On January 7th, the terrorist attack on the offices of the satirical publication of Charlie Hebdo in Paris caused a wave of outrage in France and the rest of the world. The attack was carried out by two French-born Muslims, who killed twelve people and injured eleven more. Ever since then, France and the rest of Europe have been debating about the role of religion in secular societies, more specifically the extent to which Islam can be practiced and preached. Radicalisation, the departure of Muslims to Syria and the bans on religious symbols in public spaces have dominated the European media coverage about Muslims for the past months.
Remarkably, the French public opinion on Muslims has become more positive over the past year, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. French who say they have a favorable view of Muslims living in their country, have increased from 72% last year to 76%, while the percentage of people with a very favorable view of Muslims has increased from 14% last year to 25% today. The ratings improved across the entire ideological spectrum, but attitudes toward Muslims tend to be more positive on the political left.
The explanation for these positive ratings could be that after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, there were widespread calls for national unity. Also, many political leaders stated that violent extremists do not represent Islam or Muslims, which could have influenced the attitudes of the French citizens.
The pattern that was found in this study, is similar to what Pew Research Center found in the U.S. in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Favorable views of Muslim Americans rose from 45% in March 2001 to 59% in November of that year.
But it’s not all positive: even though the percentage of positive that attitudes towards Muslims in France has increased, so did violence against Muslims. Pew Research Center suggests that among the small minority of people with extremely negative views, some may become more likely to turn to violence after terrorist attacks.