Last week's terrorist attacks in Paris were religiously-based and they have brought to the fore an issue that France, and most of Europe, had chosen to ignore: determining how prevalent religious fundamentalism is.

A new paper says that creating Muslim zones where outsiders were not allowed is not the problem, nor is Muslim hostility toward 'out groups', like non-Muslims, and the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office by the terrorists was not even attacking people who made fun of religion, or even western religion, it was instead an attack on the religious values of peace-loving Muslims, according to sociologist  Ruud Koopmans, director of the WZB Berlín Social Science Centre in Germany, writing in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

The majority of Muslims living in the European Union are peaceful and even flexible - at least among the youngest members of the community - but that it is only a majority leaves a lot of people willing to kill anyone different. Koopman believes that violent fundamentalists are looking to polarize the public by making it appear as if that is mainstream Islam.

"Islam is not the problem," says Koopmans. Does that mean Germans worry about rocket launchers being aimed at them by Prussian Christian fundamentalists the next time they run around in devil and nun outfits? Well, no, despite exaggeration by atheists beset with their own brand of fundamentalism, Christianity has very few fundamentalists, especially compared to Islam.

Religious fundamentalism is defined in three ways:

(1) Believers should return to the eternal and unchangeable rules laid down in the past. That is a newer phenomenon in Islam, which showed leadership in culture and science at one point, but it does not really exist in other mainstream religions. Rock bands are the norm in Christian churches.

(2) Rules only allow one interpretation and are binding for all believers. Only Catholicism comes close to this, the Pope speaks ex cathedra and if you don't follow it, you are not a Catholic. There is no a la carte Catholicism. It certainly is not the norm in Christianity, where outside the recognizable Protestant denominations there are also thousands of Bible-based churches with their own guidelines. The English usage of fundamentalism began with a Protestant movement in the early 20th century in the USA, which promoted a return to the 'fundaments' of the Christian faith and to a literal interpretation of the rules of the Bible. 

(3) Religious rules should have priority over secular laws. Turkey is the only Muslim country that maintains a tenuous separation of church and state but this is the norm in Western nations. 

The sociologist believes that religious fundamentalism is an ideology, a set of ideas that refer to attitudes towards the way of viewing life.

"Fundamentalism does not necessarily include or justify violence, as this is a form of behavior and not an ideology," explained Koopmans, who instead likens it to fascism and communism, other ideologies that are not synonymous with violence even though they both are linked with mass genocide of outsiders.

Nevertheless, "religious fundamentalism may encourage radicalization. In general, it should not imply violence, although out-group hostility may be evident." 

If the attack was about driving a wedge between moderate Muslims and the western world and scaring Christians who may be too timid to stand up to religious violence, did it work? It seems not. Charlie Hebdo sold millions of copies of its latest issue. 

Extended ideologies but not universal

Koopmans' analysis was based on a survey of 9,000 Europeans in 2008 and compares the religious fundamentalism of immigrants and the children and grandchildren of Turkish and Moroccan Muslim immigrants (Sunni Muslims and to a lesser extent Alevites) of Turkish and Moroccan origin and native European Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehova's Witnesses and Pentecost believers) in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, countries with a long generational history of immigration.

"Broadly speaking, between 40% and 45% of European Muslims have fundamentalist religious ideas, that is they agree with the three definitions of the term. Austria is the country with the highest percentage, 55%, while Germany has the lowest, 30%", explains Koopmans.

According to the sociologist, fundamentalism is not a marginal phenomenon among Muslims in Western Europe. "Although a majority of Muslims have more liberal views of the religion, this minority of fundamentalist Muslims is significant".  Although these attitudes are widespread "they are not universal among European Muslims".

The results show that if first and second generations are considered and if each definition is taken independently, almost 60% would return to the roots of Islam, 75% think there is only one interpretation of the Koran possible to which every Muslim should stick, and 65% say that religious rules are more important to them than the rules of the country in which they live. "However in second generation Muslims the levels are slightly lower (between 50% and 70%)".

According to the study, Islamic fundamentalism prevails in Europe if compared to Christian fundamentalism, in which only 4% of Christians shared the ideas of the three statements of the definition. Among Protestants, fundamentalism reached 12%. "All fundamentalists are strictly religious but this does not mean that all strictly religious individuals are fundamentalists. Strict religiosity is more frequently associated to Islamic fundamentalists than to Christians." 

In addition, Christian and Islamic fundamentalism decrease when the social and economic status is higher, "and this is even more so among the Muslim community", indicates the sociologist. Nevertheless, "although in Europe religious fundamentalism is more widespread in Islam, in the USA it is Christian fundamentalism, especially among Protestants, which has the greatest support," observes Koopmans, who concedest that the data from the study in Europe cannot be extrapolated to the rest of the world.

Spain has a more recent history of legal immigration and a long history with fighting Muslims and so it was not included in the study, but he says followers of religious fundamentalism, in particular Islam, are similar. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in America found that Islamic fundamentalists make up more than 30% of Muslims there. 

Hostility towards out-groups

The reactions generated as a result of the latest attacks in the French capital have served to fortify those worried about militant fundamentalism in their nations. "But Islam is not the problem. Nor is it true that a majority of Muslims have fundamentalist ideals.

"What is relatively recent is the growth of violence, linked to the situation in Syria and Iraq, and which has served to aggravate the problem," claims Koopmans, in defiance of every historian. Other studies find that 15% of EU Muslims are prepared to use violence against outsiders.

Although violence does not necessarily form part of this ideology, hostility towards other out-groups, including homosexuals, Jews, and Westerners is common. Muslims are far more hostile towards the three out-groups mentioned above, with 30% rejecting these groups. When Muslims replace Christians as the out-group in those examples, Christian hostility is less than 5%.

Though a tiny minority compared to Muslims, Christian fundamentalists show greater hostility towards Muslims (more than 50%) than Jews (30%). In the case of Islamic fundamentalists, more than 70% of followers feel hostility towards homosexuals, Jews and Westerners.

Religious fundamentalism is closely linked to hostility towards other out-groups," says Koopmans. But social and economic levels also have a bearing. Individuals with a high social and economic status are more tolerant and less xenophobic.

Reference: Koopmans, Ruud. "Religious Fundamentalism and Hostility against Out-groups: A Comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe" Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41(1): 33-57 DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2014.935307, 2 January 2015