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The Correlates of the discourse on Muslims and Welfare in the West

Abdulkader Sinno
Indiana University
Abdulkader Sinno
Indiana University
Open Panel

Abstract

Why are Muslim minorities much more associated in the public sphere with the overuse and abuse of welfare systems in some Western countries than in others? I answer this question by analysing the content of newspaper articles and opinion pieces from the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, France and Australia between the years 2000-2010. I also leverage data from an ad hoc experiment embedded in a survey on attitudes towards Muslim immigration that asks specifically about the link between Muslims and welfare benefits. Different processes are at work, sometimes synergistically, to create an exaggerated link between Muslim citizens and social services and that more of these processes are contributing to this image in European countries than in North America. In the United States, ultra-conservative pundits make that link on their websites and in op-ed columns in tabloids but American Muslims are few, social services are limited, and “otherization” in welfare debates is mostly focused on Blacks and Latinos. In some European countries; poverty and discrimination drive large numbers of Muslims towards welfare which increases media coverage and popular interest, some media outlets leverage the special needs of conservative Muslim immigrants to imply abuse of the system, a few radical Muslim figures who are prominently covered in the media have advertised their own use and abuse of the system to increase social polarization, and right wing politicians and parties use this association to influence immigration policies while trying to avoid the appearance of being racist or Islamophobic. Some of these processes parallel ones that weakened the development of the American welfare state before the 1970s, when African Americans were treated as the out-group. I also find strong evidence that newspapers owned by Newscorp, the media corporation founded by Rupert Murdoch, actively promotes the perception that members of Muslim minorities overuse or abuse the welfare systems in Western countries.