The academic director of polling agency YouGov, Joel Faulkner Rogers, presents some interesting data from the company’s polling of public attitudes on Islam’s compatibility with British values.
Reflecting on the Home Secretary’s recent speech detailing the new approach the Conservatives will take on counter-extremism, with a focus on “British values” and a “partnership” between Government and local communities, Rogers questions the extent to which the wider populace discredits the clash of civilisations thesis and believes that Islam is “entirely compatible” with British values, as the Home Secretary put it. To defeat extremism by putting “British values” first and developing “partnerships” to take this message to the people will succeed if the people surely believe it and if such partnerships are sincerely established.
Rogers details the left and right dilemmas on counter-extremism, the one laden with nuances that evade generalisations on how radicalisation happens and what form counter-extremism must take given the complexity of the process, and the other heavy handed in its emphasis on the security apparatus and assimilationist integration policy. In both cases, the data cuts through the neatly constructed view of the wider population believing that Islam is “entirely compatible” with British values.
For example, of the 1641 adults polled by YouGov, only 22% said they felt “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society”. Fifty five percent of people agreed with the statement “There is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”, while almost 25% didn’t adopt either statement or answered ‘don’t know’.
That is, more people opted not to offer a response to the statements than affirmed that “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society”. And over half of those polled said they believed “There is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”.
The data broken down by party affiliation shows that UKIP supporters are most likely to believe in the clash of values between Islam and Britain (89%) and the Lib Dems least likely (38%) with the Conservatives taking second place after UKIP (68%) and Labour, third place (48%).
Less than one in five Conservative voters agrees with the statement “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society”, which suggests the Home Secretary has much convincing to do among her own party ranks, let alone in the rest of the country. Just over a quarter of Labour voters believe Islam and British values are “generally compatible” while almost 40% of Lib Dems agree. The data suggests that for all the counter-extremism work undertaken by the current Conservative government and the preceding Labour one, and the focus on “values” as uniting the nation across the religious divide, little of this has actually penetrated the popular consciousness and views of a fundamental clash of values persists.
The problem is further evident among older people with 58% of those aged 40-59 and 67% of those aged 60 and above believe that Islam and British values fundamentally clash. That view is less pronounced among younger voters with 18-24 year olds displaying the greatest tendency to believe “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society” (39%). There is a little ray of hope.
If theories on radicalisation single out alienation, a sense of disaffection and social exclusion as factors influencing the vulnerability of young Muslims, the YouGov data makes for uncomfortable reading. Tackling radicalisation while the prospect of presenting Islam as “entirely compatible” with British values rings hollow raises serious concerns about approaches that are high on rhetoric and low on impact.
For years, we have heard politicians rehearse statements on terrorism having nothing to do with Islam though their actions on engaging with Muslim communities has fostered greater distrust in Government than it has forged a “partnership”. Moreover, media coverage has tended to portray Islam in contexts of violence and conflict with war narratives gradually being replaced by social and cultural values as the cleavages where differences between Islam and British values are apparently exposed.
All this, inevitably, affects popular attitudes and the YouGov data is a sober reminder of the major consequences of policies devised in Whitehall that take no consideration of the changes on the ground, whether in Muslim communities or in society at large, that affect policy success.
Rogers posits an important question, “Public concerns about extremism and Muslim concerns about alienation are currently locked in a vicious cycle, feeding each other in ways that fuel the atmosphere for extremists and their increasingly sophisticated portrayals of a war between Islamic and Western societies. If the answer to extremism is united communities, then the first question is “how do we break this cycle?”.