Curiosity about the potential for liberal democracy in the Muslim world has led to some intriguing research by Scott Milligan of the University of Tübingen, and University of Toronto sociologists Robert Andersen and Robert Brym. Their report, Assessing Variation in Tolerance in 23 Muslim-Majority and Western Countries, appears in the August issue of the Canadian Review of Sociology.
Because liberal democracy requires considerable social tolerance, the authors reasoned that comparing levels of racial, immigrant, and religious tolerance in Muslim-majority and Western countries could offer pertinent insights. Using data from the World Values Survey, they examined the effects on social tolerance of individuals’ age, gender, level of education, income, marital status, religion, religiosity, and social context (level of economic development, level of economic inequality, and country of residence).
They found that people living in Muslim-majority countries are on average less tolerant than are people living in the West. However, a significant part of the reason for this difference is that Muslim-majority countries tend to be less economically developed and more economically unequal than are Western countries. Moreover, the most socially tolerant category of people are non-practicing Muslims living in Western countries; and in Muslim-majority countries, there is no difference between Christians and Muslims in terms of their level of social tolerance. These findings suggest that, in Muslim-majority countries, the nature of socio-economic conditions and political regimes supports a relatively high level of social intolerance. Taking these factors into account, Islam still has a significant effect on intolerance in Muslim-majority countries, but that is largely because state and religion are so tightly intertwined.