June 3, 2015

Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo, just as in U.S. after 9/11

The attack on the Paris offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in January was the most devastating terrorist incident in France since the Algerian War more than five decades ago. Two French-born Muslim brothers affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula carried out the attack, killing 12 people and injuring 11 more.

French Views of Muslims, 2014-15In the aftermath, there has been considerable debate in France about the extent of radicalization among the country’s nearly 5 million Muslims, and more broadly about the role of Islam in a country famous for its secularism. However, there has been no backlash against Muslims in French public opinion. In fact, attitudes toward Muslims have become slightly more positive over the past year.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 76% in France say they have a favorable view of Muslims living in their country, similar to the 72% registered in 2014. Meanwhile, the percentage with a very favorable opinion of Muslims has increased significantly, rising from 14% last year to 25% today. Attitudes toward Muslims tend to be more positive on the political left in France, but ratings improved across the ideological spectrum.

The pattern is similar to what we found in the U.S. following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Favorable views of Muslim Americans rose from 45% in March 2001 to 59% in November of that year. The increase took place across partisan and ideological groups, with the biggest improvement occurring among conservative Republicans.

U.S. Views of Muslim Americans Improved After Sept. 11, 2001 Attacks

To many, these changes may seem counterintuitive, especially since much social science research suggests that the more people feel threatened by a minority group, the more likely they are to have negative attitudes toward that group.

However, following the attacks in both countries there were widespread calls for national unity, and important statements by national leaders (including presidents Bush and Hollande) making it clear that violent extremists do not represent Islam. Also, as Claremont Graduate University’s Christopher Smith has argued, the media may have helped shape American public opinion after 9/11 by critiquing stereotypes of Muslims and drawing attention to violations of Muslims’ civil liberties.

Of course, it is important to note that even though there was no broad public-opinion backlash in France or the U.S., violence against Muslims increased in both countries following the attacks. Among the small minority of people with extremely negative views, some may become more likely to turn to violence after such incidents.

It is also worth noting that favorable ratings of Muslim Americans declined slightly following the post-9/11 bounce. By 2007, just 53% of Americans expressed a positive view, down 6 percentage points from the November 2001 survey though still significantly higher than the 45% in the March 2001 poll.

Moreover, the view that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers has become more common over time. In March 2002, just months after 9/11, only 25% of Americans said Islam is more likely to encourage violence, but this jumped to 44% by July 2003. And the last time we asked the question, in September 2014, fully half of Americans (50%) expressed this view.

It remains to be seen whether the improvement in French attitudes toward that country’s Muslim minority will hold, but the topic of Islam in French society will surely be an important issue as the country moves toward presidential elections in 2017.

Topics: Religion and Society, Western Europe, Restrictions on Religion, Muslims and Islam

  1. Photo of Richard Wike

    is director of global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    It is tragic that Bush and Hollande lied to their countries.
    The truth is of course that Islam is a colonialist, supremacist ideology, calling for subjugation of all non-Muslims.
    It is obligatory for Muslims to engage in Jihad, religious war to spread Islam.
    Politically correct well meaning presidents and media, are ignorant of facts.
    Yes, facts are not nice, but still they are facts:
    Muslims are followers of Muhammad, ‘and Muhammad was a violent, cruel warlord.
    (He was also a rapist and a child molester.)

    Everything that I am saying here is well documented in Muslim literature: Quran, Hadith, and above all Sirat (the biography of the prophet).
    Unfortunately I expect PEW research to censor me.

  2. Mecca5702 years ago

    As someone living in France, I must say this poll data is utter rubbish. There are several polls that exactly showed the opposite: for example, a recent IPSO poll showed that 74% of French thought that islam is incompatible with France:

    “A new survey has found that French are growing concerned with immigrants, politicians, globalization and media, with 74 percent believe Islam is not compatible with French society, The Inquisitr reported.

    The survey, carried out by polling institute Ipsos and the Jean-Jaures Foundation, reflected a growing distrust of Islam and belief there are too many foreigners in France.

    It found that only 29 percent of French people believe the “vast majority of immigrants who have settled in France are well-integrated”.

    It seems like Pew, like in the study on the muslim global population where it used flawed data, tries to raise pro-muslim sympathies with manipulated studies, insinuating that muslims are well liked, no problem and an inevitable religious majority. Pew will loose everything, that is trust, business and reputation, if it keeps going down that raod.

    1. sarita2 years ago

      I suspect that Pew does the bidding of the administration. If results don’t please the administration, these will be “gently altered.”

  3. Robert2 years ago

    The total acceptance rises from 72 to 76; +4 points.
    The numbers go +2, +3 and +3 respectively for left moderate and right.
    In what mathematical world is this possible? What weight to each group can give such an average?
    I’m therefore not buying this study.

    1. PixelSnader2 years ago

      A world in which we round numbers?

      The difference between 72.4 and 75.6 is only 3.2.

      83 to 85 can mean 82.6 to 85.4. Difference of 2.8.
      78.6 to 82.4 and 59.6 to 63.4 are a difference of 3.8.

      2.8 + 3.8 + 3.8 averages to ~3.46.

      And beyond that, it’s even possible for the average difference to get above 3.5 if the categories (left, moderate, right) are of unequal sample size.

      I understand your scepticism, but these outcomes are not impossible.

    2. Mecca5702 years ago

      I am buying it neither. According to various polls over the last few years, around 74% of French have had a negative view of muslims, and most of these polls were conducted before Charlie Hebdo. And now suddenly 76% of French are supposed to have a positive view of muslims? Where did they conduct that study? In the French banlieues? Pew doesn’t even bother explaining the huge discrepancies, which is highly unprofessional and doesn’t make me want to trust them. There’s similar results in most other European countries: E.g. Austria’s negative view of muslims is well over 80%, same in Italy.
      Pew is not trustworthy any longer.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        yea, they should publish exactly how they made the study what were the questions asked, what was the sample how was it selected.

  4. Charlie Sitzes2 years ago

    Why don’t we just be honest with ourselves and admit that religion only survives through the indoctrination of children before their minds have developed enough for critical thinking and logic.

    Recent studies have shown that our brain is not fully developed until our mid to late 20’s.

    Consider this. Imagine what would happen if, say a baby born to a Muslim mother and a baby born to a Baptist mother, were accidentally switched and sent home with the wrong parent. What religion do you suppose they would grow up to believe?

    The fact that all religion survives through the indoctrination of children should be enough to turn everyone away from religion. We could be religion free in 25 years.

    Or we could become extinct, which is exactly where we are heading now.

    1. sharbat2 years ago

      i will have to disagree with you there. for most people religion is just their culture and tradition they grew up with. there is a difference between Islamic Arab tradition and christian western European tradition. getting rid of tradition and culture will result in a decadent state with no sense of traditional identity. by eliminating Islam,Arabs would lose a huge part of their identity and culture. by losing Catholicism, french people would lose a huge part of their cultural identity and tradition. people who were raised atheists in their childhood could become religious later in life.

      1. Parthasarathy2 years ago

        The French will probably just shrug it off and don’t bother with religion at all, like Jews, Buddhist and Hindus, who accept many gods, goddesses and no god and nature goddesses and Gaia ( goddess of ecology) with equal ease.

    2. Name Last name2 years ago

      i will have to disagree with you there. for most people religion is just their culture and tradition they grew up with. there is a difference between Islamic Arab tradition and christian western European tradition. getting rid of tradition and culture will result in a decadent state with no sense of traditional identity. by eliminating Islam,Arabs would lose a huge part of their identity and culture. by losing Catholicism, french people would lose a huge part of their cultural identity and tradition. likewise people raised atheist could become religious later in life. i understand why many people are atheist. the most popular reason is that they think that religion was created by man to explain why the universe exists and they hate religion with a passion. others believe that they are scientists and are smarter than people with religion because they assume that they have no sense of science. others believe that religion has not contributed anything to the human people and has been a scam for thousands of years.

    3. jen2 years ago

      Your comment is predicated on the assumption that children follow the religion that they are raised in. If that’s the case, explain the millions of religious conversions that occur. I myself am a convert to Islam and this occurred when I was in my 20s, I grew up in a Catholic home.