A new report released on December 2 by the think tank Policy Exchange has argued that claims from Muslims about facing discrimination are more abstract than real and come from a “mentality of victimhood”. The report titled ‘Unsettled Belonging: A survey of Britain’s Muslim Communities’ says it has carried out the “most comprehensive polling to-date of British Muslim opinion.”
Despite misgivings from the academic and science community, as well as Muslim communities, the report came out in praise of the Prevent strategy. It stated: “The Government should not be “spooked” into abandoning, or apologising for, the Prevent agenda. Our survey shows that Muslim communities are generally relaxed about Government intervention to tackle extremism – and are actually supportive of traditional ‘law and order’ policies more broadly.”
The report also hit out at Muslim community organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). It implied that these organisations expected blind allegiance from Muslim communities, rather than being their representatives.
The MCB criticised the report, saying it “provided ample fodder to countless headlines demonising Muslims.”
The report’s authors also chose not address the issue of Islamophobia. According to the MCB, the report instead diminished its impact: “Unfortunately, the Policy Exchange is even trying to diminish the real impact of Islamophobia, claiming that Muslim “culture” is “infused with an abstract sense of grievance, at least as much as it as a response to tangible, empirical realities.”
“Ignoring the appalling generalisation of Muslim communities, such a conclusion seems justifiable given the wealth of empirical data from police forces and third party agencies demonstrating the prevalence of Islamophobia.”
Khalid Mahmoud, Shadow Minister of State for Europe, and one of the report’s authors said: “Of course, there is no denying that for many British Muslims, problems of racism, harassment, and Islamophobia – are a serious cause of worry. But it is deeply troubling that this seems to have led a not-insignificant-minority to believe that the world is at the mercy of the machinations of dark, anti-Muslim forces. This readiness to believe in conspiracy theories and the mentality of victimhood to which it speaks is having a pernicious effect on British Muslims and the way they see the world.”
The survey asked participants about law and order issues, and the criminal issue that was of the most concern amongst the respondents was alcohol and drug abuse. The report noted that because “harassment on the basis of religion, race or ethnicity” didn’t come up as a chief crime concern, there was a disparity between this evidence and the evidence taken from focus groups, where most participants said they had experienced discrimination.
For the authors of the report, this disparity meant that discrimination was more imagined than real. Because a lot of the focus group anecdotes involved third-party incidents, the authors concluded that discrimination faced by Muslims was less about Islamophobia and more about paranoia: “One of the consequences of this is that for many people, harassment is an issue more in the abstract than as a tangible reality. It does not loom as large as one might expect in questions about crime, but it is always there and helps to foster an underlying sense of anxiety. Hence, several participants in focus groups talked about their sense that they received ‘filthy’ looks or a ‘look of suspicion’. There was, it seems clear, a rather ill-defined, but pervasive sense of unease, which in turn fed a strong belief that Muslims routinely faced discrimination.”
The survey results revealed a lack of trust in the mainstream media, and a sense that it portrayed Muslims unfairly. The report once again puts this down to a sense of victimhood, rather than a real issue with the portrayal of Muslims in the media.
The report also made a link between a lack of trust in the media and social conservatism amongst Muslim communities: “It is worth asking whether this tendency is, at least in part a refection of more socially conservative attitudes, which manifests in misunderstandings about free speech and the workings of a free press.”
MCB has criticised Policy Exchange for how it has positioned Muslims in British society. “The right wing think tank seems to have pursued an agenda to cast British Muslims as separate, dangerous and in need of saving” it stated.