“The Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain” (2022) is the latest, and one of the most detailed, reports to be released on Islamophobia in the UK. Authored by Dr Stephen H. Jones (University of Birmingham) and Dr Amy Unsworth (University College London) – in conjunction with YouGov and funded by the British Academy – the purpose of the report is to ” shed light on the extent and nature of Islamophobia in the UK”1 . In doing so, Jones and Unsworth argue that throughout the report there are two distinct but overlapping types of Islamophobia: anti-Muslim (prejudice towards ethnic and racial groups) and anti-Islamic (prejudice towards religion). Whilst these forms emerge differently in society, they conclude it is important to acknowledge both types so that Islamophobia can be better understood and combatted2.
The survey was designed with support from YouGov, and conducted between 20th-21st July 2021. 1,667 people completed the survey, and to ensure representativeness within the census, the sample was weighted by gender, age, political measures, region, education level, and social grade (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 10)3. Participants were contacted at random through YouGov’s participant panel, which consists of over 185,000 individuals. Within the survey, questions about Muslims and Islam, as well as other beliefs and ethnic minorities were included. By including questions about other religious and ethnic minorities, this enabled the authors to draw out parallels and see differences between Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice in the UK4.
The survey was also initially developed in response to a larger scale qualitative study in the UK and Canada researching people’s views about science and religion between 2014-2017. This was conducted by the lead author Stephen Jones alongside a research team and included 123 interviews and 16 focus groups5. What emerged from this study was a distinction among participants who evaluated Islam negatively. Some participants expressed tolerance towards Muslims as people but made stereotypical generalisations about Islam as a belief system, whereas others expressed intolerance towards Muslims as a group and Islam as a belief system6. The distinction in this study demonstrated that there is a complex relationship between being prejudiced towards Muslim and towards Islam, and this merited further analysis.
In section three of the report, the authors give an overview of how perceptions and definitions of Islamophobia have shifted over the last twenty-five years. For example, in 1997 the race equality think tank Runnymede published “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All”, where in their attempt to define the term, religion was central to the report and Islamophobia was specifically linked to negative views of Islam itself. However, in comparison to more recent definitions (such as the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims and Runnymede’s longer definition (2017)), Jones and Unsworth highlight how these focus instead on the differential treatment of Muslims in society, or anti-Muslim racism.
““Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”(APPG 2018)7
“Islamophobia is any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (Runnymede, 2017)8.
According to the authors, the main reason for this shift from Islam to Muslims lies in the difficulty in isolating prejudice against religion belief from reasonable criticism, making it harder to outlaw than discrimination and abuse9. Whilst the authors agree that Islamophobia can be described as a form of racism, Jones and Unsworth also aim to show that religion fits in the picture and Islamophobia can also manifest in misleading or false claims about the tenants of Islam too10. Without acknowledging this anti-Islamic element of Islamophobia, definitions of the term will remain incomplete11.
The Key Findings
The authors present eight key findings from their survey.
- “Muslims are the UK’s second ‘least liked’ group, after Gypsy and Irish Travellers”.
As shown in Figure 5 of the report, 25.9% of respondents reported having negative feelings towards Muslims, in comparison to reports of 14.5% having negative feelings towards Pakistanis, 10.7% towards Christians, 8.5% towards Jews, 8.4% towards White-British people, 6.4% towards Black African/Caribbean people and 5.6% towards Sikhs. The only ethnic/religious group to have a high recording of respondents reporting negative feelings towards them are Gypsy/Irish travellers with 44.6%.
The authors note that these statistics represent “consciously held” racism, meaning attitudes people are aware they hold or are willing to admit, and this does not necessarily translate into actions (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 23)12. Whilst figure five shows that negative feelings towards Jews is at 8.4% (so they are statistically viewed more favourably than Muslims) is because discrimination is more publicly regarded as unacceptable. Therefore the reason that Gypsy and Irish Travellers and Muslims are the two stand out groups in this figure is because there is less public sanction against openly acknowledging negative feelings towards these groups. The authors further argue this is evident in the way that Islamophobia as a term is often picked apart or described as “nonsense” by Polly Toynbee (a journalist for The Guardian) and a “myth” by Kenan Malik (a writer, lecturer, and broadcaster, primarily for the Observer) (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 24)13. They argue that “there’s a lack of criticism that follows Islamophobia, and that seems to correspond to the way in which Islamophobia is dealt with in public life,”. The survey shows clearly it’s a very widespread prejudice, however, “it is not given the same kind of seriousness as other forms of prejudice”14.
2. “More than one in four people, and nearly half of Conservative and Leave voters, hold conspiratorial views about Sharia ‘no-go areas”
26.5% (or 1 in 4) of the British population are shown to hold conspiratorial views that there are areas in Britain operating under Sharia Law, where non-Muslims cannot enter. This percentage increases to 43.4% of Conservative respondents and 43.4% of Leave voters in comparison to 14.7% of Labour and 14.9% of remain voters.
3. “Support for prohibiting all Muslim migration to the UK is 4-6% higher for Muslims than it is for other ethnic and religious groups“
According to Figure 6, 18.1% of people support prohibiting all Muslim migration to the UK, a rate 4-6% higher than the same view for other ethnic and religious groups.
4. “The British public is almost three times more likely to view Islam as inherently litteralistic than other religions”
Respondents were asked whether they think religion teaches its followers that its sacred text should be taken literally in reference to four religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Sikhism. 21.1% agreed that Islam teachers its followers that the Qur’an must be read ‘totally literally’, which is 13.6% higher than beliefs about any other religious tradition. Jones and Unsworth argue that alongside answers to figure 1 (detailing hostility to different religions), there is a significant correlation between anti-religious sentiment and assumed literalism of Islam, but not any other religion. This evidences that hostility to religion is related to prejudice towards Islam15.
5. “British people are more confident in making judgements about Islam than other non-Christian religions but are much more likely to make incorrect assumptions about it“
The findings demonstrate that British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, where 50.8% state they are “not sure” how Jewish scriptures are taught and 62.7% are unsure about Sikh scriptures. Regarding Islam only 40.7% of people responded they were unsure about how Islam’s scriptures are taught. This this shows people are more confident in making a judgement despite the fact that, as shown in Figure 4 and key finding 4, that people are more likely to make incorrect assumptions that Islam is literalistic (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 8). The authors argue that “prejudice towards Islam is not simply ignorance, then, but miseducation and misrecognition” (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 8)16.
6. “Islamophobia is not associated with Anglican identity, belief in God or practicing a religion“
From Figures 10 & 11, Jones and Unsworth argue that at first glance, Anglican identity engenders Islamophobic views, with 35.1% of Anglicans more inclined to agree that Sharia ‘no-go zones’ exist (in comparison to 22% of non-religious people), and 29.7% of those who identify as Anglican view Muslims negatively compared to 25.2% who identify as non-religious.
However, this picture is more complex. Looking at Figure 11 in more depth, only 23.5% of religious believers view Muslims negatively compared to 29.8% of non-believers, demonstrating that people who attend religious services and believe in God are less likely to view Muslims negatively. Jones and Unsworth also state that the apparent Anglican negativity towards Muslims is not due to their religious identity, but because of the age demographics (as they tend to be older than non-religious people). By controlling this variable, the “Anglican effect” disappears (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 8)17.
7. “Hostility towards religion in general is significantly associated with prejudice towards Islamic belief“
Similarly to finding 4, when anti-religious sentiment is measured, this is significantly correlated with the assumption that Islam teaches its followers the Qur’an must be read ‘totally literally’. This correlation does not exist for any other religion.
8. “People from middle and upper class occupational groups are more likely to hold prejudiced views of Islamic beliefs than people from working class occupational groups“
Concerning Muslims, or most ethnic or religious minority groups, older people, working-class people, Conservatives, Leave voters and men consistently hold more negative views. However, as figure 16 shows, when this prejudice is measured specifically towards Islamic beliefs, it is more evenly spread across political groups in comparison to anti-Muslim sentiment. Also in Figure 14, 4.8% of people from higher social grades are more likely to view Islam as “totally literalistic” than people from lower social grades. Jones and Unsworth argue this is statistically significant.
This data, then, reinforces the argument there are two forms of Islamophobia. Where Anti-Muslim prejudice (directed towards Muslims as a group) is predominantly concentrated within lower social grades, older people, and those more politically conservative, Anti-Islamic prejudice is different. It is more evenly spread across political persuasions and is more common in more affluent groups than Anti-Muslim prejudice (Jones and Unsworth, 2022: 36)18.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Having demonstrated, statistically, the existence of two types of Islamophobia in the UK, the authors offer recommendations of how to tackle both forms. First , there is the necessity to acknowledge at a political level what Islamophobia is and how it is being tolerated, and second to buildi religious literacy especially for people engaged in anti-racist activities and policymaking19. In Jones’s words: “No one is calling for laws regulating criticism of religion, but we have to recognise that the British public has been systematically miseducated about Islamic tradition and take steps to remedy this”20.