Fundamental truths that many will find hard to accept

New German study shows that fundamentalism and bullying of specific groups is far more common among Muslims in western Europe than among their Christian counterparts.

In the emotional wake of poet and phenomenon Yahya Hassan and the subsequent debate that pitted a traditional Denmark against an ethnic and religious immigrant Denmark, you sometimes need some cold facts about … Muslims.

What Hassan keeps laying his expressionistic finger on can be summarised in two words: ISLAM and MUSLIMS. But what image is the poet actually painting?

Criticism of Muslims not Islam

On the surface his poems may sound like a strong criticism of Islam, but really it’s a criticism of what Islam can’t do without: Muslims. In other words, it’s a criticism of Muslims.
Muslim criticism? The words don’t leave a very good taste, but it’s nothing more than criticising people living with a specific religion – or at least the way they do it.

Critics find Hassan too generalising, even racist. He expresses tirades that are anecdotal and autobiographical. So what are we supposed to believe? 
Especially as witnesses from Hassan’s background tend to contradict what Hassan is saying.

Out-group hostility

You could try and consult sociological and statistical studies. These can point out leading tendencies and attitudes among certain population groups and relativise the immediate mantra that we are all very different, even Muslims.

Such a study was just published in Germany by Ruud Koopman, a professor of sociology and migration at Humboldt University in Berlin.

In short, Koopman’s analysis shows that religious fundamentalism and so-called out-group hostility is especially common among Muslims in western Europe. 
‘Out-group’ is a sociological term for a social group that doesn’t belong to your own group, which you regard with distrust and hostility. But common compared to what, you might ask?

Muslims and Christians

This is where we draw in a frame of reference and compare the possible fundamentalism and hostility of Muslims in western Europe to Christians in western Europe. The victims of this hostility in both cases are Jews and homosexuals. For Christians, you can add Muslims, and for Muslims, the West.

But if you previously thought that religious fundamentalism is equally common among Christians and Muslims, you have another thing coming, if you ask Koopman.
Fundamentalism, he claims, is the minority view of Christians but the majority view among Muslims.

More fundamentalistic 

To the questions on fundamentalism, 75 percent of Muslims answered that there was only one true version of the Quran and 65 percent stated that the religious laws were more important than secular laws.

For Christians on the Bible, the numbers were 17 and 12 percent. Speaking of out-group hostility, 56 percent of Muslims answered they didn’t want a homosexual as a friend, while 45 percent answered that Jews couldn’t be trusted. The Christian numbers were 11 and 9 percent. 

But Muslims and Christians also have a tendency to view each other as so-called out-groups. Thus, 23 percent of Christians are convinced that Muslims want to destroy the West – this number may be in line with the rise of Islam-hostile political parties in western Europe. Meanwhile, 53 percent of Muslims share the view that the West wants to destroy Islam. 

Finally, Koopman observes with concern how young as well as old Muslims score highly in the fundamentalism index – compared to young Christians who score considerably lower than their Christian seniors.

That Muslims due to their migration situation and cultural alienation should be more vulnerable to fundamentalism doesn’t fit with the fact that Muslims in Muslim-majority nations score equally high on fundamentalism and out-group hostility in studies carried out  by US think-tank Pew Research Center.

Survey’s findings are sound

I’m not an expert in quantitative sociology, but the study seems well designed and proper to me. 

Its reception will probably be mixed. Some will deny that these things can be measured, while others will claim that the questions are not asked correctly. Others will accept the study because it fits within an agenda critical of Islam. 

I think that the numbers show a general trend that is hard to brush aside. The study should make people reconsider the old story that Muslim fundamentalists are just a tiny minority ruining everything for the majority. Maybe it’s actually the other way around – the majority is ruining it for the few. 

It seems like the numbers are simply reflecting that Islamism has been the reigning political-religious discourse of the last 30 years in the Islamic world. But before anyone jumps to any conclusions, we should remember that a new fundamentalist study in the US showed that Christian Americans are actually a bit more fundamentalistic in their minds than their Muslim countrymen.

Thomas Hoffman is a professor in Quran studies at the Theological Institute at the University of Copenhagen. A longer version (in Danish) appeared in Weekedavisen on January 17. The article was translated with the author’s permission.