Harassment, as measured in the Pew study, takes many forms, including physical assaults, the desecration of holy sites, and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education or housing. Harassment also includes such things as verbal assaults on members of one religious group by other groups or individuals in society.
Sharing the same rocky boat
Negative European attitudes toward Jews are associated with negative attitudes toward Muslims, according to separate research I previously carried out with Richard Wike.**
Our analysis found that negative views about Muslims are part of a larger structure of negative attitudes towards "outgroups" generally. This suggests that negative views of Muslims are part of a broader set of xenophobic attitudes. So, to fully understand how Westerners think about Muslims or Jews, it is important to consider both perceptions individuals have related specifically to minorities in general.
The Wike-Grim study identified a number of attitudes that are likely drivers of negative attitudes toward Muslims, which may indirectly help fuel tensions toward other minorities. First, threat perception perhaps the single most important predictor of ingroup attitudes toward outgroups. People who feel threatened by Muslims are more likely to associate negative characteristics with them. As the reality of violent extremism of the sort that struck Paris in January and Copenhagen in February continues, the sense of threat is likely continuing to rise.
Second, both security threats and cultural threats have discernible effects on negative attitudes. Consistently, across all five countries in the Wike-Grim study, the perception of security-related threats was the strongest predictor of negative views regarding Muslims, while cultural threats concerning integration and the compatibility of Islam with life in the West are a contributing factor. The study suggests that security concerns are the true drivers of negative views toward Muslims, or using terms other researchers have employed, ‘‘realistic’’ or ‘‘existential’’ threats are the most significant determinant of Western public opinion regarding Muslims.
Third, the Wike-Grim study finds that higher socio-economic status is associated with positive views of Muslims, although again this relationship is generally indirect. Individuals with more education and higher incomes are less likely to say Islamic extremism threatens their country or that a large number of Muslims support extremist groups; and in turn, they are less likely to hold negative opinions of Muslims.
A Way Forward
For a discussion on a way to lower tensions and increase integration and trust, see my response to President Obama's summit on countering extremist violence.
* For more on the Pew Research study, see an interview by David Masci of researcher Peter Henne on the methodology, and additional discussion of the findings on Europe by researcher Angelina Theodorou.
** Western Views Toward Muslims: Evidence from a 2006 Cross-National Survey, by Richard Wike and Brian J. Grim, International Journal of Public Opinion Research (2010) 22 (1): 4-25.