This poll was carried out on behalf of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. As so often with such polls, the results were mixed and even contradictory. One question reflected the fact that hard line Muslims and their most zealous antagonists have well aligned views. 20% of those polled felt that Islam and Western liberal values were incompatible. The fact that 80% don’t agree is heartening, although some of the answers relating to the Charlie Hebdo murders could be seen to conflict with that figure.
Like earlier polls, this one demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of Muslims feel loyalty to Britain and think its laws should be obeyed. Some responses aren’t particularly illuminating. Do the 28% of Muslims who don’t think the MCB represents them well feel it is too soft or too conservative?
About half of those polled found prejudice against Muslims in Britain to be a significant problem. Although generally the answers were reasonably consistent across different demographic groups, a question about safety revealed that Muslim women are almost twice as likely to feel unsafe in Britain as Muslim men.
Much attention will be paid to responses to questions about Mohammed cartoons. One question, ‘I have some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris’, didn’t seem well designed. Not surprisingly, rather more Muslims declined to answer it than some other related questions. 27% assented to the proposition. More worryingly, a more straightforward question ‘Acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet Mohammad can never be justified’ met with 24% disagreement, although a significant 68% agreed with this proposition. And 85% disagreed that organisation which published such pictures deserved to be attacked. It would have been helpful to have had some questions directly addressing free speech and blasphemy codes.
This topic certainly seemed to be the main pressure point. Most Muslims had no interest in moving to a Muslim country, and almost as many rejected the idea that families should cut off relatives who leave Islam. Here, as with some other questions, it was the older respondents who were less open minded. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, particularly younger groups, would not prefer to socialise with Muslims. Just 8% felt they knew Muslims who were sympathetic towards those fighting for IS and Al-Qaeda, and 94% would report someone they suspected of violence to the police.
This was clearly a very varied group. A sizable minority, with that 20% who think Western liberal society can never be compatible with Islam at its core, presumably, have some unpalatable views. A larger proportion – perhaps around two thirds – seemed to be giving consistently more welcome answers. It’s impossible to know quite how responses intersect. It might well be that those few who don’t think British laws should always be obeyed are not a subset of those who think Islam and western values are incompatible, for example. Finally – do the answers to one question perhaps suggest that Muslims overestimate how hard line their community is? 45% disagreed that ‘Muslims clerics who preach that violence against the West can be justified are out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion’, but that doesn’t seem to map accurately onto the responses to related questions in this poll.