In a ComRes Poll this week, 56 percent of the U.K. public said they believe Islam is incompatible with British values. Though the results may come as a surprise to some, it is not surprising when anti-Muslim sentiment, at least in part, is driven by sensationalist portrayals of Islam and Muslims.
However, the poll also suggested that younger people have a better understanding of Islam, compared to older people. Based on their understanding of the traditions of Islam, 41 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they had a good understanding compared to just 27 percent of those over the age of 45 and 72 percent agreed that most people in the U.K. hold negative views of Islam.
Often people forget that terrorism originates from Western colonial powers but many would not like to believe this for fear of "re-writing" contemporary history. When the Europeans explored new world markets, invaded and occupied the vast majority of the Muslim world, there were no TVs, internet and voices of reason to label them as "terrorists." The colonization scheme of things was not the result of Western democratic values to spread freedom, liberty and justice but violence and killings of millions of people for the empires to be built on colored massacres.
When we seek to define "British values" we invoke a single narrative of history, and many British Muslims' and other minorities' memory of history is one shaped by the dehumanizing systems of colonialism, slavery and patriarchy. So why should one version of British history be privileged over that of other British citizens. For example, Alan Turing would believe the values that defined the Britain in which he lived to be "inhumane," as Gordon Brown described them.
Instead of dealing with the root causes of the problem why do we fall into the trap of generalizing an entire religion and its followers and hold their faith as the threshold of this paradigm?
Though it is not surprising that 56 percent of the public think that Islam is inconsistent with British values, last year a poll by ComRes found that 93 percent of Muslims believe they should always obey British Laws; 95 percent feel loyal to Britain; 84 percent would not leave Britain to live in a Muslim state; and 85 percent feel no sympathy toward those fighting against Western interests.
Terrorist attacks are carried out by individuals and not supported by the religion of Islam or by its 1.6 billion adherents. However this can be difficult to digest when we are rarely exposed to news coverage highlighting Islam or Muslims in a benign light except to show their relation to some atrocity. Today global and regional violence is covered inconsistently. When non-Muslims are killed by terrorist groups we assume that Islam has played a direct role, whereas when Muslims are the victims, the religious identity of the perpetrators are almost ignored as suggested by the Human Rights Watch in the ongoing conflict in Burma. Islamophobic attitudes are bred from fear, misinformation and discrimination. Since the war on terrorism, Muslims have been categorized as one homogenous group. And as we have seen, this has resulted in rampant islamophobia and division within communities. We have to realize that Muslims in the West are a huge and diverse group of individuals, with different attitudes and beliefs. And the overwhelming majority of those in this country are united not just by their faith but also by how British they feel.
* Broadcast journalist