Perceptions towards Muslim Refugees in Poland

Anang G Alfian | CRCS | Wednesday Forum Report

Syria has become a wartorn country over the past half a decade. Numerous refugees have fled to other countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and European countries, including Poland. Problems arise when some identity attached to the refugees, i.e. being Muslim and Syrian, is seen as problematic by the refugee-receiving countries, exacerbated by anti-Islam sentiment now on the rise in Europe.

Dealing with this issue, Anna M. Maćkowiak, a doctoral student at the Department of Phenomenology and Anthropology of Religion, Institute for the Study of Religions, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, presented her research in CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum on April 19th, 2017 about how Islam has been perceived in her home country, Poland. Her inquiry was to locate Polish perceptions about Islam and Muslims in the context of European refugee crisis.

Maćkowiak began her presentation by showing that the Muslim population in Poland is only about 0.013 percent, which is very tiny compared to the Roman-Catholic majority of 87.6 percent. According to her, Poland has particularly been unsuccessful in dealing with the refugees waves compared to other European countries. The reasons revolve around popular fears concerning some issues such as the danger of altering Polish culture or increased likelihood of terrorism, and inadequate empathy towards people threatened by war.

Anna M. Maćkowiak

Since the refugees in Poland come from predominantly Muslim countries, Maćkowiak is concerned about how Polish perceptions towards Muslims might affect their attitudes towards refugees. She conducted a exploratory qualitative study by interviewing 31 respondents. In structured interviews, she used questions involving citations from the Bible, Qur’an, and Bhagavad Gita. Quotations from these holy books served as the trigger for interview responses to pursue the aim of the study, which is to find out popular narratives about Islam and the religious other.

The findings show there is only a small percentage of respondents who gave the right answer to guess whether or not a certain verse comes from the Qur’an or another holy book. An example of the cited verses is, “Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.” A big percentage answered this is from the Qur’an, which is false because it is from Exodus 32:27 in the Hebrew Scriptures. Maćkowiak explained that the interviewees associate this verse to the Qur’an, because there is that perception that Islam is an evil religion that propagates violence, gender inequality, and so on.

Maćkowiak also took a comparison of two existing statistic data.  One statistic shows there is a big percentage that gave negative answer to the question whether Poland “should host refugees threatened by war”. While the other statistic shows a big percentage giving positive answer to the question whether Poland “should host Ukrainian refugees threatened by the military conflict.  One of the reasons why perceptions towards Ukrainian refugees are more positive is because they have a more similar culture and language origin to Polish people than the refugees from predominant Muslim countries do, who are perceived as terrorists or invaders rather than victims of war.

In the Q&A session, a participant asked about the number of respondents and how representative it is to popular narratives about Islam in Poland. Maćkowiak answered that it is not representative enough yet; the interview was conducted through snowball survey and she is planning to enlarge the number of respondents in the future. Another question concerned the role of the Catholic church. Maćkowiak responded that the pope for Polish people is still John Paul II, which means Pope Francis is seen as not authoritative enough in their eyes.

The writer Anang G Alfian is CRCS student of the 2016 batch.

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