World

Moral Issues Divide Westerners From Muslims in the West

by Magali Rheault and Dalia Mogahed

Views differ most on sexual freedoms, abortion

This article is the first in a three-part series examining how views on moral issues compare among citizens in key Western countries and Muslims living in three European capitals. Part one focuses on differences among residents of these countries and Muslims. Part two will focus on common ground for Americans and Muslims in these cities. Part three will focus on common ground for residents in three European countries and Muslims living in their capitals.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Morals is the new prism through which Muslim-West relations are now scrutinized. Research has shown that Muslims want participatory politics, rule of law, and freedom of expression, thereby shattering the theory that they reject democratic ideals. And so, the coexistence debate, especially in Europe, has shifted to the Muslim-West gap in attitudes toward social and moral values.

In their analysis of World Values Survey (WVS) data published in Foreign Policy in 2003, Ronald Inglehart, professor of political science at the University of Michigan and director of the WVS project, and Pippa Norris, lecturer at Harvard University, observed that both cultures differ most on issues of eros rather than demos. The authors argue that "when it comes to attitudes toward gender equality and sexual liberalization, the cultural gap between Islam and the West widens into a chasm." But such a theory suggests that the West speaks with one voice on issues of morals, tolerance, and sexual freedoms. Western countries become lumped together to present a monolithic, liberal moral compass to an equally monolithic, conservative Muslim world.

Several Gallup Polls conducted in Europe and the United States challenge the theory of a monolithic system of values for the West, highlighting, instead, a wide spectrum of opinions on moral values.

To gauge variations in traditional values of those in key Western countries, Gallup asked the public in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, as well as religious Americans in the United States (those who say religion is a "very important" part of their lives) about the moral acceptability of several issues. Additionally, Gallup also asked Muslims living in Paris, Berlin, and London, three distinct communities, about their attitudes toward the same moral values. When asked about the importance of religion, 88% of Muslims in London, 85% of those living in Berlin, and 68% of those in Paris say religion is religion is an important part of their daily lives.

Although the opinions of the public in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom and Muslims in these countries capital cities differ most on the moral acceptability of homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and sex outside of marriage, the data show that attitudes toward these issues also vary greatly across the Western countries studied. The French public is more likely than any other population polled to view homosexuality (81%) as morally acceptable. As points of comparison, 68% of Germans, 66% of Britons, and 48% of Americans believe homosexuality is morally acceptable. In the Muslim communities polled, the acceptability of homosexuality is highest among those living in Berlin (26%) and lowest among those living in London (4%); in Paris, 18% of Muslims believe homosexual acts are morally acceptable. Religious Americans' attitudes (28%) on this issue align closest with those expressed by Muslims living in Berlin.

Next I'm going to read you a list. For each item on the list, please tell me whether you personally believe that it is morally acceptable or morally wrong:

With respect to abortion, the French public (77%) is also far more likely than the Britons (58%), Germans (52%), and Americans (40%) to say that it is morally acceptable. And while Muslim respondents' attitudes on this issue vary across communities, they are less likely than Westerners polled to believe it is morally acceptable: 34% of Berlin Muslims, 24% of Paris Muslims, and 10% of London Muslims believe abortion is morally acceptable. Religious Americans (22%) are also far less likely than the European and the U.S. publics surveyed to believe abortion is morally acceptable.

Next I'm going to read you a list. For each item on the list, please tell me whether you personally believe that it is morally acceptable or morally wrong:

Pornography also elicits different levels of acceptability across Western countries polled. Sixty percent of Germans, 52% of the French, and 29% of the British believe viewing pornography is morally acceptable. On the other side of the "cultural divide," Muslims living in Berlin (24%) are much more likely than either Muslims living in London (4%) or Paris (7%) are to believe that viewing pornography is morally acceptable. Gallup did not ask the pornography question in the U.S. survey.

Next I'm going to read you a list. For each item on the list, please tell me whether you personally believe that it is morally acceptable or morally wrong:

Europeans polled are more likely than the U.S. public and religious Americans are to hold relatively tolerant views toward sex outside of marriage. Eighty-eight percent of the French, 86% of Germans, and 82% of Britons believe that sex between an unmarried man and woman is morally acceptable, compared with 61% of Americans and 38% of religious Americans. On this issue, Muslim respondents' attitudes also vary: 38% of Berlin Muslims, 30% of Paris Muslims, and 11% of London Muslims say sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable.

Next I'm going to read you a list. For each item on the list, please tell me whether you personally believe that it is morally acceptable or morally wrong:

Survey Methods

U.S. public: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted May 8-11, 2008, with 1,017 national adults aged 18 and older. Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only). For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. For results based on the 527 sample of religious Americans, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

British, French, and German public: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted between December and January 2007 with at least 1,200 adults, aged 15 and older, in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Muslim populations in Paris, Berlin, and London: Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted between November and December 2006 with at least 500 adults, aged 15 and older, in Paris and London. In London and Paris, a probability sample of neighborhoods where Muslim penetration was at least 5% was used. In Berlin, results are based on telephone interviews conducted between January and February 2007 with at least 500 adults aged 15 and older. Also, in Berlin, random-digit dialing was used (dialing of first and family names with a high probability of leading to a Muslim household). For results based on the total sample of adults in each city, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/107512/moral-issues-divide-westerners-from-muslims-west.aspx
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