x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

British poll highlighting Islamophobia is ‘deeply worrying’ to Muslim groups

That the poll was taken shortly after the murder of the British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich may have skewed its findings, but British Muslim associations said they were deeply concerned about how entrenched Islamophobia has become in the UK.

LONDON // British Muslim organisations said yesterday they were shocked by a BBC survey suggesting more than a quarter of young Britons did not trust Muslims.

The poll surveyed 1001 Britons aged between 18 and 24 and was conducted just a few weeks after an off-duty British soldier was hacked to death on a London street in May by two Muslim men claiming retribution for British military action in Muslim countries.

The findings were “understandable but no less shocking”, according to Talha Ahmad, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella organisation for British Muslim groups.

Mr Ahmad also blamed the results on a “climate of negativity” in the British media.

The survey, commissioned by the BBC and carried out by ComRes, a UK research group, found that 27 per cent of respondents said they did not trust Muslims.

That is more than 10 per cent higher than those who said the same for Hindus and Sikhs, both the second least-trusted religious groups at 16 per cent.

Nonetheless, the poll did show that 48 per cent respondents were more likely to agree that Islam is a peaceful religion, opposed to 27 per cent who disagreed.

Only one in three of the young people surveyed said Muslims were doing enough to combat extremists among them, but were divided on where blame for Islamophobia in Britain lies. Twenty-six per cent blamed foreign terrorist groups, 23 per cent the media and 21 per cent British Muslims involved in terrorism.

Forty-four per cent said they did not believe Muslims held the same values as them, while 28 per cent thought Britain would be “better off” with less Muslims.

The results suggest the UK can expect another generation of “misunderstanding of Islam”, said Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote dialogue among communities of faith and reduce extremism.

“It is deeply worrying that you have this sentiment in the younger generation,” Mr Mughal said yesterday. “What it means is another 20-30 years, at least another generation, with a lack of trust in Muslims and a misunderstanding of Islam.”

That the poll was taken shortly after the murder of the British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich may have skewed its findings, said Mr Mughal, who also leads Tell Mama, a website set up in part with public funds to encourage Muslims to report hate crimes.

But, he added, Tell Mama data shows that the reported anti-Islamic incidents before Rigby’s murder, which numbered four to six per day, had now risen by 10-15 per cent.

Figures released from the Metropolitan Police in August found a 61 per cent rise in anti-Muslim crime over the last year in London alone.

Since September 11, 2001, and the attacks on New York and Washington DC, where nearly 3,000 people died, some 40-60 per cent of all Islamic centres and mosques in the UK have been vandalised or attacked, according to a report last year submitted to the Leveson inquiry into press standards.

That inquiry also found a “serious and systemic problem of racist, anti-Muslim reporting within section of the British media”, sentiment echoed by Mr Ahmad.

But Mr Mughal suggested the fact that the recent poll surveyed only young people was evidence that new media and social media also drove anti-Islamic sentiment,

“One of the big engines of influence is the internet. Before we started [Tell Mama] 18 months ago we didn’t realise the sheer volume and audacity of some people who constantly promote hate online. That’s not being checked.”

okarmi@thenational.ae