Brits are among the most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe

Despite the onset of the financial crisis and rising unemployment the British remain deeply concerned about immigration, and Islam, more so than our European neighbours.

By Dr Matthew Goodwin, lecturer at the University of Nottingham and author of New British Fascism

The belief that Muslims and Islam threaten European societies was central to understanding what pushed Anders Behring Breivik to murder 77 Norwegians last month.

Breivik’s actions were clearly unique, but his attitudes toward Muslims are shared by many within the far right. His arguments that Muslims threaten Western cultures and values, are invading Europe through stealth and disproportionately high birth rates, and subscribe to Islamic values that are incompatible with Western societies are relatively widespread across the far right landscape.

Clearly, not every far right supporter endorses violence. But through their decisions at the ballot box most are endorsing arguments that Breivik cited as justification for violence.

But beyond the far right, just how widespread is public hostility toward immigration, Muslims and rising diversity? Earlier this year, the only Muslim in cabinet – Sayeeda Warsi – was criticized for suggesting that anti-Muslim sentiment is becoming socially acceptable in modern Britain, and has passed the “dinner-table test”.

Until recently, however, there actually hasn’t been much in the way of reliable and representative evidence on public opinion toward settled Muslim communities.

Opinion polls have long hinted at there being a large reservoir of public anxiety in Britain over the presence and perceived role of Muslims. One such poll in 2002 told us that over half of the population thought their own values had little or nothing in common with those of Muslims.

In the same year as 7/7, another suggested that one quarter thought it was not possible for Islamic and Western values to peacefully coexist. Four years later, in the same year that voters sent BNP candidates into the European Parliament, 44% of us expressed agreement with the suggestion that even in its milder forms Islam poses a danger to Western civilization. 

Polls provide useful snapshots but can also ask misleading questions on sensitive issues. For this reason, two recent studies of public opinion toward Muslims and immigration more generally are particularly interesting.

The first comes via the think-tank Freidrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and draws on a project at the University of Bielefeld that spanned eight countries and aims to stimulate discussion about prejudice in Europe.

The second is the latest edition to the Transatlantic Trends study, which measures public opinion across thirteen different countries. So what do they tell us? Well, although both are packed with good data there are six messages that stand out.

First, despite the onset of the financial crisis and rising unemployment the British remain deeply concerned about immigration, and more so than our European neighbours.

In fact, 37% of us ranked immigration as one of the two most important issues facing the country, compared to 21% of the Italians, 16% of the French and 10% of the Dutch.

Our ongoing concern about this issue is underscored by the findings that two-thirds of us regular discuss immigration with friends, and six out of every ten follow the news closely when it comes to these issues.

Politicians may say this is fine, as immigration seldom determines election outcomes. Yet respondents hold a different view: the Brits were more likely than any other nationality (53%) to say that at the next election they will vote for a party that wants to reduce immigration.

Last year, we were also more likely than in 2008 to say that policies on immigration will influence our vote (63% versus 61%).

Second, hostility to immigration remains high but support for traditional and cruder forms of racism is continuing to decline. Worryingly, levels of public hostility to immigration in Britain surpass those seen across the Channel.

The Brits, for example, are more likely than the Germans, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish and Hungarians to say there are too many immigrants (62%) and to feel like a stranger in their own country (46%). Also, only the Hungarians (77%) were more likely than the British (60%) to say immigrants are a strain on the welfare system.

The British were also more likely than most – the Germans, French, Dutch and Italians – to say our culture should be protected from the influence of other cultures (59%). More generally, the British are also now more likely than they were in 2008 to consider immigration a problem rather than opportunity.

In fact, we are the most likely in Europe to say it is a problem (65% think it is a problem, versus 30% who think it is an opportunity). At the same time, however, while levels of xenophobic hostility remain high, like most citizens in West Europe the British also clearly distance themselves from more strident forms of racism: only one third think there is a “natural hierarchy between black and white people”, and only one tenth oppose mixed race marriage.

Third, beyond immigration and supportive of Warsi’s claims, there is clear evidence of significant hostility toward Muslims. Across Europe more generally, the conclusion of one of these studies was that, on the whole, citizens appear “largely united” in their rejection of Muslims and Islam.

Yet despite having a smaller Muslim population, and also not witnessing the rise of successful far right figures who specifically vilify Muslims, the British (44%) are more likely than the French (36%) and Dutch (41%) to think there are too many Muslims in their country.

Moreover, exactly half of the population are potentially receptive to the argument that Muslims are “too demanding”. And even in the absence of a Geert Wilders-style xenophobe, the British are still more likely than the Dutch to think Islam is a religion of intolerance. In fact, almost half of us think so.

Fourth, beyond this hostility is evidence of deep anxiety about how well Muslims are integrating in society. This is not surprising given recent claims that Britain is “sleepwalking into segregation”, or its citizens are leading “parallel lives”.

But putting these claims to one side, we have actually never really known how well people think Muslims are integrating into wider society. The good news is that people seem more positive toward Muslim and immigrant youths: only minorities think the children of Muslims (30%) and children of immigrants (24%) are integrating poorly into British society.

However, generational change takes a long time. Today, findings indicate that over half of the population think Muslims (53%) are integrating poorly, which is around the same figure as for immigrants.   

Fifth, these trends appear to be driven less by anxiety over economic competition than the cultural compatibility of Muslims. Politicians often attempt to appease xenophobia by making the economic case for immigration and rising prosperity. The evidence, however, would suggest that these arguments will only take the response so far.

Rather, a more powerful driver of this hostility is the feeling that Muslims threaten national identity, values and ways of life. Consider this: less than two fifths think “Muslim culture” fits well into British society; and over 80% think Muslims’ attitudes toward women contradicts British values.

The Brits are also more likely than the Germans, French, Dutch, Polish and Hungarians to think this way. Furthermore, only the Hungarians are more likely to say Muslims view terrorists as heroes (38% of the British think they do). And again, only the Hungarians are more likely than us to hold the view that Muslims find terrorism justifiable (26% of the British think this way).

The final observation is that alongside these deep and relatively entrenched concerns are profound levels of dissatisfaction about the way in which mainstream politicians are responding. The simple reality is that, despite its efforts, Labour never appeared credible on these issues, and even failed to convince most voters that it was being open and honest with them about the scale of immigration into Britain.

This extreme dissatisfaction remains visible and is by no means restricted to Britain: 54% of the Dutch and 58% of the French were similarly unhappy with the response of their representatives to immigration. In Britain, however, the figure was 70%.

 This means that, along with the Italians, we are the most dissatisfied in Europe. And nor is this dissatisfaction restricted to immigration policy. The British were also more likely than the French, Germans and Spanish to say their government is doing a bad job on integration (almost two thirds think so).

Today, the British are pessimistic about their economic prospects and dissatisfied with their mainstream elites. But they are also pessimistic about how relations with immigrants will develop in the future, with almost half expecting them to worsen.

Amid an age of austerity that has seen multiculturalism branded a failure, the challenge facing government is to develop a policy framework that can begin addressing this underlying anxiety and profound sense of dissatisfaction among ordinary citizens over immigration, Muslims and rising diversity. These six key points may well be a useful starting point.

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74 Responses to “Brits are among the most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe”

  1. Dave Citizen

    Clearly we need to make dramatic progress in this area if British society is to become a healthy place that’s at ease with itself and confident about where it’s going.

    Anon – however tempting it undoubtedly can be at times, the way forward is definitely not to label people that come from different background cultures as some kind of outsiders who need to adopt ‘our’ way or move on. For a start, Britain has always comprised groups of people with markedly different cultures side by side with each other – from wippet racing flat cappers to snooty toffs trying to lord it over anyone who’d listen. Then there’s the different religious traditions and those with no religious traditions. The latest focus is on eastern Europeans and some still focus on young British men (usually it’s the men that are stereotyped) who have grown up in muslim faith families.

    Now one might fantasise about a place where one of these myriad cultures was the norm and we all raced whippets while our wives washed up and cooked mushy peas but it ain’t going to happen.

    The sooner we come to terms with the fact that we all share this place right now and could all no doubt claim to have the best culture for x or y reason, the better. Between us we might then answer the important questions like: how many immigrants our communities can/should take each year; how to make sure we all speak ‘our’ language and how do we get the most talented amongst us into the positions where they can use that talent to all our benefit.

  2. criticalpraxis

    Depressing anaylsis of British hostility to immigration & Muslims

  3. Mr. Sensible

    2 words; Tabloid Press.

    Mr Mouse, do I take it from that that you will be quick to condemn attitudes towards women amongst some Christians, and the Daily Mail? Any criticism of muslim attitudes towards women by the right-wing media is no more or less than complete double standards.

    Why am I not surprised to see these figures and people using the media to keep an eye on this?

  4. Sharon Spiteri

    Depressing anaylsis of British hostility to immigration & Muslims

  5. leventdanslaplaine

    Depressing anaylsis of British hostility to immigration & Muslims

  6. furqan

    Another interesting peice from Matthew Goodwin – "Brits are among most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe" @GoodwinMJ

  7. furqan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Brits are among the most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe

  8. Osama Saeed

    Brits are among the most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Dave Citizen – The problem is that the people I mention, in agreement with the last Home Secretary, Labour’s own Jack Straw, are people who it is simply not possible to converse with because of the veil that woman are forced to wear by men. Along with female genital mutilation and the other medieval barbaric practices by these backward people where woman are not treated as equals and homosexuals are hanged for something not of their choosing.

    You say that lots of people are different and being a half immigrant myself I agree. Except in the case of everyone else most people come here because they want to live and share our values which is good.

    If they don’t then they shouldn’t come here – it’s as simple as that. I happen to value freedom and democracy and obviously they do as well or they wouldn’t try to be here.

    We do share the place and on the day you tell me that you believe it’s OK for men to be more equal than woman and not speak the language of the country they live in and be forced to marry people they’ve never met and be beaten by men because the religion they follow says they should do so then I’ll say OK.

    In the meantime Dave Citizen I’ll sleep easy knowing my values are better than theirs and be thankful that I don’t live in a society where woman are abused and religion says it is OK for men to behave that badly.

    No offense…

  10. Quran Reading

    Another interesting peice from Matthew Goodwin – "Brits are among most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe" @GoodwinMJ

  11. Anon E Mouse

    Mr.Sensible – There are good and bad people the world over in every religion.

    Your post shows you do not understand anything about Islam which translates as “Submission” and devout followers are allowed by their sacred texts to mistreat woman and homosexuals as they see fit.

    You may believe that is an acceptable way to behave but I don’t.

    If people want to live in that manner then they should not come to our country but stay in Saudi Arabia and Iran where those medieval forms of behaviour are tolerated. You may not have noticed but we went to war in Afghanistan to free people from these types of tyranny.

    Over the years you have said a lot of things in this fine blog but to try to compare a few badly behaved individuals in this country with state oppression of woman and homosexuals is quite shameful of you and I expect a swift apology will be forthcoming as soon as you stop and realise what you have said.

    If you think every man in this country behaves like that, or you yourself want to treat woman unequally, why don’t you go and live in Iran. I’m sure they’d take you Mr.Sensible because this country should not be a place for those types of views and the sooner Britain stops tolerating things like arranged marriages and other forms of brutality towards woman by certain groups that reside here the better…

  12. Charles

    First point, these attitudes are more pronounced here simply because successive UK governments have failed to protect the UK identity in the past.

    Secondly, to assume Islam is just ‘another religion’ is very naive. It is a very potent and dangerous mix of politics and religion, at least 50% political in my opinion. It quietly affects us all in many small and subtle ways. From extra benefit payments and turning a blind eye to polygamous marriages, through effects on businesses as supermarket staff refuse to handle alcohol, to attacks on gays our society is being slowly but surely changed.

    I have always voted Labour/LibDem in the past but I will now vote for whoever is mostly likely to be able to do something regarding immigration and Islamists here.

    Finally, on immigration, we need to cut the numbers coming substantially and only take those we genuinely need to fill jobs. This includes asylum seekers as well as other immigrants. It is projected that we will have a population of 70M+ by 2030, greater than France or Germany which are approx 5 times the size of the UK. The effects on water supply, housing, arable land etc cannot be borne by this country.

  13. Salam Mannan

    RT @ianbirrell Depressing anaylsis of British hostility to immigration & Muslims

  14. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘The sooner we come to terms with the fact that we all share this place right now and could all no doubt claim to have the best culture for x or y reason, the better’

    This sentence attracted my attention.

    I don’t believe there should be any argument whatsoever as to who has the superior culture. There must be no compromise or relativism on this point: those who come to these shores must adapt to our way of doing things. To enter a foreign country and attempt to foist your way of life on the locals is imperialism, is it not? And isn’t that something that we have been criticised for in the past (albeit, at least we left infrastructure through our empire)?

    This is probably the biggest problem of the scourge that is multiculturalism. Telling people that Britain will accommodate numerous different cultures was never a good idea: British cultural norms must be pervasive in Britain. Multiculturalism has obstructed integration.

  15. Tahir Imran Mian

    RT @OsamaSaeed: Brits are among the most wary on #immigration/#Islam in #Europe

  16. Jose Aguiar

    RT @leftfootfwd: Brits are among the most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe

  17. Dave Citizen

    Anon – I agree that ‘we’ should not tolerate those fundamentally unacceptable elements within the sub-cultures that make up our society. My point is that the ‘we’ includes all the sub-cultures and not just those that you or any other individual decide are the ‘British’ ones.

    Now, if some group of people living here legitimately (i.e. not illegal immigrants) practices cultural traditions that go against the fundamental rights that underpin our society as a whole (like the basic equal rights of men and women) then we should all come together to say no – we don’t accept that in Britain. Either emigrate (if someone else will have you) or buck your ideas up pronto and we’ll happily explain why your behaviour is not accepted here. That goes for us all, and where necessary our society should bring in laws to clarify such points.

    Ed – you talk as if there is one clear British culture that we need to preserve against attack. My point is that there is no such thing and never has been. Our society comprises a collection of cultures including various religion based ones, toff ones, northern, cockney, etc that are shifting and adapting all the time. Yes we may add one here or lose one their but we have probably always been multi-cultural.

    I accept and am proud that underpinning these cultures are some basic and agreed fundamentals that are not relative and should not be compromised as you say. But this is not to do with muslims coming here and accepting ‘our’ superior culture. It is about ensuring that certain universal values of freedom, equality and justice form the basis of our society whatever cultures we choose to live by.

  18. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘I accept and am proud that underpinning these cultures are some basic and agreed fundamentals that are not relative and should not be compromised as you say’

    Yes, that’s really the point I’m making. To the extent we have, as you say, ‘always been multi-cultural’, it’s important that those who come to this country buy into its values and speak its language.

  19. Amanda Hsieh

    "Worryingly, levels of public hostility to immigration in Britain surpass those seen across the Channel." (@leftfootfwd)

  20. Laurence Brown

    Another interesting peice from Matthew Goodwin – "Brits are among most wary on immigration/Islam in Europe" @GoodwinMJ

  21. Mark

    I think a certain kind of assimilation in the form of presenting our national values and traditions to the given minority groups is simply inevitable. As far as multiculturalism is concerned the current state may have its roots in the creation of separate communities of immigrants – the trend that the British PM described earlier this year and that caused the gradual destruction of the national values and traditions within the given communities. As for my country I think the only solution to eliminate these trends is to integrate the immgrants coming to Canada into our cultural system. We think of ourselves as being tolerant of multiculturalismbut a certain kind of assimilation is necessary in today’s world.

  22. Ernest

    We all know that Islam and Muslims are not compatible with anything else that is not Islamic. That should be very clear to the world by now. What took so long for non-Muslims to recognize this fact anyway? Just look at the violent history of Islam and Muslims. Just read the Quran and it becomes painfully obvious that it is just a book filled with hatred, violence and nonsense.

    Muslims will even kill other Muslims because they don’t agree with each other. Do you see that sort of pattern in other religions?
    Therefore, let Muslims stay where they have their Islam in their own countries. Let them live in the backwardness of the 6th century because that’s what they want. Those Muslims who demand Islamic Law and have hatred towards non-Muslims should be sent back to where they came from.

    When people say that Islam is the reason for Muslim’s problems, they are trying to help Muslims free themselves from their suffering. Muslims are backward and think that Islam is the solution and therefore more Islam is better. Muslims only create more problems for themselves when they think like this. They also blame non-Muslims and Satan for all their ills. It’s because Allah praise Muslims, and disparage non-Muslims, so much that they just can’t blame themselves or Islam for their problems.

    Non-Muslims are looking into a better future through science and knowledge. While Muslims are going back to the past (mid 8th century to mid 13th century) to the “Golden Age of Islam.” The best that Muslims had to offer was 700+ years ago? Are Muslims too busy fasting for Ramadan, praying 5 times a day, teaching about hatred and violence against non-Muslims in the mosques that they forgot they are in the 21st century now? The only reason why Islamic countries are staying alive now is because of the money from oil. Other than that, they have nothing else. Just wait until non-Muslims create alternative energy. Non-Muslims will no longer depend on oil and the Islamic countries will fall apart. They’ll go back to the age of the caveman when they have no more oil money.

    The internet will spread the truth about the barbaric nature of Islam to Muslims and dispel the darkness of Islam. Truth and knowledge will free Muslims from the grip of Islam.

    A better future is one that is without Islam.

    Muslims will just say that this is Islamophobic and then go Jihad.

  23. Micheal Sydney

    (“Something Went Wrong” by Lewis Brown 1942 London, Victor Gollancz LTD) is a very informative book that can give the average reader that is appreciative of the history of Western Civilization and follows current events a very good insight on where we may be headed today in our new version of the world. It’s very rare to find political lions today, there have been many in British history. Winston Churchill was the last one and todays Britain now needs another.

  24. Matthew Goodwin

    At Home Affairs Committee today, I talked of wider potential for far right extremists, for example -> @leftfootfwd

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