Hope Not Hate have just released their survey of 4,000 people entitled, ‘Fear and Hope – 2017’. The poll was conducted by Populus and looked at the impact of four terrorist attacks in three months in 2017 and the Brexit negotiations and the Grenfell Fire. Key social points of focus included race, faith and belonging.
The results provide for optimism and reassurance as the poll suggests that the public are being more open and receptive to others and there is a British sense of optimism that is very much part of the country, even though on bleak grey days, we as Brits certainly know how to complain.
However, there is also a worrying thread which runs through the poll in relation to how the public perceive Islam and Muslims. The poll indicates that attitudes have become more hostile to both and with just 10% of the public feeling that Muslims are similar to themselves. This is a stark and deeply worrying statistic.
Worst still, the poll shows that 52% of those who answered the 140 questions agree that Islam poses a threat to the West and 42% highlight a growing suspicion of Muslims, after the recent terrorist attacks. Going on, nearly 1 in 4 of the respondents believe that Islam is a dangerous religion which incites violence and older subsets of respondents demonstrated a receptiveness to Islamophobic views and discourse.
These are stark responses and show a divide that is clearly opening up between wider communities and British Muslim communities.
Communities Coming Together After Terrorist Attacks
As suggested earlier, there were some points for optimism. The results were heartening with 4 in 5 respondents responding positively to communities standing together and being seen to be visibly responsive immediately after terrorist attacks. A similar figure also could distinguish the actions of terrorists from all Muslims and more positively still, 1 in 2 of the respondents had noted that they had come across material where Muslims were seen to speak out against terrorist attacks. The latter makes a change from the narrative which seemed to be circulating for many years, which suggested that Muslims were not seen to be speaking out against extremism and terrorism and thereby passively accepting extremist rhetoric.
The report, however, raises some red flags. Members of the public seem to be tiring of post terrorist scenarios where communities come together and 2 in 3 respondents wanted to see Muslims hold demonstrations and marches against terrorism. In other words, they wanted to see a more forward-facing posture from Muslims against terrorism, rather than the passive cohesive style approach now taken after such major national incidents.
Furthermore, the poll also showed a hardening attitude to Muslims which should be a major wake-up call for them. Whilst we know that many British Muslims have gone out of their way to speak up against extremism and terrorism and to reach out to others, this work needs to be ramped up, better organised and much more vocal in many ways.
The Populus poll for Hope Not Hate also highlights the fact that 1 in 2 white respondents did not have deeper links and associations with Muslims signifying deeper community divides, whilst they over-estimated the population of Muslims in the UK.
There has also been a hardening of attitudes around human rights with calls by respondents for a relaxation in the human rights protections of those suspected of terrorism. The majority of respondents also preferred stronger laws and more authoritarian solutions which clamped down on issues such as extremism and terrorism, possibly showing that the patience of the public is being stretched by terrorist attacks. Also, 3 in 4 respondents believed that integration was best assisted by Muslims speaking English and with closer monitoring and Muslim faith schools in particular.
These results are therefore, both heartening but also worrying. They show a growing divide between the wider public and British Muslim communities and with the divides becoming stark, as highlighted through this report. If we are to ensure that community tensions, extremism and marginalisation are to be tackled in our country, we have to find ways which address the concerns of the wider public, whilst also ensuring that British Muslims feel that they have a future and a space in the United Kingdom. We firmly believe that this country provides the best opportunities in Europe to British Muslims and that Muslims have the freedom to practice and be who they are in the UK. However, it is also clear that more needs to be done to bridge divides, challenge extremism and be seen to stand up for the safety, security and rights of each other. Last but not least, there is one clear result from this poll. If we don’t collectively make a change, there is a slippery slope ahead which does not bode well.