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New statistics confirm what we already knew – Islamophobia is thriving in all parts of British society

31 per cent of the population believe that Islam poses a threat to the British way of life. These viewpoints thrive among white people who have lower levels of education, but there is a huge problem with middle-class Islamophobia too

Rosie Carter
Tuesday 16 July 2019 11:07 BST
British Muslim YouTuber Dina Tokio reads out abusive comments she received after removing her hijab

It has been eight years since Baroness Warsi declared that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner table test” in Britain. Sadly, anti-Muslim prejudice remains a huge problem in the UK.

Despite steady, incremental liberal shifts in public attitudes, Warsi’s comments – that Islamophobia was not limited to “those who display their bigotry overtly, but also those who do so more subtly in the most respectable of settings: middle-class dinner tables” – are just as relevant today.

Statistics show that that people continue to see Muslims distinctly differently from other religious groups, with 18 per cent of the public holding extremely negative views of Muslims. Although there has been a small decrease in the number of people who consider Islam a serious threat to Western civilisation (44 per cent down from 52 per cent in July 2017), a huge 31 per cent of the population believe that Islam poses a threat to the British way of life and only 32 per cent believe that Islam and the British way of life are compatible.

So why do people feel this way? Alarmingly, the most popular responses seem to highlight an association between Islam and a ban on free speech, as well as a threat to British laws and values. 41 per cent of people who think Islam poses a threat to the British way of life say so because they feel that “Islam breeds intolerance for free speech and calls for violent actions against those who mock, criticise or depict the religion in ways they believe are offensive”. Meanwhile over a third (36 per cent) who think Islam poses a threat to the British way of life say so because they feel that “Islam seeks to replace British law with Sharia law”.

Anti-Muslim prejudice is concentrated among those who see immigration and multiculturalism most negatively, most likely among white people who have lower levels of education.

Thousands of roses handed out by British Muslims at London Bridge

However, there is a huge problem with middle-class Islamophobia too. Recent polling revealed a crisis of Islamophobia among Conservative party members – with a staggering 60 per cent believing that “Islam is generally a threat to Western civilisation”. According to research from Queen Mary University of London, 86 per cent of Tory members are middle class and 97 per cent are white, whereas only 54 per cent of Britons are middle class, and 87 per cent white.

But middle-class Islamophobia is not restricted to the Conservatives. We also find anti-Muslim prejudice among people who generally have otherwise liberal and tolerant attitudes. For example, a quarter of Guardian readers think that Islam poses a serious threat to Western civilisation, while 14 per cent think that Islam poses a threat to British culture and 18 per cent believe the conspiracy that there are no-go zones where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims can’t enter.

At the same time, these anti-Muslim views stem from very different places. Among those with more hostile views, fears about far-right conspiracies of “race replacement”, that Muslim populations are growing at a rate many times faster than non-Muslims – and will replace white British people – or anxieties that link Muslims in Britain to global Islamist terrorism, fuel concerns.

Islam-sceptic liberals are more likely to justify their fears that Islam poses a threat to British culture because they believe that Islam promotes discrimination towards women and girls. The claim that Islam oppresses women, in ways significantly different from and worse than the ways in which women are treated in other religions and cultures, is ingrained in much thinking among liberal groups who otherwise claim to act for feminist causes, and is often spoken about distinctly differently from a broader struggle for the rights of all women.

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There are challenges in tackling misogyny among Muslim communities, as there are in any community. But too often, liberals make the assumption that all Muslim women need to be ‘saved’ from their culture, veiled in paternalistic and orientalist narratives. The picture is far more complex. In fact, our polling finds that Muslims are less likely to feel that feminism is making men feel marginalised and demonised in society than Christians or Hindus.

The far-right has also increasingly centred anti-Muslim hostility in its move to the mainstream, whipping up concern among those who otherwise observe anti-racist norms. The idea that Islamophobia is “not racism” because it’s about an ideology or a religion has allowed a normalisation of hatred.

Research by HOPE Not Hate finds that progressives have hardened their liberal stance on a range of issues after the 2016 referendum, enraged that Brexit has enabled and legitimised prejudice towards migrants and ethnic minorities. However, liberals also need look at their own prejudices. Challenging the far-right necessitates challenging anti-Muslim hatred, at every dinner table.

Rosie Carter is a senior policy officer at HOPE not hate.

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