Rupert Murdoch picked a bad time to express the view, as he did yesterday, that Muslims’ religion “supercedes any sense of nationalism wherever
they go”. Perhaps he was following Mark Steyn, who maintained back in
Islam “is not something you leave behind in the old country. Indeed,
for its adherents in the West, it becomes their principal expression –
a Pan-Islamic identity that transcends borders.”

Just last week, the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a report that
provides strong evidence against the Murdoch-Steyn position. Pew
surveyed people in Muslim countries, western Europe and the US, and
also specifically Muslims in western Europe. While the responses were
not monolithic, they show that as a general rule European Muslims were
more liberal and less anti-western than their counterparts in the
Middle East.

For example, asked how many of their country’s
Muslims “support Islamic extremists like al-Qaeda”, only 12% of Muslims
in Britain, Spain and Germany (9% in France) said “many” or “most”. In
Pakistan it was 35%, Egypt 22%, Jordan 18%. Muslims in Europe were much
more likely to associate positive characteristics such as “generous”,
“tolerant” and “respectful of women” with westerners. And large
majorities of Muslims in the four European countries said they had a
favourable opinion of Christians – more than in Muslim countries, and
also more than the numbers of Europeans who were favourable towards

The report suggests that the failure of sympathy
comes from the western side at least as much as the Muslim. Asked
whether there was a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living
in a modern society, Muslims in all countries except Pakistan were more
likely to say “no” than “yes”. But the general populations in Germany,
Spain, Britain and Russia all said “yes” by substantial majorities.

There were also substantial differences in how the results were reported. The New York Times, whose report was reprinted in The Age, headlined with “Poll Finds Discord Between the Muslim and Western
Worlds”. But in Europe, where Muslim immigrants are supposed to be a
threat, it was easier to see the positive side: Le Monde led with “A majority of westerners have a favourable opinion of Muslims”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey