Islamophobia in Western Europe and North America


Theoretical background and objectives

In the light of growing migration from countries with a Muslim cultural background as well as increasing Islamic fundamentalism related to terrorist attacks in Western Europe and the US a new research field has emerged that investigates the way states and ordinary citizens react to these new phenomena. However, we know surprisingly little about the attitudes of ordinary citizens towards Islam and Muslim migrants. Islamophobia has only recently started to be addressed by social scientists. We therefore know relatively little about the extent of Islamo­phobic attitudes in Western Europe and North America and what Islamophobia exactly is.

These questions are studied in three partly related smaller projects that investigate individual countries, on the one hand, and a large range of different countries on the other hand. In a first part, Islamophobia in Switzerland has been studied. More particularly the aim of this project was to take a closer look at Islamophobia and to investigate whether it really is a new social phenomenon or simply a new name for xenophobia. To undertake such an investigation we provided and tested theoretical considerations why Islamophobia could be different from xenophobia. While xenophobia is defined as a general hostility towards foreigners, it might be argued that Islamophobia stands for hostility towards specific aspects of foreignness. We tested whether people with a specific understanding of citizenship, religious persons and post-materialists behave differently towards Muslims than towards immigrants in general.

In a second part, attitudes of young people in Canada towards Muslims and their cultural practices are investigated. We are mainly interested in the three following questions: First, we ask whether peoples' attitudes towards Muslims are the same as attitudes towards other outgroups. In other words, is prejudice blind in the sense that it does not reflect a dislike of a particular minority but of minorities in general? We will analyse whether or not the same people show hostile attitudes towards Muslims and other groups and whether or not attitudes towards different groups can be explained by the same factors. Second, we ask whether it might be that Islamophobia is a socially better accepted way to express xenophobia. Might it be that mainly better educated people express hostile attitudes towards Muslims but not towards foreigners in general? Third, we want to know whether people make a difference between Muslims as a group and their practices. Might it be that people accept them as a group of foreigners (because they are tolerant and not prejudiced), but reject their illiberal practices (how they treat their women for example)?

The third part of the project consists of a publication-project that invites leading researchers from various countries in Western Europe and North America to focus on survey data to investigate the following research questions: What is Islamophobia? How can we explain Islamophobia? How is Islamophobia related to similar phenomena such as xenophobia and anti-Semitism. How has Islamophobia evolved over time? What have been the effects of 9/11? Which country differences do we observe, and how can regional or country-specific experiences with Muslim migration shape individual attitudes towards this group of migrants? What are the reactions towards Muslims of young in contrast to older adults?


Overall, the results did not confirm my arguments, which suggests that Islamophobia is the same as xenophobia. People with a specific understanding of citizenship, religious people and post-materialists do not have different attitudes towards Muslims and foreigners in general.
This might be rather surprising in the light of my descriptive analyses that have shown that between 1996 and 2007 hostile attitudes against foreigners have clearly decreased while Islamophobia has increased. Moreover, it appeared that in both years 1996 and 2007 much more people did not like to have Muslims as neighbours than immigrants.

Main content

Selected Publications

Helbling, Marc (2010): "Islamophobia in Switzerland. A New Phenomenon or a New Name for Xenophobia". In: Simon Hug/Hanspeter Kriesi (Eds.): Value Change in Switzerland. Lanham, MD: Lexington Press, S. 65-80.
Helbling, Marc (Eds.) (2012): Islamophobia in the West. Measuring and Explaining Individual Attitudes. London/New York NY: Routledge, XIII, 222 S..
Helbling, Marc (2012): "Islamophobia in the West: An Introduction". In: Marc Helbling (Ed.): Islamophobia in the West. Measuring and Explaining Individual Attitudes. London/New York, NY: Routledge, S. 1-18.