A new national survey that tapped the level of "positiveness" that Canadians feel toward selected groups suggests that Muslims — significantly more than 10 other subsets of society — remain a magnet for negativity a decade after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
Just 43 per cent of the 2,345 people polled by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies expressed "very positive" or "somewhat positive" perceptions of Muslims, while atheists (60 per cent) and aboriginals (61 per cent) also drew relatively lukewarm responses.
Meanwhile, seven other groups generated positive perceptions from respondents. Chinese people, who narrowly topped the results at 75 per cent, were followed by Protestants, Blacks and Hispanics/Latin Americans (all 74 per cent), Catholics (73), Jews (72) and francophones (70).
The category “immigrants” prompted positive responses from 68 per cent of those surveyed.
The results were drawn from an online poll covering a range of issues and conducted by the firm Leger Marketing between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3. The survey is considered to have a margin of error of two per cent, 19 times out of 20.
ACS executive director Jack Jedwab said the markedly more negative response to Muslims is matched by similar polling results in Britain and the U.S., making clear that the challenge of improving perceptions of the vast majority of Muslims who reject Islamist extremism is a multinational task.
“Most of these perceptions are built around images that people see globally,” said Jedwab.
The similar findings in other Western nations “suggests this isn’t a Canadian-specific issue . . . I’m not saying we shouldn’t have programs” and policies in Canada to improve general perceptions of Muslims, “but the impact of those programs is limited if we don’t have global cooperation.”
The results of the new poll echo the findings of a previous ACS survey just ahead of last month’s 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which showed that a majority of Canadians believes conflict between Western nations and the Muslim world is “irreconcilable.”
That survey of 1,500 Canadians in early September showed that 56 per cent of respondents see Western and Muslim societies locked in an unending ideological struggle, while about 33 per cent — just one-third of the population — held out hope that the conflict will eventually be overcome.
Together, says Jedwab, such surveys highlighting the widespread unease towards Muslims are forcing a rethink of the prime challenge facing Canada and other Western societies in terms of ethnocultural relations. A decade ago, he said, the prevailing view was that promoting social harmony in these countries would depend on overcoming language conflicts or easing general tensions between “whites and all visible minorities.”
Instead, “what’s emerging now is a focus on Muslims vs. non-Muslims,” he said. “The outlet for people’s prejudice has been displaced by the focus on Muslims.”
In fact, the latest ACS poll showed that while 58 per cent of respondents mustered positive views about “relations between visible minorities and whites,” barely half as many — 30 per cent — were positive about “relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Canadians’ negativity towards Muslims is reflected across the country in the new poll, but most strongly in Quebec. Debates in that province about what constitutes “reasonable accommodation” of minorities — sparked partly by concerns about Muslim head scarves — have been more pointed than elsewhere in Canada.
Only 35 per cent of respondents from Quebec expressed “very positive” or “somewhat positive” perceptions toward Muslims. The results were higher in other parts of the country: Atlantic Canada (48 per cent), Alberta (4, B.C. (46), Ontario (45) and Manitoba/Saskatchewan (39).