In the aftermath of a devastating attack in Nice, France, Poland's interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, told reporters that the blame lay with the embrace of multiculturalism. “Have we not learned lessons from previous attacks in Paris and Brussels?" the Financial Times reported Blaszczak as saying. "This is a consequence of the policy of multicultural politics, and political correctness.”
A member of Poland's controversial right-wing Law and Justice Party, Blaszczak's point may be in bad taste. However, many around the world probably agree with it.
It's certainly hard to disagree with the idea that France seems to be more embracing of multiculturalism than Poland. In a recently released study by the Pew Research Center that was conducted early this year, just 24 percent of French people were found to believe that diversity made France a worse place to live. A higher proportion, 26 percent, said it made France better, while 48 percent said that it didn't make much difference.
These results appeared to show that France has one of the most tolerant, though also largely indifferent, attitudes to racial and ethnic diversity in Europe. Only Spain had a higher positive view of diversity. Meanwhile, in Poland, 40 percent of the population said that diversity was a negative, while only 14 percent said it could be a positive and 33 percent said it made no difference. Hungary, Italy and Greece were the only countries with higher negative feelings toward diversity.
The same poll found that France had a far more positive view of Muslims than much of Europe. Despite a series of terror attacks that were inspired by Islamic extremism, just 29 percent of French citizens were found to have a negative view of Muslims, while 67 percent had a positive view. While this was an increase of 5 percentage points over previous years, only Germany and Britain had more positive views.
Conversely, in Poland, 66 percent had negative views of Muslims, while only 19 percent said they had positive views. Hungary and Italy were the only countries with more negative views — 72 percent and 69 percent, respectively.
People in Poland were also far more likely to believe that Muslims in their country were supporters of groups like the Islamic State, a group whose supporters have cheered the attack on Nice but have not claimed official responsibility. Twelve percent of Poles were said to believe that "most" Muslims in their country supported extremist groups, and a further 23 percent said "many." Just 12 percent said "very few" supported these groups. In France, 44 percent said "very few" Muslims in their country supported extremism, while just 6 percent said "most" and 13 percent said "many."
And despite the perceived link between refugees from Muslim majority countries and terrorism that is widespread across Europe, Pew's data showed that on the whole, French citizens were more concerned about economic factors.
It is fair to say that polls can't reveal all the complexity of the situation. France's relationship with its Muslim minority is complicated.
Research has shown that Muslims face discrimination in the French job market, and Muslims make up a disproportionately large percentage of the prison population. The country has also passed laws that prohibited the wearing of full-face veils, a move that some felt singled out Muslims.
"There is a normative level of French identity, that of secular citizenship, which in principle guarantees diversity and neutrality but de facto when enforced has often damaged diversity when secularism becomes imposed like an ideology," said Sara Silvestri, a specialist on religion and politics with a focus on Islam and the European Union, who is based between City University London and Cambridge University.
But it is startling to see these poll numbers. France already has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe. While the French government doesn't allow censuses that ask people about their religious beliefs, independent sources have estimated that the number varies from 5 percent to 12 percent. Poland's Muslim population makes up about 0.1 percent of the population. In the United States, a country with its own strong-willed debate about Muslim integration, 1 percent of the nation is believed to be made up of Muslims.