Britons’ attitudes towards Muslims and Islam have “worsened” with more than half of all respondents to a new survey believing the religion “poses a threat” to the West.
“The fear and hostility displayed towards Muslims is deeply worrying, despite most people claiming that they stand firm against extremists’ attempt to conflate their heinous actions with that of an entire religion,” Hope not Hate (HnH) chief executive Nick Lowles said of the finding’s of the charity’s Fear And Hope 2017 report which was released on Wednesday.
“Clearly there is a lot of work to be done here, both by those tackling hate crimes and misinformation, and potentially by Muslim communities themselves.”
The report, billed as “one of the most comprehensive studies of English attitudes towards contemporary issues”, found that despite views on immigration “softening”, attitudes towards Muslims and Islam have “simultaneously worsened among the more hostile sections of society”.
The report, based on a Populus survey of 4,000 people in “six identity tribes” across England, found that 52% of respondents believe Islam “poses a threat to the West”. As a result of recent terror attacks 42% of those surveyed were now “more suspicious” of Muslims and a quarter of Brits believe Islam is a “dangerous religion that incites violence”.
The study found older people were more prone to Islamophobia, “painting a worrying set of views” which HnH said would require “significant effort” to address.
Anti-hate charity Tell Mama told HuffPost UK that it was not surprised by the survey’s findings and called on mosques and Islamic institutions to do more to “break down barriers”.
“We know, given the levels of aggression towards victims, that there is a foothold taking place within small sections of the UK, around anti-Muslim hatred,” Tell Mama director Iman Atta said.
“For the survey to show that 25% of Brits believe that Islam is a dangerous religion, is concerning and we need more mosques and Islamic institutions to engage with their neighbours and break down barriers that there may be. Also, for 52% of respondents to believe that Islam poses a threat risk to the West shows that a lot more work needs to be done by Muslims and NGO’s to counter such growing divisions.”
Atta added: “We are the vanguard of trying to tackle anti-Muslim hatred and we call upon others to join us in standing against all forms of hatred, including anti-Muslim hatred. There is much work to be done and clearly, there is a long road ahead. If we do not challenge this, it will strengthen Islamist extremism as well as alienating large numbers of Muslims.”
Views about Muslims and Islam
Religious discrimination and islamophobia had reduced between 2011 and 2016, but much of this progress has been set back following the spate of recent terror attacks in the UK.
While overall attitudes towards different groups in society have improved since 2011, Muslims continue to be regarded as uniquely different from the majority British public.
39% of people overemphasise the prevalence of Islam in British society, while just 13% estimate the correct 5%. Only 4% of Muslims accurately estimated the number of Muslims there were in Britain.
Brits are deeply divided over the association of Muslim communities in the UK with extremism. 84% of confident multiculturals reject this while 83% of active enmity agree that Muslims should be associated with terrorism and violence.
52% agree that Islam poses a serious threat to Western civilisation, although this has decreased since 2011.
The recent attacks on Westminster, Manchester, Borough market and Finsbury Park have had a profound impact on the public. 42% say that these attacks have increased their suspicion of Muslims in Britain.
HnH found that there is a “real space” for Nigel Farage to launch a populist political party with 15% of people identifying with him as the leader closest to their own views.
Speaking to HuffPost UK at the State of the International Far Right conference in July Lowles speculated on how Ukip’s failure at the last General Election may yet play into Farage and Ukip backer, Arron Banks’ hands.
“They’ve allowed Ukip to die. The General Election was actually quite useful for them because they didn’t have to kill off the party and be seen as traitors in their world. The party died itself.
“It’s clear from our polling that, while Ukip has died as a party, the ideas and the people who voted for it are still there.”
Despite the support for Farage, the study showed that overall sympathy for English nationalism had fallen since 2011 with 74% rejecting both Islamist extremists and English nationalists.
The study found that the vast majority of Britons, 77%, stand firmly against the “conflation of extremists’ actions with an entire religion”, however, HnH added there is a “significant minority” whose views are hardening since the recent spate of terror attacks.
Despite attitudes towards Muslims and Islam souring, England, the report found, is an “increasingly more tolerant and open society” with 39% of people occupying the most liberal identify tribes in society, whereas 23% of the population remain “bitterly opposed”.
Lowles said: “Despite the turbulent events of recent months, it is heartening to see that England remains, overall, a liberal and tolerant place.”
He added: “However, significant challenges remain, with Brexit likely to dominate politics in years to come and set to trigger feelings of betrayal amid a tough period of economic downturn.”
Most people see immigration as a benefit to Britain with 88% of those polled believing it is essential, and that economic need should determine future levels.
Londoners, the report found, are significantly more liberal towards immigration and were 17% more likely than those living elsewhere in England to believe “there is a place for everyone” in Britain. They were also 15% more likely to see immigration as a good thing for the UK.
In the wake of recent terror attacks, 86% of Londoners said they were impressed with the unity shown and 62% said they had noticed Muslim community leaders speaking out in the aftermath. This compared to 52% of non-Londoners.
The report found that despite Britain becoming more “open and tolerant as a whole, responses to Brexit have left Britain more divided”.
HnH said that attitudes towards race, faith and belonging had “increasingly polarised” since 2011 and on both the liberal and hostile sides of the spectrum, “views have hardened”.
Brexit, the report concluded, continues to divide opinion and leaves little room for common ground between different “identity tribes”.
Lowles previously told HuffPost UK that when the outcomes people had expected from Brexit fail to come to fruition “people are going to feel angry, they’re going to feel let down”.
He said in July: “They feel that isn’t what they voted for. They’re going to feel very open to people saying ‘you’re being betrayed by the establishment’.”
The study found that Britain’s decision to leave the EU had split society into two “very distinct groups” and that there was little prospect of an exit deal being secured without “angering and further alienating one or both” groups.
Generational splits are clear on Brexit, the study found: over-65s are optimistic about it, with 77% believing we can thrive outside the single market, while only 28% of under-25s agree. There is also very little appetite for reversing the Referendum result, HnH said, despite only 6% believing Theresa May will secure a good deal for Britain.
There is also “cautious optimism” about the economy, but expectations for future economic well-being are “clearly split” along Brexit divisions. Remain voters are fearful, whereas Leave voters are more optimistic.
When asked about what politician best represent them, 54% of 18-24 year olds chose Jeremy Corbyn, compared to 18% of over 65s who HnH said are most likely to identify with May.
The study found attitudes towards the Grenfell Tower fire had “deeply divided” the country. Londoners, Labour voters and BAME communities, HnH found, “draw a wider lesson about Britain’s unequal society while the poor lose out”. Those living outside the capital, Conservatives and Farage supporters, however, viewed it as an “isolated unfortunate accident”.
Overall, the public were divided in “discerning the role of economic inequality as a causal factor in the disaster”.
The report found 57% of people felt that the fire was not something to make a “big political statement from”, while 43% felt that it was an indictment of Britain’s unequal society where the poor continually lose out.
The report also found fewer people identify with being English than they did it 2011, with “very few” BAME identify themselves as English.
The study divided respondents into six “identity tribes - two very positive towards immigration, two strongly opposed, and two in the middle - one which is economically secure, but culturally concerned, and a second group which is more driven by economic insecurity.
The two most liberal groups, the report found, have “leapt in size since 2011” (22%) now forming 39% of all respondents.
HnH found that the group of those “most hostile” to immigration has remained constant, leaving a smaller “middle ground” and widening the gap on identity politics.
Respondents were asked 140 questions in the survey which was first carried out in 2011.