A new study published Wednesday found a marked rise in Islamophobic attitudes in Germany, which comes in the wake of an unprecedented influx of about a million migrants, most of them Muslims, and a heated political conversation about the role of Islam in the West.
The survey found that about 40 percent of Germans polled believed that Muslims should be prohibited from coming to the country, a surge from one-fifth of respondents in 2009, according to Reuters. The poll, carried out by researchers at the University of Leipzig in conjunction with a few German foundations, has been conducted every two years since 2002.
A report by the Local on the survey focused on another detail: When faced with the proposition that “we should have a dictator who rules Germany firmly for everyone’s benefit,” more than 10 percent of those polled agreed. That such a sizable number would consider a suspension of democracy — even in Germany, where many are aware of the traumas and misdeeds of the past — shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
The past year has been marked by the ascendance of far-right populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic. In Germany, as my colleagues reported this month, concerns over Islamist infiltration and the supposed inability of Muslims to integrate into Western society have fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which sees Islam as incompatible with German values and wants to ban the wearing of the burqa and the construction of minarets.
In the survey of German attitudes, roughly half of those polled said they felt like a foreigner in their own country because of last year’s influx of migrants, a seven-percentage-point rise from 2014. A majority agreed with the proposition that these asylum seekers were not actually at great risk in their home countries. And 3 out of 10 Germans believed that the country “had been infiltrated by too many foreigners in a dangerous way,” a nod to both concerns over terrorism as well as criminality.
Muslims make up 5 percent of Germany’s population, and some community groups are concerned about intolerance taking root around them.
“For the first time [since World War II], there is a party again attempting to existentially constrain an entire religious community and to threaten it,” Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola when speaking of the popularity of the AfD. “This reminds us of the times of Hitler.”
Though that’s particularly apocalyptic rhetoric, the appeal of an authoritarian strongman remains very genuine for a segment of the voting public in the West. Many are tired of the perceived fecklessness of their elected politicians; others admire the muscular nationalism of authoritarian figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This tendency, researchers argue, is also at play in the current U.S. presidential election cycle. Matthew MacWilliams, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studies authoritarianism as part of the psychological profile of the average voter. And according to his analysis, the best predictor of whether a voter would support Donald Trump is not their racial identity or socioeconomic status or gender, but their willingness to embrace authoritarian ideas — a feature on display in the University of Leipzig study as well.
“From pledging to ‘make America great again’ by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States,” MacWilliams writes, “Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.”
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