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French have more favorable attitudes toward Muslims post-Charlie Hebdo

The cold, January day that two Muslim shooters stormed the office of French magazine "Charlie Hebdo", killing 12 people and injuring 11, France united under the tragedy they called their 9/11.

However, despite the religious background of the brothers who carried out the attack, a Pew Research Center study released Wednesday found that the French have more favorable attitudes toward Muslims today than they did before the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

According to the study, favorable views of Muslims in France increased from 72 percent in 2014 to 76 percent today. Furthermore, very favorable opinions of Muslims in France have increased from 14 percent last year to 25 percent today.

The same counterintuitive phenomenon happened in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks.

A 2001 Pew Research Center study found that favorable attitudes toward Muslim Americans increased from 45 percent in March 2001 to 59 percent in November 2001 (though a 2014 study found ratings went back down), with the biggest increase taking place among conservative Republicans.

"Following the attacks in both countries there were widespread calls for national unity, and important statement by national leaders making it clear that violent extremists do not represent Islam," Richard Wike from Pew Research Center wrote. "Also, the media may have helped shape American public opinion after 9/11 by critiquing stereotypes of Muslims and drawing attention to violations of Muslims' civil liberties."

Arguably another contributor to favorable attitudes of Islam, and the surge in U.S. converts post-9/11, is the element of curiosity.

Johanna Segarich, for instance, said she wanted to know what kind of religion would inspire people to execute the 9/11 attacks. Barely 10 weeks after 9/11, she had read through the Quran almost two times, and ended up converting.

"Indeed, it seems counterintuitive that Americans would consider joining a religion that many associate with terrorism and violence — especially after 9/11," Religion News Service's Omar Sacirbey wrote. "But there are more than a few people who, compelled by curiosity, became converts."

In 2011, a Pew Research Center study found that 20 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are converts to what data show is the world's fastest-growing religion.

Despite favorable sentiment toward Muslims following both the Charlie Hebdo and 9/11 attacks, there have also been increases in anti-Muslim attacks.

Post-9/11, the FBI reported there was a 1,600 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 2000 to 2001, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Similarly, The Daily Beast reported that the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said there were 128 anti-Muslim hate crimes reported in France between the Charlie Hebdo attacks on Jan. 7 and Jan. 20, compared to 133 reported incidents throughout all of 2014.

Time Magazine reported that the Charlie Hebdo attack reflects the growing tension between staunchly secular France and its Muslims, and the issue is taking priority in the political sphere.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has scheduled a meeting for his political party, The Républicains, to discuss "Islam in France or France's Islam", according to France 24.

"(The meeting) will not be to discuss what France can do to accommodate Islam," he said, "But what can be done so that Islam in France becomes the Islam of France."

Email: smikati@deseretnews.com