Jonathan Wynne-Jones, London Telegraph, January 9, 2010
More than half the population would be strongly opposed to a mosque being built in their neighbourhood, the study found.
A large proportion of the country believes that the multicultural experiment has failed, with 52 per cent considering that Britain is deeply divided along religious lines and 45 per cent saying that religious diversity has had a negative impact.
Only a quarter of Britons feel positive towards Muslims, while more than a third report feeling “cool” towards them.
The findings, to be published later this month in the respected British Social Attitudes Survey, show that far greater opposition to Islam than to any other faith and reveal that most people are willing to limit freedom of speech in an attempt to silence religious extremists.
David Voas, professor of population studies at Manchester University, who analysed the data, said that people were becoming intolerant towards all religions because of “the degree to which Islam is perceived as a threat to social cohesion”.
He said: “Muslims deserve to be the focus of policy on social cohesion, because no other group elicits so much disquiet.”
The “size and visibility” of Islamic communities has led to serious concerns about their impact on British society, Prof Voas concludes.
“This apparent threat to national identity (or even, some fear, to security) reduces the willingness to accommodate free expression.
“Opinion is divided, and many people remain tolerant of unpopular speech as well as distinctive dress and religious behaviour, but a large segment of the British population is unhappy about these subcultures.”
Researchers interviewed 4,486 people for the survey, which is published annually by the National Centre for Social Research. They found that respondents with no qualifications were twice as likely to have negative attitudes towards Muslims as with those who had degrees.
The report describes a high level of unease regarding the UK’s Muslim population, estimated at around two million, with many people considering that it poses a threat to the nation’s identity.
While 55 per cent say that they would be “bothered” by the construction of a large mosque in their community, only 15 per cent would be similarly concerned by a large church.
Nevertheless, the research found considerable suspicion towards those of any faith who hold deeply religious views, while there was a widespread reluctance to see matters of faith intruding into the public sphere.
Nearly half (45 per cent) of Britons believe that laws and policy decisions would be worse if more politicians were deeply religious–almost double the number who think that they would be better.