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«Anti-Islam or Anti-Religion? Understanding Objection against Islamic Education Jolanda van der Noll (corresponding author) Center for Psychology of ...»

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Van der Noll, J. & Saroglou, V. (2014): Anti-Islam or Anti-religion?

Understanding Objection against Islamic Education, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies,


See http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369183X.2014.931219#.U8Z0MfmSx8E

for advanced online access and the final published version.

Anti-Islam or Anti-Religion? Understanding Objection against Islamic Education

Jolanda van der Noll (corresponding author)

Center for Psychology of Religion Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) Place du Cardinal Mercier 10 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium Phone: +32 10 47 42 99 Email: jolanda.vandernoll@uclouvain.be Vassilis Saroglou Center for Psychology of Religion Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) Place du Cardinal Mercier 10 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium Phone:+ 32 10 47 82 74 Email: vassilis.saroglou@uclouvain.be Anti-Islam or Anti-Religion? Understanding Objection against Islamic Education Opposition against the accommodation of Islam in Western societies is often attributed to a prejudice against Muslims. This overlooks the possibility that opposition against Islam could also be caused by a more general aversion towards religion and a desire for a stricter separation between the state and religion in general. Based on the German General Social Survey (ALLBUS) of 2012, the current study investigated the non-Muslim majority’s attitude towards religious education preferences in German public schools. By applying a multinomial logit model, we examined to what extent Islamophobic, xenophobic and religious attitudes predict whether people (a) support the provision of Islamic education, (b) prefer only Christian education or (c) opt for no religious education at all.

Results show that Islamophobic and xenophobic attitudes are relevant indicators of objection against the provision of Islamic education in particular, while religiosity and religious style determine whether people support having religious education in general. Furthermore, the effect of Islamophobia and xenophobia depends on religious style. With these results the current study provides a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying resistance towards accommodating Islam in the public sphere.

Keywords: Islamophobia ; religion ; tolerance ; civil liberties ; religious education Introduction Discussions on diversity and social equality in the West are increasingly focused on how to deal with religious diversity, and especially on how Muslim religious practices should be accommodated in Western societies. Especially since the early 2000s, social problems have been attributed to the mostly Islamic religious background of minorities rather than to other factors, such as socio-economic class (Mühe 2012). It is often perceived that the culture and lifestyle of Muslims is incompatible with Western ideals of gender equality and non-discrimination of, for example, homosexuals (Alexander and Welzel 2011; Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007) and there is a widespread skepticism towards Islam in general and Muslim religious practices in particular. Nevertheless, it is broadly acknowledged, and founded in legislation, that ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity is an inevitable characteristic of Western societies, and that this diversity should be accommodated, as long as it does not counteract the interests of public safety, endanger public order, health or morals, or infringe on the rights and freedoms of others (Dobbernack and Modood 2011; Parekh 2000).

For minorities to feel full-fledged members of their host society, with the same rights and liberties as the majority population, it is important that that their basic civil liberties and needs are respected and recognized, including the freedom to live by the moral, sexual or familial standard they prefer (McClosky and Brill 1983; Sullivan and Transue 1999). This requires more than mere toleration, or the freedom from government interference in minorities’ (religious) practices, but entails recognition and the protected right of having the freedom to undertake public activities (Galeotti 1993;

Van Doorn 2012; Vogt 1997). The recognition of rights does not encompass a moral judgment of the particular practices, but works within the moral boundaries of society (Dobbernack and Modood 2011).

Religion is often considered to be a private matter, but the distinction between the private practice of religion and the public sphere is blurred. The interplay between the private and public sphere is for instance illustrated by controversies that have arisen over the wearing of headscarves and burqas by Muslim women, the accommodation of praying facilities, religious holidays, ritual slaughtering, application of family law, and religious education (Klausen 2005). As in most conceptions of the liberal state, the government is supposed to take a neutral stance regarding religion, treating all religious and non-religious groups equal and discriminating against none, and citizens of different religious denominations are typically able to express their religion in (semi) public spheres (Lettinga 2011; Powell and Clarke 2013). However, despite the secular character of many Western societies, the historical traditions of Christianity are still present in today’s societies (Cesari 2010). This, in combination with the public anxiety and aversion towards some Muslim practices, has challenged the accommodation of Islam in Western societies and put the position of Islam at the heart of fierce debates on diversity and the freedom of religion.

The aim of the present study is to test the hypothesis that religious style and a general aversion towards religion are, in addition to Islamophobia and xenophobia, among the main factors that underlie the opinion towards accommodating Islam in the public sphere. We concentrate on public opinion regarding the provision of Islamic education in German public schools as an example of the accommodation of Islam. We focus on attitudes and perceptions of the non-Muslim majority population because acceptance and integration of minorities is often embedded in the attitudes and behavior of the majority population (Breugelmans and van de Vijver 2004; Dobbernack and Modood 2011; Gibson 2006). People typically pay more attention to their direct environment than they do to the actions of policy makers (McClosky and Brill 1983) and the decision of school officials to provide Islamic education will likely also depend on the attitudes and perceptions of the people in the neighborhood. Studying public opinion furthermore gives an indication of exclusion and oppression in everyday encounters, as well as whether there is a basis for current and future legislation concerning the accommodation of Islam.

We focus on the provision of Islamic education in German public schools because schools are often perceived to be one of the most important channels through which future generations are socialized into society’s value system, and as such play an important role in the debates around Muslims and Islam in Western societies (Mühe 2011). Religious instruction can be seen as a basic right, for pupils as well as parents, which comes with the principle of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Lettinga 2011).

For our study, we use data of the Germany general social survey (ALLBUS).

Germany is one of the European countries with the largest share of a (Muslim) minority population, mainly of Turkish origin (Pew Research Center 2009). Until the 1990s, immigrants were predominantly perceived as temporary and were encouraged to maintain their own culture, habits and language (Brubaker 2001). More recently, however, the position of (Muslim) minorities and the adherence to their culture of origin has been publicly challenged and the need for minorities to adopt the host society’s customs is increasingly emphasized. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, remarked for example that the multicultural approach failed and that immigrants should do more to integrate (Weaver and agencies 2010).

Most public schools in Germany offer Christian religious education. For those who do not want to have religious education, schools offer a non-religious ethics course and if there is sufficient demand, schools may offer Jewish religious courses (Fox 2008). To be able to provide religious education, religious communities need to have a “public law corporation status”. To obtain such a status, religious communities should fulfill a number of criteria, such as respecting the German democracy, having sufficient financial resources and having a centralized organizational structure (Lettinga 2011).

Since the Muslim community in Germany is so diverse, none of the groups has yet managed to be considered as the central representative body. Furthermore, the democratic commitment of Islamic organizations is often questioned. Because of these factors, most federal states have thus far denied the requests made by Islamic organizations to register as a public corporation or the demands to provide Islamic education (Duyvené de Wit and Koopmans 2005; Lettinga 2011). As a consequence, school officials do not feel required to provide Islamic education in their schools (Fetzer and Soper 2005). Recently, after a long judicial process, some schools in Berlin offer Islamic religious courses (Mühe 2011).

Explaining Majority’s Attitudes towards the Accommodation of Islam In this study, we examine religious education preferences; should Islamic education be offered at public schools, is this a privilege to be maintained only for Christian religious education, or should there be no religious education at all in public schools? Often, objection towards the accommodation of Islam is ascribed to Islamophobia – indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims (Bleich 2011; Dekker and Van der Noll 2012). However, the objection towards the accommodation of Islam can also be based on a general aversion towards religious presence in the public sphere (Modood 1994), in which case people are more likely to prefer having no religious education in public schools at all. In our study we focus on the role of interreligious antipathy (including Islamophobia), xenophobia, religiosity, and religious style.

Interreligious Antipathy and Xenophobia People have the urge to restrict groups or ideas they dislike (McClosky and Brill 1983) and research has shown that people who are more negative towards minorities are more likely to oppose granting minorities the same rights and liberties as the majority population (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007). Tolerance, or to put up with something that one does not like (Gibson 2006; Sullivan and Transue 1999; Vogt 1997), implies having a negative attitude towards the target group and tolerant people are those who do not allow their personal dislikes to interfere with general principles of democratic rights and liberties (Jackman 1977). Hence, despite that they dislike a certain group or behavior, they are convinced that, within the moral boundaries of society, this group must be allowed to express their views, act according to their own standards and have the same rights and liberties as others. Previous research has indeed shown that people with negative attitudes, are less likely to support equal rights and liberties for minorities (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007; Van der Noll, Poppe, and Verkuyten 2010). We therefore expect that people who have a more negative attitude towards Muslims are more likely to oppose the provision of Islamic education (H1).

There is an ongoing scholarly debate on whether Islamophobia is a new phenomenon or rather an expression of a general out-group antipathy. Some studies have found strong associations between attitudes towards different ethnic or cultural groups (Echebarria-Echabe and Guede 2007; Kalkan, Layman, and Uslaner 2009; Zick et al. 2008). If this were the case, it is not necessarily negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam that is the foundation for opposition towards Islamic education, but rather a general aversion towards other groups. Other studies showed, however, that attitudes towards different groups reached different levels, that different groups evoke different stereotypes and emotions, and have different antecedents (Cottrell and Neuberg 2005; Helbling 2010).

To account for the possibility that it is a generalized prejudice, rather than negative attitudes towards Muslims in particular we additionally consider the attitude towards Jews, who constitute a different religious out-group for the sample population, and, more generally, we examine the role of xenophobia. Xenophobia is not targeted at a specific out-group like Muslims, but at foreigners in general. If support for the accommodation of Islam is indeed the result of a generalized prejudiced, we expect to find that a negative attitude towards Jews and a higher level of xenophobia are related to opposition towards the accommodation of Islamic education in German public schools (H2-3).

However, tolerance does not always correspond with having a mere dislike of a particular group. Sniderman and Piazza (1995), for example, found that anti-Black sentiments do no longer dominate the political thinking of Whites, and that the level of support for pro-Black policies depends on the specifics of that policy. Similarly, Sniderman and Hagendoorn (2007) showed that among people with a positive attitude towards immigrants, a substantial part object to the idea of granting immigrants the same rights and liberties as the majority population, and McIntosh et al. (1995) found only a moderate correlation between prejudice and tolerance. Research that focuses specifically on the rights and liberties of Muslims in Western Europe also showed that the willingness to restrict rights and liberties of Muslims was found beyond those having a negative attitude towards Muslims (Saroglou et al. 2009; Van der Noll et al.

2010; Van der Noll 2010, 2012, 2014). This indicates that having a positive attitude towards Muslims does not necessarily imply acceptance and support.

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