Public opinion in Britain is mostly favourable towards Muslims, but the feeling is not requited by British Muslims, who are among the most embittered in the western world, according to a global poll published yesterday.
The poll, by the Washington-based Pew Global Attitudes Project, asked Muslims and non-Muslims about each other in 13 countries. In most, it found suspicion and contempt to be mostly mutual, but uncovered a significant mismatch in Britain.
The poll found that 63% of all Britons had a favourable opinion of Muslims, down slightly from 67% in 2004, suggesting last year's London bombings did not trigger a significant rise in prejudice. Attitudes in Britain were more positive than in the US, Germany and Spain (where the popularity of Muslims has plummeted to 29%), and about the same as in France.
Less than a third of British non-Muslims said they viewed Muslims as violent, significantly fewer than non-Muslims in Spain (60%), Germany (52%), the US (45%) and France (41%).
By contrast, the poll found that British Muslims represented a "notable exception" in Europe, with far more negative views of westerners than Islamic minorities elsewhere on the continent. A significant majority viewed western populations as selfish, arrogant, greedy and immoral. Just over half said westerners were violent. While the overwhelming majority of European Muslims said westerners were respectful of women, fewer than half British Muslims agreed. Another startling result found that only 32% of Muslims in Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews, compared with 71% of French Muslims.
Across the board, Muslim attitudes in Britain more resembled public opinion in Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia than elsewhere in Europe. And on the whole, British Muslims were more pessimistic than those in Germany, France and Spain about the feasibility of living in a modern society while remaining devout.
The Pew poll found that British Muslims are far more likely than their European counterparts to harbour conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks. Only 17% believed that Arabs were involved, compared with 48% in France.
There was general agreement that relations are bad, but Britons as a whole were much less likely than other Europeans to blame Muslims. More Britons faulted westerners (27%) than Muslims (25%), with a third saying both are equally responsible. British Muslims were less ambivalent. Nearly half blamed westerners. By comparison, in Germany and France both communities blamed each other in roughly equal measure.
Unlike the rest of Europe, a majority of Britons declared themselves sympathetic to Muslims offended by the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the European press last year. But most Britons said the outbreak of violence was the result of Muslim intolerance for western freedom of expression. Only 9% of British Muslims agreed with that view. Nearly three-quarters blamed the controversy on western disrespect of Islam.
While finding ample confirmation of the rift between Muslims and non-Muslims around the world, the poll did find some signs of encouragement.
"Confidence in Osama bin Laden has ... fallen in most Muslim countries in recent years," the survey concluded. That was particularly true in Jordan, where 24% expressed confidence in the al-Qaida leader, compared with 60% a year ago.
Support for suicide bombing has also plummeted in Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia. In Pakistan now, 69% said the terrorist tactic was never justified, compared with 38% four years ago.