BERLIN // Germans are significantly more intolerant towards Islam than other western European nations, suggests an international survey that reflects the growing hostility towards Muslims in Germany.
The University of Munster's poll showed that 58 per cent of western Germans and 62 per cent of easterners had a negative view of Muslims, a dramatically higher percentage than in the other nations surveyed, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal, where the figures were well below 40 per cent.
The release of the survey, carried out by TNS Emnid, a German research institute, among 1,000 people in each of the countries, coincides with a spate of fire bombings of mosques in Berlin and threats against leaders of the country's four-million-strong Muslim community, which makes up less than four per cent of the population.
The poll was conducted during the summer, well before last month's warning by the government about possible terrorist attacks in Germany by Islamic militants. It also predated the publication in August of a deeply critical book about Muslim immigrants by Thilo Sarrazin, a former central bank official, which unleashed a fierce public debate about their supposed failure to integrate into German society.
Professor Detlef Pollack, the director of the study, said: "The differences between Germany and the other countries are quite dramatic regarding personal feelings towards Muslims, and they should worry politicians and our society. If there was a terrorist attack in Germany now, that would be dramatic with regard to the Muslims. The majority of the population would see its negative stance confirmed."
The survey also showed that Germans had a more negative view than other countries of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, and that only 49 per cent of western Germans and 53 per cent of easterners believed all religious groups should have equal rights, against 72 per cent in Denmark, 82 per cent in the Netherlands, 86 per cent in France and 89 per cent in Portugal.
The university chose to survey those countries because all of them, apart from Portugal, have had high-profile debates about Islam in recent years. Portugal was chosen as a contrast because its proportion of Muslim immigrants is far smaller.
Fewer than 30 per cent of western Germans and fewer than 20 per cent of easterners favour the construction of mosques, against between 55 and 74 per cent in the other countries surveyed.
Prof Pollack said one reason for the higher intolerance might be that ethnic Germans had far less contact with immigrants than was the case in other nations. The survey found 59 per cent of western Germans and 88 per cent of easterners said they had no contact or very little contact with Muslims. The figure was significantly lower in France, Denmark and the Netherlands.
A further cause of the levels of intolerance could be that Germany had only recently launched into an open debate about immigration, whereas other countries had been discussing the issue far longer, Prof Pollack said, in some cases as a result of major friction such as the riots by Muslim youths in French suburbs since 2005, or the controversy surrounding cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in Danish newspapers in 2005, or the killing of Theo van Gogh, a critic of Islam, in the Netherlands in 2004 by an Islamic fundamentalist.
Leaders of Germany's Muslim community, which is steadily increasing, responded to the survey by warning that Islamophobia was increasing and growing more violent. There have been four arson attacks against Berlin's largest mosque, the Sehitlik mosque, this year, the most recent one in November. Yesterday, a Berlin mosque was hit with a Molotov cocktail, after a similar attack in the city last month. No one has been hurt so far and no serious damage was done.
Aiman Mazyek, the leader of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, wrote in an editorial in Südwest Presse, a German paper: "Barely a week goes by without an attack against a mosque or Muslim citize.
"The German public is silent and virtually no politicians are showing any solidarity with Muslims, visiting our places of worship and making clear: Muslims, you are welcome."
Mr Mazyek said Germany's Muslim community had been placed under blanket suspicion as a result of the government's recent terror alert. He called on authorities to step up security outside mosques.
Muslim communities around Germany recently complained that they had been sent severed pigs' ears in the post. The Council of Muslims last month received an e-mail with the title: "You are about to be eradicated. Never underestimate the cruelty of the German people, otherwise you will suffer the same fate as the Jews."
The head of Germany's more than two million Turkish immigrants, Kenan Kolat, has also complained about an increase in the volume of hate mail addressed to him and his organisation in recent weeks.
Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has been accused by immigrant leaders of stoking anti-Muslim feelings in an attempt to shore up public support for her conservative Christian Democratic Union party in advance of a string of important regional elections next year. She was criticised in October for declaring that attempts to turn Germany into a multicultural society had "utterly failed".
Muslims say conservative politicians have been jumping on the bandwagon of anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by Mr Sarrazin's best-selling book, in which he claims Germany is at risk from a rapid growth of an underclass of poorly educated Muslim immigrants.
The governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, an important ally of Mrs Merkel, said in October that Germany did not need more integration from "foreign cultures".