A troubling survey.
The poll found that 63% of all Britons had a favourable opinion of Muslims, down slightly from 67% in 2004, suggesting last year's London bombings did not trigger a significant rise in prejudice. Attitudes in Britain were more positive than in the US, Germany and Spain (where the popularity of Muslims has plummeted to 29%), and about the same as in France.That so many Britons still have a good view of Muslims is reassuring, especially in a climate which has at times been oppressive, in particular following the 7/7 attacks and the government's campaign for terrorist suspects to be held for up to 90 days without charge. Both Britons and British Muslims are pessimistic about relations between each other, as 28% of Britons think relations between Westerners and Muslims are generally good, with 61% thinking them generally bad. 23% of British Muslims think relations are good, compared to 62% who think relations are generally bad.
Less than a third of British non-Muslims said they viewed Muslims as violent, significantly fewer than non-Muslims in Spain (60%), Germany (52%), the US (45%) and France (41%).
By contrast, the poll found that British Muslims represented a "notable exception" in Europe, with far more negative views of westerners than Islamic minorities elsewhere on the continent. A significant majority viewed western populations as selfish, arrogant, greedy and immoral. Just over half said westerners were violent. While the overwhelming majority of European Muslims said westerners were respectful of women, fewer than half British Muslims agreed. Another startling result found that only 32% of Muslims in Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews, compared with 71% of French Muslims.
Across the board, Muslim attitudes in Britain more resembled public opinion in Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia than elsewhere in Europe. And on the whole, British Muslims were more pessimistic than those in Germany, France and Spain about the feasibility of living in a modern society while remaining devout.
The Pew poll found that British Muslims are far more likely than their European counterparts to harbour conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks. Only 17% believed that Arabs were involved, compared with 48% in France.
There was general agreement that relations are bad, but Britons as a whole were much less likely than other Europeans to blame Muslims. More Britons faulted westerners (27%) than Muslims (25%), with a third saying both are equally responsible. British Muslims were less ambivalent. Nearly half blamed westerners. By comparison, in Germany and France both communities blamed each other in roughly equal measure.
Unlike the rest of Europe, a majority of Britons declared themselves sympathetic to Muslims offended by the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the European press last year. But most Britons said the outbreak of violence was the result of Muslim intolerance for western freedom of expression. Only 9% of British Muslims agreed with that view. Nearly three-quarters blamed the controversy on western disrespect of Islam.
What's most worrying is that even after 7/7, (15% sometimes, 9% rarely) 24% of British Muslims still think suicide attacks are in some way justifiable against civilian targets. This won't have been helped in recent weeks by the likes of George Galloway saying that an Iraqi carrying out a suicide attack on Tony Blair could be morally justifiable. This doesn't necessarily mean that they support such attacks here in Britain, but they may do in Israel. British Muslims are also most likely to see unpleasant traits in people in Western countries, such as being selfish, arrogant and violent. By contrast, non-Muslims in Britain are at the bottom in the survey for seeing Muslims as fanatical and violent among countries in Europe, and Germany is the only country below Britain where non-Muslims see Muslims as arrogant. A shockingly low figure, 17% said that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs, compared to 56% who disagreed. Conspiracy theory seems to abounding among Muslims, the reasons for which aren't clear.
Some of these feelings among British Muslims will no doubt have been aroused by the fact that the UK was the main coalition partner in launching the Iraq war. The 90 days distraction of last year was also likely to have affected relations. Even so, in Spain, which was also part of the "coalition of the willing", Muslims were much more optimistic about relations, and saw westerners as being much more respecting of women. 71% of Spanish Muslims saw no conflict between being devout and living in a modern society, compared to 49% in Britian, where Muslims were almost evenly split on the issue (47% saw a conflict.)
What is to be done? To start with, there needs to be a re-opening of government talks between the chief Muslim organisations, over all aspects of the policies affecting them, especially the police in the aftermath of the Forest Gate fiasco. Such talks should be transparent and transcripts should be placed in the public domain. Both the government and the media need to listen more to what Muslims are saying, and what they're worrying about. At the moment there's an obvious disconnect and a thinking within the Muslim community that they are dismissed as terrorists and fanatical. This survey shows that the majority of the British public clearly do not see them as such. Whether the police do is a different matter.
However, such a dialogue cannot be one-sided. Muslims need to explain why almost a quarter of them think that suicide bombings against civilians can be justified. Britain is not Israel, and London is not the West Bank. Even there suicide bombings can only be barely justified as legitimate resistance against the occupying troops, and even that is a hugely counter-productive and wrong way to go about things. What is so bad about living in Britain that such actions would be necessary or justified? Why are so few prepared to admit that the 9/11 attackers were Arabs? There's a difference between thinking that more could have be done to prevent those attacks and thinking that Mossad did it, or that it was an inside job. The poisonous falsehood that Israelis were warned not to go to work at the twin towers on that day still seems to have quite a grasp on British Muslims. We need answers. While the likes of Melanie Philips and her acolytes seem to think that all Muslims view themselves as "victims" of western foreign policy, this survey tends to suggest that some do think that way. Such views need challenging, especially by the Muslim organisations which are springing up to speak for them. It is down to them to do so, not for the government.
The survey suggests that things are not as bad as the doom-mongers would have us believe, but they are neither as rosy as those on the other end of the debate would like to think. There's a disconnect between the two communities. Whether this is down to the increasing segregation amongst Muslims and non-Muslims, the increase of religious schools, the hatred of the likes of the BNP or simply a divergence of opinion between the two groups, something has to be done if things are not to get worse. Unless we all try our best to find out why things have reached the stage they have, then multiculturalism might yet fail. We have to stop that from happening.