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June 28, 2006

 Why British Muslims stand out

You have heard of the latest gloomy Pew Global Attitudes survey of relations between Muslims and Westerners : in a word, bad. Who's to blame? The other side, except that

.. Fully 28% of Jordanians and 22% of Egyptians volunteer that "Jews" are mostly to blame for bad relations [between Muslims and westerners] , although Jews were not mentioned in the question.
One ray of light is that Muslims in Western Europe, surveyed separately by Pew for the first time (warning: small samples with large margins of error) are evolving different attitudes to those of the Muslim heartland. This is heartening in the face of the racial discrimination these immigrants routinely encounter. (It is racial, not religious; with marginal exceptions like the French ban on the hijab in schools, difficulties over prayer obligations in the workplace, and appropriate religious education where this is offered, they enjoy pretty full freedom of religion. Their problem is that they are stigmatised as Asians (Britain), Arabs (France and Spain), Turks or Kurds (Germany) - or else as black Africans, which is even worse.) Ayatollah Khomeini aimed right when he issued the scandalous fatwa against Salman Rushdie: it is in prosperous, cosmopolitan, educated Europe that Muslims will produce their Moses Mendelsohn.

But there's one country that bucks the trend: my own.

Pew says:

For the most part, Western European Muslims surveyed express very different - and more positive - views of Westerners than do Muslims in Muslim countries.....
The Muslim minority population of Great Britain is an exception to this pattern. Across the full battery of questions, they have much more negative views of Westerners than do the Muslim minorities of Germany, France and Spain.
This alienation takes a bizarre form in the denial of plain fact over 9/11:
...Majorities in Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan say that they do not believe groups of Arabs carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. .... And this attitude is not limited to Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries - 56% of British Muslims say they do not believe Arabs carried out the terror attacks against the U.S., compared with just 17% who do.
British Muslims are not Arabs and don't even speak Arabic, so the driver must be religion. It's just possible that they misunderstood the question as implying collective guilt, as in "the Arabs", but the question was well worded with "groups of Arabs", so this is unlikely.

Add to this Richard Reid and the two London Tube bombing plots (one successful, one foiled) and you have a pattern. In contrast, Spain has suffered no follow-ups to the devastating Madrid train bombings of March 2004, and France and Germany havn't suffered major attacks at all.

A high-level internal British Government report in May 2004 recognised the problem:

Many young British Muslims integrate and contribute positively to society. Britain scores higher than other European countries for acceptance of Muslims. But:
* Some feel they cannot be both British and Muslim; and polls suggest a small but significant minority are sympathetic to extremism and terrorist activity;
* Extremist groups in the UK actively recruit young Muslims;
* Small numbers of young British Muslims have engaged in terrorism, both at home and abroad.
Why the difference with the continent?

The British report in Mandarin Marxist style puts the blame for extremism on deprivation. But is this really worse in Britain than in the other three countries? You'd be hard put to find ghettoes in Britain with the near-complete joblessness of the French banlieues where riots erupted in late 2005 - riots for jobs, not for terrorism.

Take a grab-bag of possible contributing factors.

Country BritainFranceGermany Spain
Basic policyMulticulturalism Assimilation MulticulturalismNeglect
Entry to élitesHighLowLow none (first generation)
Youth unemployment, 2005; Eurostat12.9%22.3%15.0%19.7%
Urban ghettoesYesYesYes?
Job discrimination YesYesYesYes
Remedies for it YesNoNoNo
Racism in host cultureSignificantSignificant<SignificantSignificant
Eroticised mass cultureYesYesYes Yes
Gender role tensionsYesYesYesYes
Religion in schoolInterfaithNone ChristianChristian
Tolerance for Muslim dress
in school
Tolerance for radical imamsHighLowMediumLow?
Anti-terrorism lawsToughToughMedium Tough

None of this really seems to pick out Britain.

Polls taken in the aftermath of 9/11 gave 7-15% of British Muslims thinking the attacks were completely or partly justified. In France, in a poll of French Muslims (IFOP, October 2001) 4% disagreed with the statement that Islam condemns such acts. The margins of error and the different wordings don't allow one to infer safely that fewer French than British Muslims were radical then. What one can say that in both countries a small minority did sympathise. But only in Britain did the sympathy evolve into active participation.

There's one more factor:

Country BritainFranceGermany Spain
Joined second Iraq warYes NoNoYes, then quit
Terrorist attack SeveralNone None One

Tony Blair was warned, quite formally, by British intelligence before the war that it increased the risk to Britain from al-Qaeda terrrorism. This was spot on. What they didn't predict was where: at home.

Tony Blair has committed the unforgivable sin for a politician : he has sacrificed the security of his country to his own ambition, in this case to be seen as a selfless world statesman.
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