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Are a third of Britons really Islamophobic?

By Yasmin Begum

A report commissioned by anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate has found that a third of Britons believe that Islam threatens the British way of life. The polling was carried out by research organisation Yougov, and nearly a third of people thought that there were “no-go” areas in Britain where non-Muslims could not enter.

The report, ‘Britain Divided? Rivers of Blood 50 Years on’ looks at infamous Conservative politician Enoch Powell, referencing his “Rivers of Blood” speech. A landmark speech in history, Powell stoked racial tension in the UK and has left a long and devastating legacy in the country. YouGov has undertaken polling for Hope not Hate for the past eight years and interviewed 5000 people in their exclusive poll on multiculturalism in Britain. The report fails to give a research methodology or break down of participants, meaning that it’s hard to know exactly who was asked what and it does seem suspicious they haven’t included this vital information. It would be a fair assumption to make that asking someone in rural England about Islam is going to elicit a different response to someone who is Muslim or someone who has grown up in and around Muslim communities.

Likewise, the uncertainty in its methodology and sample means we cannot say that this is a “sample study”. This sample doesn’t represent all of the UK, but the reporting of this polling (which is now a year and one month out of date) draws on this information to make it typical for the population at large.

The resurrection of this report and its polling in popular media comes at a time when Bethnal Green schoolgirl, Shamima Begum, had her citizenship taken away from her in after asking to come back to the UK. Having left the country at 15, Begum and her baby son are now stateless. It’s illegal under international law to make someone stateless, but the UK incorrectly asserted that she held Bangladeshi citizenship when she does not. The Bangladeshi ministry of foreign affairs has asserted this and the fact that there is ‘no question’ of her being allowed into the country. The everyday depictions and discussions of British Muslims and of Islam has a seeping effect into the lived experiences and attitudes towards Muslims that shape policy and shape how we talk about Muslim in our day to day lives.

A third of Britons probably don’t believe that Islam threatens the British way of life. You can’t interview 5000 people and say, ‘right, that’s done, put the kettle on’ as if you have waved a wand and neatly summated race and faith relations for the whole of the UK. People in different areas think different ways about different topics, after all. There’s a disconnect between organisations, think tanks and third sector groups and academics who have been producing work on multiculturalism and Islam in the UK for many, many years. Cardiff is home to the Centre for Study of Islam in Britain, with a glittering array of publications added to its academic cohort that are key texts in the study of Islam in Britain.

These are well-worn and tired tropes; the trope of the “no-go” zones where Muslims cannot enter because of ethnic separatism; the trope of Islam being a threat to the British way of life (despite hundreds of years of Muslim settlement on this island). The real story about Islam, multiculturalism and the UK is not found in these reports. It’s found in the day-to-day study and experiences of communities. It’s in Butetown, Cardiff and in Pil, Newport. It’s in South Shields and Brixton and, let’s be honest, the sensationalism of Islamophobia is detrimental to public race and faith relations at a time of rising hate crime against ethnic and faith minorities.

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