White British people 'twice as likely to hold extremist views as people of Pakistani descent'

Higher proportion of Muslims than Christians condemn extremist statements, research shows

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 15 March 2019 01:27 GMT
Members of terror group Scottish Dawn undergoing combat training, shown in a video called Braveheart Fight Club uploaded in September 2017
Members of terror group Scottish Dawn undergoing combat training, shown in a video called Braveheart Fight Club uploaded in September 2017

White Britons are twice as likely to hold extremist views as people of Pakistani descent, research has suggested.

The government vowed to fight all forms of radicalisation after academics at Queen Mary University of London warned of an “undue focus on Islamic fundamentalism”.

When asked whether they supported actions including suicide bombings and terror attacks as a “form of political protest” or to “fight injustices”, 15 per cent of white Britons were classed as sympathisers, compared with 8 per cent of Pakistani-origin respondents.

When divided by religion, 18 per cent of Christians and 8 per cent of Muslims were sympathisers, while 59 per cent of Christians and 68 per cent of Muslims condemned the statements.

Professor Kam Bhui CBE said: “British counter-terrorism policy has had an undue focus on Islamic fundamentalism, with white British extremism normally considered as a lesser problem.

“The fact that those who are white British are approximately twice as likely to have extremist sympathies as those of Pakistani heritage will therefore come as a surprise.

“This raises concerns about right-wing extremism and suggests that a focus on tackling Islamic fundamentalism is flawed, and we need to consider extremism more generally.”

Official statistics published last week showed that 43 per cent of suspected terrorists arrested are white, compared to 32 per cent who are Asian.

Three quarters of suspects gave their nationality as British, compared to 4 per cent Pakistani last year.

Security services have foiled 14 Islamist and four extreme right-wing terror plots since March 2017, and are running a record of more than 700 live investigations.

Assistant commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK counterterror policing, previously told MPs that around 80 per cent of investigations by police and MI5 were into jihadis and 20 per cent “other”, including a “significant proportion from the right wing”.

“There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the two ideologies, both perverse, are feeding each other,” Mr Basu added.

Terror police appeal for public help to thwart plots

The number of people referred to the Prevent counter-extremism programme over suspected far-right extremism has rocketed by 36 per cent in a year, as the proportion of alleged Islamists fell.

Dr Clive Gabay, senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary University, said the latest study must serve as a “wake-up call” following research suggesting that large numbers of Brexit voters had racist and prejudicial attitudes towards migrants.

“Racism is a serious factor in the current political debates around immigration and integration, and we need to be mindful of the re-emergence and growing popularity of extremist anti-BAME and anti-immigrant views,” he added.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, used a survey of 618 men and women living in Blackburn, Darwen, Bradford and Luton.

In total, 341 (61 per cent) condemned violent protest and terrorist actions, 144 (26 per cent) were neutral, and 73 (13 per cent) were sympathisers of violent protest and terrorism.

A positive answer to one of seven statements was used to class someone as a sympathiser, and “committing minor crime in political protests” was the one most commonly endorsed.

Those born in the UK were more likely to express extremist sympathies compared to respondents born abroad, as were alcohol drinkers, smokers, illicit drug users and those with a criminal conviction.

Younger people and single people supported terrorism more frequently than older, married or divorced people, while sympathies were unaffected by gender, religion, education, discrimination or life events, researchers said.

While autism and personality disorders were not found to be linked, the description of “losing one’s temper easily” was.

The research also found that depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress were associated with having extremist sympathies.

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Professor Bhui added: “Our study shows us how important it is to support people with mental health issues, who may be less able to manage radicalising messages, and could end up adopting extremist sympathies.”

Researchers called for the study to be used by authorities working to stop radicalisation before it progresses to terrorism, amid a review of the government’s Prevent strategy.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Through the government’s counter-extremism strategy, we are taking a comprehensive approach to tackling all forms of extremism. We have been clear that we will not tolerate any group or individual that spreads hate by demonising those of other faiths or ethnicities, or stokes fears within our communities.”

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