A groundbreaking new study in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies compares the views of native Christians and Turkish and Moroccan immigrants in six Western European countries to shed light on the relationship between fundamentalism, religiosity, socio-economic status and hostility towards others.
Key among Ruud Koopmans’ findings were that although ‘fundamentalist attitudinal structures’ were widespread among Muslims, they were certainly not ‘universal’. He observed many variations based on place of origin and religious tradition: Sunnis were more likely to hold fundamentalist views than, say, Alevite Muslims from Turkey or Christians. But unlike for Christians, age (or belonging to the ‘second generation’) was not a significant factor in holding (or not holding) fundamentalist views for Muslims. What was consistent between the two, however, was the effect of social status and poverty: people from both traditions with fundamentalist views were ‘disproportionately found among socio-economically marginalised strata’.
Koopmans also discovered a strong relationship between fundamentalist views in both traditions and hostility towards gays, Jews, and Muslims/Christians. Sixty percent of Christian fundamentalists believed that Muslims are out to destroy Western culture and that more than 70% of Muslim fundamentalists would reject homosexuals as friends.
Why figures like these matter is clear: “Hostile attitudes towards other groups should not be equated with the willingness to employ physical violence. But the combination of a fundamentalist belief in the absolute truth and righteousness of their own cause, hostility and mistrust towards other groups, and a sense of threat based in the belief that others are out to destroy one’s own group may motivate a minority to act on such beliefs.”
Koopmans also makes wider observations about the relationship between the two faiths around the world. He notes that: “In Europe, a strongly secularised native population is confronted with a religiously conservative Muslim population, resulting in a large gap in religious attitudes between Muslims and natives. This is likely to be an important reason – next to the larger numbers and lower socio-economic status of Muslims – why Muslims and Islam have become much more politically contested in Europe than in North America.”
Koopman’s study is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand not only fundamentalism, but also the wide range of beliefs and views held by members of both traditions. It is also a fascinating insight into how European countries and their citizens have responded to Muslim immigrants – and vice versa.