Sunday, June 25, 2006


British Muslims worryingly hostile to non Muslims

The piece by Julian Borger in Friday's Guardian on Muslim attitudes to the west was worrying. A poll by the Washington based Pew Global Attitudes Project reported that British Muslims were a 'notable exception' in Europe in holding 'far more negative views of westerners than Islamic minorities elsewhere on the continent.' 63 per cent of Britons were found to have a favourable opinion of Muslims and a lower percentage than most other European countries viewed them as violent. A 'significant majority', however, of British Muslims, saw westerners as 'selfish, arrogant, greedy and immoral'; in addition only a third had favourable attitudes towards the Jews, compareed with 71 per cent of French Muslims. They are also more likely to accept conspiracy theories; astonishingly only 17 per cent of their number believed arabs were involved in the 9-11 attacks.

The book by Arshad Kahn(see picture) provides analysis as to why this clash of civilizations is occurring and a fascinating in-depth article in The Economist investigates why Muslims seem to fit in so much better into America than Europe. Its conclusions are that US 'political culture places huge importance on the right to religious difference, including the right to displays of faith'. Futhermore, the freer public debate on religiosity enables differences to be aired and tolerated by both sides. It also points out that the radical but non violent Hizb ut Tahrir movement which rejects 'principles of liberal democracy and secular justice' would be 'unlikely to happen in America.'

'Nor would it be possible in any American context' continues the journal, 'to argue the superiority of sharia-Islamic law- over laws passed by elected law makers. On this last point, Iain Dale's excellent blog reports the reaction of Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello, to those Muslims in Australia who want to live under Sharia law:'If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practices it, perhaps, then, that's a better option.'

I've just read the "Economist" article, and don't agree with some of its arguments. (By the way, the link doesn't work.)

- 1.7% of Americans are Muslim, cf c.9% of the French; comparisons are therefore slightly erroneous, since voices of dissent among American-Muslims are less likely to be heard.

- The article does not give enough credence to the economics of the situation: American-Muslims are generally better off than their European counterparts. This is partly due to the former country's emphasis on work before welfare for immigrants and the underclass, but also, as "The Economist" says, down to demographic "luck"

- I don't buy the argument that, since "Americans are use to exuberant displays of [particularly evangelical Christian] religiosity", the US therefore fosters a "culture [which] places huge importance on the right to religious difference". On the contrary, the existence of America's Christian right seems to non-Christians, including Muslims, as an undue attempt to maintain political hegemony, via the Republican Party. In contrast, secular European (and particularly French) society works in favour of the Muslim minority, who are still perfectly free to practise their religion privately, but are not subjugated by a Christian majority in politics.

- There's also a contradiction in the argument that America is the bastion of free speech. As the article notes, the radical Islamic Hizb ut Tahrir movement has been given airtime on British television. I remember one particularly extreme man on "Newsnight" - his presence caused quite a stir, but the fact that this programme was uninhibited from inviting this guest is evidence that Britain
liberalism is in many ways just as strong as the American constitutional version.

Nevertheless, an interesting article, as you say, Skipper. This comment is rather long; I think I shall post this on my blog.
Thanks for the tip re Economist article link not working. Now fixed.
Interestingly enough a majority of British Muslims also associated Westerners with the word "generous"; not something mentioned much in the media's coverage of the poll.
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