Feb. 21, 2015 by Darius
As far-right parties surge in popularity across Europe and countries like Belgium continue to launch raids on suspected terrorist cells, tension is rising between Muslim communities in Europe and their non-Muslim counterparts. Yet, as a graphic published by The Economist shows, the number of Muslims European citizens think live in their countries differs greatly from the actual number of Muslims.
France has Europe’s largest Muslim population. In France, Muslims account for 9% of the population. But when polled, French citizens said they thought Muslims made up 31% of France’s population. In Britain, Muslims are 5% of the population, yet the British public thought Muslims make up 21% of the population. The ratio between reality and perception was even higher in Belgium, where 6% was inflated to 29% in the minds of Belgians. In Italy, too, where Muslims make up only 4% of the population, respondents thought Muslims accounted for 20% of the population.
Part of the problem is doubtless because much of the news comes from a country’s largest city, where immigrants, including Muslims, generally account for a greater share of the population. But the gap between perception and reality helps explain, if not justify, many Europeans’ fears of a Muslim “invasion” of their countries. Four percent is a lot different than 20%. Using facts to fight ignorance may go a long way towards fighting irrational and bigoted fears.
It was nice to see, in Norway today, Muslims creating a circle of peace around a synagogue in Oslo to show solidarity with Norway’s Jewish community after the recent shootings targeting Jews in Denmark. A touching gesture, to be sure, but at the end of the day, it’s going to take a lot more to undo the Islamophobia that’s been building in Europe for years and has found new strength in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Far-right parties prey on bigotry and ignorance. The ignorance, at least, can be fixed.