by Paul Goodman
Matthew Goodwin's article this morning on this site, Why Baroness Warsi was right to highlight the growing problem of anti-Muslim sentiment in modern Britain, has virtues and faults in more or less equal measure. I want to by-pass surface issues – such as Sayeeda Warsi's speech and various media responses – and try to delve to the substance of the matter.
- Goodwin writes that it is "striking" that "anxiety" about Muslims in Britain has not subsided since "the immediate aftermath of 9/11, despite a decade-long investment in attempting to encourage ‘cohesive’ communities".
- He also writes that Muslims are "just as likely as others to say they "personally feel a part of British society", with over 90% of Muslims feeling this way". Critics who claim an age or gender imbalance are "ignorant". Claims that Muslims "are more loyal to other Muslims around the world than to fellow British citizens" are "nonsense".
Let's probe these claims in more detail.
- First, why is it "striking" that anxiety about Musims hasn't subsided since the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Since then, the war in Afghanistan has taken place, 7/7 has happened, Iraq has been invaded, Theo Van Gogh has been murdered, the agonies of Kashmir have continued, Glasgow airport's been attacked, the Israel/Palestine issue remains unresolved, 21/7 has occured, Islamists have disrupted a homecoming parade by troops in Luton and threatened to do the same in Wootton Bassett, the Sudan has been divided, the President of a University Islamic society has been arrested at Luton airport with a blueprint for an al-Qassam rocket in his luggage, Salmaan Taseer has been killed, the Danish cartoons controversy has erupted, a former London student has plotted to blow up a transatlantic flight, there's been civil strife in Nigeria, Switzerland has banned minarets, an attempt has been made in Britain to destroy a transatlantic flight with liquid explosives, Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated, a man has tried to detonate a bomb in an Exeter restaurant, and Shahbaz Bhatti was shot earlier this week. I've drawn all these examples from memory and could cite far more from research if necessary.
It would surely take rather more than "a decade-long investment in attempting to encourage ‘cohesive' communities" to offset the malign effect of all this – especially the worldwide conflict taking place among Muslims over the future of their religion – in Britain and much of the rest of Europe.
- It would indeed be "nonsense" to claim that Muslims "are more loyal to other Muslims around the world", or to assert that those who claim age differences in polling are "ignorant", were the only evidence available the British Social Attitudes survey or the Citizenship Survey, which Goodwin cites. However, an ICM poll found that 40 per cent of British Muslims want "sharia law" introduced into parts of the UK. A Populus poll claimed that 28 per cent of British Muslims want to live under "sharia law". An NOP poll discovered this figure to be 30 per cent. As Anthony Wells pointed out in a commentary on the NOP result, "sharia law does not necessarily equate to the hand-chopping, adulterer-stoning version in the tabloid press…[However] NOP specifically stated in their poll 'Sharia law, as practiced in such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran' – perhaps explaining why the proportion of British Muslims supporting it was 10 percentage points lower than in ICM’s poll." The Populus polling found considerable age differences – higher support among younger than older respondents, for example, for capital punishment for apostasy, for wearing the veil, for Muslim women not marrying non-Muslims, for Muslim women not marrying without the consent of their guardians, and for homosexuality being made illegal.
This mass of polling ought to give those who make assertions about the social and political attitudes of British Muslims pause for thought, and to be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions without probing all the available evidence.
I close with the following three points –
- Britain remains a welcoming home for Muslims, as it's been for those of other minority religions. Muslims are free to practice their religion here. There's no support in mainstream politics for banning minarets or barring the veil. The UK remains diverse, tolerant and – dare I say it – multicultural. This helps to explain why large numbers of Muslims want to move here from abroad.
- However, Goodwin is right to point to rising opinion poll antipathy to Islam, to argue that this is fuelling support for fascist and extreme parties, and to maintain that religious prejudice against Muslims isn't the same thing as racist prejudice against, say, people of Pakistani origin. He might also have cited media coverage of these issues, parts of which stoke the hostility – and are a growing problem.
- I'm suspicious of the term "Islamophobia" – because, in a free society, people should be free to criticise religion if they wish. However, anti-Muslim hatred and violence are an evil, and there's evidence of both – try here, for example – though no reliable statistics. As I've written before, it's time for the DCLG Select Committee to hold an enquiry.