitudes towards Islam within segments of the left.
“There are some on the left who feel that the Republic has been too lax with Islam and want it to stop," Fourquet said. "Manuel Valls’s strong rhetoric is a sign of this. The left is divided on the issue. In the end, it’s a combative form of secularism that’s awakening. It’s looking to repel the influence of a religion it considers too dominant.”
'Convergence' in Europe
The analyst also pointed to the study’s findings in Germany as evidence that the problem is not only a French one. As in France, the number of Germans who said they viewed Islam as a threat to national identity has also risen since the 2010 survey, although by only three percentage points.
The Ifop poll found that over two-thirds of respondents in both countries thought that Muslims had failed to integrate into society, a situation that 67 percent of French people and 60 percent of Germans blamed on a refusal to adapt to local values and customs.
“Although these two countries have a very different history of immigration, this alignment [between French and German opinion] shows that these important questions are posing challenges in a similar way throughout Western society,” Fourquet said.
While France has the largest percentage of Muslims in the European Union (estimated at 7.5% of the total population), Germany has the largest number of Muslims with 4.8 million people in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center’s most recent estimates.