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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Christians in west Europe less tolerant of immigrants, study says

They are also more likely to express negative views about Muslims and Jews

A migrant sits by the canal as he awaits the evacuation of a large makeshift camp along the Canal Saint Denis, in northern Paris, France, 30 May 2018. Ian Langsdon / EPA
A migrant sits by the canal as he awaits the evacuation of a large makeshift camp along the Canal Saint Denis, in northern Paris, France, 30 May 2018. Ian Langsdon / EPA

Christians in western Europe are less accepting of immigrants and non-Christians than people without religious affiliations, a study published on Tuesday that was based on a 15-country survey found.

The Pew Research Centre report revealed that Christians – whether or not they are churchgoers – are more likely than western Europeans who do not identify with a religion to express negative views of Muslims, Jews and migrants. They also are more inclined to think their country's culture and values are superior.

"On balance, more respondents say immigrants are honest and hard-working than say the opposite," the study's authors wrote. "But a clear pattern emerges - both church-attending and non-practising Christians are more likely than religiously unaffiliated adults in western Europe to voice anti-immigrant and anti-minority views."

The study was based on a telephone survey of 24,599 randomly selected adults in the 15 countries. Pew researchers compared the attitudes of respondents who described themselves as practising Christians, non-practising Christians and religiously unaffiliated, including atheists and agnostics.

One of their findings was that ethnic Europeans as a whole hold "mixed views on whether Islam is compatible with their country's values and culture".

In Britain, 45 per cent of churchgoing Christians and 47 per cent of non-practising Christians agreed with the statement that "Islam is fundamentally incompatible with our values and culture", the survey showed. Among non-religious Britons, 30 per cent shared that view.

In France, nearly three quarters of Christians who attend church, or 72 per cent, agreed it was important to have French ancestry to be "truly French". Among non-practising Christians, 52 per cent took this position, compared to 43 per cent of those without religious affiliations.

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The survey was conducted during April and August last year, after more than 2.3 million migrants and refugees had entered Europe during the previous two years, according to the European border control agency Frontex. In some European countries, including Germany and Italy, there has been an anti-immigration backlash and nationalist political parties have gained support.

The survey found that Swedes were the least likely to express anti-migrant and anti-minority views, while Italians were the most likely.

"Undercurrents of discomfort with multiculturalism are evident in western European societies," the researchers wrote in the report.

Although Muslim newcomers have been the focus of far-right candidates appealing for votes and activist campaigns to seal Europe's borders, the survey also asked about attitudes toward Jews in western Europe.

For example, 36 per cent of Italians, more than in any other country, agreed with the statement that, "Jews always overstate how much they have suffered", compared to the 11 per cent of Swedes who did.

A quarter of all the respondents in Italy – Christian and non-religious combined – said they would not be willing to accept a Jew as a family member. The comparable figure in Britain was 23 per cent, in Austria 21 per cent and 29 per cent in Germany.

However, anti-Muslim sentiment exceeded anti-Semitism in every country. By comparison, 43 per cent in Italy, 36 per cent in Britain, 34 per cent in Austria and 33 per cent in Germany said they would be unwilling to accept a Muslim as a family member.

A hotly debated question in some parts of Europe is whether Muslim women should be prohibited from wearing concealing garments such as burkas. Most of the adults Pew surveyed supported at least some restrictions on religious dress.

About 30 per cent of those surveyed in Italy, 28 per cent in Belgium and 24 per cent in Germany and Austria agreed that Muslim women "should not be allowed to wear any religious clothing".

Across the 15 countries where people were surveyed, the median was 22 per cent, while half agreed Muslim women should be able to wear religious clothing as long as it does not cover their faces.

Pew said the survey had a margin of error of 2.7 to 3.3 percentage points depending on the number of people questioned in each country.