Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Assimilation or alienation? 

An interesting opinion poll of British Muslims.

Good news first: 9 out of ten think that violence has no place in politics, and similar number say they should help police tackle extremism in their community.

A small group, unquantified but described by "The Guardian" as "a small rump, potentially running into thousands" (out of the total Muslim population of 1.6 million) support the 7/7 terrorist attack, and 5 per cent said that further attacks would be justified. That's not a lot, but still a potentially large pool of terror supporters (and one has to assume that many of those polled would have been reluctant to admit to interviewers that they support domestic terrorism).

Sixty three percent have considered whether to remain in Great Britain:
The figure illustrates how widespread fears are of an anti-Muslim backlash following the July 7 bombings which were carried out by British born suicide bombers.

The poll also shows that tens of thousands of Muslims have suffered from increased Islamophobia, with one in five saying they or a family member have faced abuse or hostility since the attacks.
Interestingly, when asked about the factors behind the bombing, 80 per cent pointed to the war in Iraq, nearly two thirds said racism and Islamophobia was to blame. On the other hand, 57 per cent thought the community leaders' failure to root out extremism contributed, and 80 per cent blamed the bombers and their handlers.

As I said, a mixed bag. Widespread condemnation of violence and terrorism is certainly encouraging, but the results paint a picture of a community somewhat stuck in a passive victimhood mode. The terrorists might have been bad, but it's the "society", in the form of a war abroad and racism at home, that made them do it, and now the "society", with its prejudice and bigotry, is making the whole community pay the price for the sins of the few.

How to deal with these challenges - aside from engaging in terrorism or migrating - is an interesting question: "One in five polled said Muslim communities had integrated with society too much already, while 40% said more was needed and a third said the level was about right."

Two other recent polls, commissioned by "The Daily Telegraph" and "Sky News" shine an additional light on this conundrum. Both have very similar figures in response to 7/7 (around 90 per cent condemn, between 2 and 5 per cent support) - although the "Telly" one finds that around the quarter have a lot or little (i.e. some) sympathy with the motives and feelings of terrorists, and over half of those polled understand why some behave this way - but both polls paint a more pessimistic picture of a community where a substantial minority feels alienated from and even hostile towards their host society.

For example, 26 per cent disagree with Tony Blair that ideas motivating terrorists are "perverted and poisonous", 16 per cent feel no or little loyalty to their country, 32 per cent consider Western society "decadent and immoral" and agree that it should be brought to an end (though only 1 per cent think through violence - a difference between Al Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir), and 14 per cent feel no duty to report suspicious activity to the police (and majorities, or close to majorities, are distrustful of politicians, the police and the judicial system).

In addition, this from the Sky poll:
The interviewees were asked to respond to the statement: "Muslim clerics who preach violence against the West are out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion."

Nearly half - 46% - disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 54% thought they were out of touch.

And 46% said they thought of themselves as Muslim first and British second, with another 42% not differentiating.

Only 12% saw themselves as British first and Muslim second.
The polls tell us what we have always known - namely that the great majority of Muslims living in the West (Great Britain in this case) are peaceful and law-abiding moderates, reasonably well at ease with the society around them (this another recent Mori poll is perhaps the most optimistic in that regard); but also that there is a not insignificant minority that is alienated from the rest of the community and hostile to the idea of assimilation.

Alienation is not a Muslim phenomenon - many people in Western societies feel ambiguous or even hostile towards the political and economic system, but after the long and bloody twentieth century history indeed ended to the extent that specific radical alternatives to current order are lacking appeal as is the idea of violent transformation of the current order, with all the upheaval that would entail. By contrast, radical Islam - or Islamism, or Islamofascism, whatever you choose to call it - continues to offer what is for many a viable and attractive vision of a different, better world.

The challenge for our multicultural societies, be it the United States, Australia, Great Britain, and increasingly most other European countries, is how well we deal not just with those who seek an apocalyptic end to our way of life, but with a significantly greater number of people - virtual strangers in our midst - who might not sympathize with the means, but wouldn't be averse to the end result.


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