Posted on October 25, 2012

Survey Exposes French Anxieties over Muslim ‘Threat’

France 24, October 25, 2012

The role of Islam in France was once again under the spotlight on Thursday after right-wing daily Le Figaro published the results of an opinion poll that suggested 43 percent of French people believe the religion is a “threat” to national identity.

Six out of ten French people believe the influence of Islam in France is “too big” and 43 percent see the religion as a “threat” to national identity, according to the results of an opinion poll published on Thursday.

The sensitive poll, which will likely cause ripples in a country home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, was carried out by Ifop polling institute for right-wing daily Le Figaro, which published the results under the headline “The image of Islam worsens in France”.

Only 17 percent of respondents believed Islam “enriched” France’s culture and 40 percent said it was neither a threat to the country’s national identity nor of benefit to its culture.

“Our poll demonstrates a hardening of French views towards this religion and a strengthening of a negative perception of Islam,” said Ifop’s Jérôme Fourquet on Thursday.

The place of Islam in French society has long been the subject of heated debate, with the decision to introduce a law in 2011 banning full face veils in public causing waves at home and abroad.

Islam and France

In recent weeks, outspoken politicians seeking election and extremist groups keen to make a point have helped thrust the question of Islam in France back into the spotlight.

On Saturday, around 70 members of a far-right youth group, known as Generation Identity, stormed the site of a future mosque in the southwestern town of Poitiers to protest over what they regard as the growing influence of Islam in the country.

The fanatics climbed onto the roof and unfurled a banner daubed with the symbolic phrase “732 Generation Identity” — a reference to the year 732, when Charles Martel halted the advance of the invading Muslim army to the north of Poitiers.

Jean Francois Copé, who is campaigning to become leader of the centre-right UMP party, alsosparked uproar recently when he used the quintessential French pastry, the pain au chocolat, to launch a thinly veiled attack on Islam and the feast of Ramadan.

“Whether it is to do with questions surrounding the veil or halal meat or incidents like terrorist attacks, there has not been one week in recent years when Islam has been out of the news,” Fourquet said.

“A row over halal fast food has much more of an impact on opinion than any political speech,” he added.

“Insurmountable cultural differences”

Le Figaro’s survey reveals French opinion towards particular elements of the Islamic religion is also hardening, with 43 percent of people questioned saying they were opposed to the construction of mosques compared to 39 percent two years ago.

The number of respondents opposed to the wearing of the Islamic veil or headscarf in public has also risen also risen from 59 percent in 2010 to 63 percent.

Two thirds of people surveyed said they thought French Muslims and people of Muslim origin were not well integrated into French society. Among them, 68 percent blamed this lack of integration on Muslims’ “refusal to integrate”, while roughly half said they believed it was a result of “insurmountable cultural differences”.

The survey was published at a sensitive time for Muslims, who are preparing to celebrate the holy festival of Eid al-Fitr on Friday.

Le Figaro says the survey was taken from a sample of 1,736 people, representative of France’s adult population, who responded to questions online between October 15 and 18.