Muslim women during a march against terrorism in Barcelona on August 2017.

Muslim women protest a 2017 attack by Muslim extremists in Spain. A programme that harnesses the human desire to appear consistent reduces the hostility that some non-Muslims bear towards Muslims. Credit: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty

Human behaviour

Anti-Muslim hostility could ebb owing to a simple measure

Carefully chosen questions prompt non-Muslims to assign less ‘collective blame’ to Muslims for violent attacks.

A brief anti-bias programme can soften for at least one year the hostility that some individuals bear towards Muslims.

Emile Bruneau at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and his colleagues examined anti-Muslim attitudes among more than 1,200 non-Muslim adults in Spain. Some took part in an interventional programme that highlighted the logical inconsistency of blaming unfamiliar groups — but not familiar groups — for the actions of individual members.

Those in the intervention arm read about acts of mass violence by European white supremacists, and reported how responsible they held white Europeans, collectively, for those incidents. These participants then answered questions about the responsibility of ordinary Muslim people — for example, the hypothetical “Fatima”, a bakery owner in France — in mass attacks by Muslim extremists.

At one month and one year after the intervention, participants who’d completed the programme placed less collective blame on Muslims than control participants did, and also expressed less support for anti-Muslim policies.

Those in the intervention arm showed a reduction in anti-Muslim sentiments even after deadly attacks by Muslim extremists in Spain.