The majority of the population believe that Britain is divided by religion, a Government-backed inquiry has found.And around half of people believe that religious diversity has had a negative impact on the nation.
The warnings on the extent of the divide between Muslims and much of the rest of the country were produced by the British Social Attitudes survey, an annual study produced with funding from Whitehall.
The study underlined the depth of suspicion about Islamic influence now held by many in Britain, finding that only one in four people feel positively about Islam.The figures also showed that more than half of the population would be strongly opposed to the building or opening of a mosque in their area.They follow signs in other Government research that majority attitudes against Islam are hardening and that tension over religion is increasing.
The latest findings, to be published in full later this month, come in the wake of the furore over extremist Anjem Choudary’s plan to hold a march of Islamists carrying coffins through Wootten Bassett to symbolise Muslims murdered by British forces.Although Muslim representative bodies have condemned the idea and individual Muslims have underlined their own respect for British soldiers, the Choudary stunt has provoked widespread anger and the risk of a backlash.
The British Social Attitudes findings also follow the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, suspected to have been radicalised while he was president of the Islamic Society at University College London.The Abdulmuttallab plot has been followed by a new and disruptive wave of security checks for airline passengers.
The Social Attitudes Survey has been produced annually since the early 1980s by leading academics from a detailed poll of more than 4,000 people.It is followed closely by ministers and findings have been used, for example, to justify Government inaction to shore up the institution of marriage.
The latest findings will raise concern that the Government’s policy of producing ‘social cohesion’ by backing moderate Islam and isolating extremism is not working.Another half – 52 per cent – believe Britain is deeply divided along religious lines. Almost half – 45 per cent – reject the claim that diversity has brought benefits to the country.
They say that religious diversity has had a negative impact.Last month the Citizenship Survey produced by the Communities Department found that the proportion of the population which believes that Britain has a lot of religious prejudice has risen from fewer than a quarter to almost a third – 24 per cent to 31 per cent – since 2005.
It also found that nearly two thirds of people believe that religious prejudice has grown since the early years of the past decade.
Ministers have been anxious to appease resentment of Muslims and minority groups among less well-off and well-educated white people in recent months, fearing a backlash from one-time core Labour voters when the election comes in the spring.
However the British Social Attitudes findings suggest that unhappiness over the influence of Islam has spread beyond poor white areas and now concerns a majority of people.
Active protests over Islam have so far been confined to fringe groups. In September a far-right organisation calling itself the English Defence League staged a march that led to scuffles outside a new mosque in Harrow in North West London.
But there has been no evidence of anything more than occasional vandalism – of a kind similar to that experienced by churches and synagogues – against the great majority of the 300 mosques in England.