UK poll finds profound anti-Muslim sentiment

A survey finds one in five Britons interviewed showing hostility to Muslims living in the United Kingdom.

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LONDON // Mistrust of Muslims living in Britain has reached unprecedented levels, a survey to be published this month will show. There is concern over the growing influence of Islam on the British way of life with 52 per cent of those surveyed believing that the country is becoming deeply divided along religious lines.

Based on interviews with almost 4,500 people, the British Social Attitudes Survey will show that only a quarter of native Britons now "feel positive" about the presence of an estimated two million Muslims in the UK, most of them immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. Professor David Voas, the head of population studies at Manchester University who analysed the data, said concern about Islam was growing because of "the degree to which Islam is perceived as a threat to social cohesion".

Almost half of those interviewed in the government-funded survey said they believed that religious diversity had produced a negative impact on life in the UK. Among the findings are that 55 per cent of the population would be strongly opposed to a large mosque being built in their area, while only 15 per cent would be against a new church. Prof Voas and the researcher Rodney Ling write in the survey: "Far more people respond unfavourably to Muslims than to others. Second - and this is the crucial point - very few people are negative about any other group on its own.

"Of the people who feel cool towards Buddhists, 83 per cent are likewise cool towards Muslims. Of people who are neutral or positive about Muslims, a mere four per cent are negative about Buddhists. The same pattern can be seen when comparing attitudes to Muslims and Jews. "Some of the antipathy towards Muslims comes from people with a generalised dislike of anyone different. But a larger subset of the population - about a fifth - responds negatively only to Muslims. Relatively few people feel unfavourable towards any other religious or ethnic group on its own."

The survey's results, which will be published in full towards the end of January, will inevitably raise concerns that the government's policies to promote social cohesion are simply not working. Ironically, the findings come a month after another survey, conducted among Muslims across Europe, found that those in Britain were much more likely to identify themselves with their adopted nation. About three-quarters of UK Muslims regarded themselves as British, compared to just 49 per cent of French Muslims who felt any patriotism, and a paltry 23 per cent in Germany.

Prof Voas said: "Muslims deserve to be the focus of policy on social cohesion because no other group elicits so much disquiet. "Opinion is divided and many people remain tolerant of unpopular speech as well as distinctive dress and religious behaviour, but a large segment of the British population is unhappy about these subcultures." Recent statistical projections for the European Union have predicted that virtually all 27 countries, including Britain, will see large increases in their Muslim populations in the coming 40 years.

At present, Europe is home to 38 million Muslims, about five per cent of the continent's population. By 2050, that proportion is projected to rise to up to 20 per cent, partly as a result of immigration and partly because of the lower birth rate among Europeans. Last week, two senior Christian clerics in Europe voiced their fears over the Islamisation of the continent. Cardinal Miloslav Vlk said in his retirement speech as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Prague that Europe would "pay dear" for having abandoned its spiritual foundations.

"Unless the Christians wake up," he said, "life may be Islamised and Christianity will not have the strength to imprint its character on the life of people, not to say society." He warned that one motive for Muslims migrating to Europe was to bring their religion to "the pagan environment of Europe, to its atheistic style of life". The cardinal said Europeans had brought the crisis upon themselves by abandoning European Christian culture for an aggressive, atheistic secularism.

In Britain, Lord (George) Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said Christians had become too soft and should be more outspoken in defence of their beliefs. Urging that priority should be given to Christian immigrants in tune with respect for the British way of life, he said: "I think we need a tougher church. "We Christians are very often so soft that we allow other people to walk over us and we are not as tough in what we want, in expressing our beliefs, because we do not want to upset other people.

"I worry about my grandchildren. I want this country to carry on being one that values the Christian heritage, but most of all values the democratic standards and all that this country has fought over."