Being British and Muslim

I’ve always been interested in the psychological effect of multiculturalism on the British psyche. I think a look at our own history is revealing since our nation was founded by the same guys (Anglo-Saxon protestant males) and it hasn’t always been a smooth process welcoming _____(anybody else). But immigrants from continental Europe did come and they assimilated, adopting the dominant English language and culture. Yet apparently, only a few generations are needed for some to perceive para español, oprima numero dos as an affront to the American way. Others may be unsettled by the birth records in the 2012 census, which showed that that white newborns are now a minority compared with nonwhite newborns. Anyways, the point is that our nation of immigrants is ironically irritated by immigrants. This is a sample of American attitudes towards the arrival of Muslims:

  • 30% believe Muslims want to establish Sharia (60% of Republicans who watch Fox News)
  • 46% uncomfortable with Mosque built near home
  • 47% say Islam and American values are incompatible
  • 51% believe Muslim immigrants want to remain distinct from larger culture.
  • 33% think Muslim immigrants want to adopt American ways.

Now enter Britain, a nation of Brits. England had to deal with the whining of the Scots, Welsh, and Irish, but avoided the stress of having to accommodate other cultures. I feel like this must produce a different psychological response to the arrival of foreign people with foreign cultures, like immigrant Muslims. A recent article in the Guardian presented the British attitudes toward Muslims:                                                                                            

  • 47% see Muslims as a threat
  • 28% believe Muslims want to integrate into British society.
  • 52% think Muslims create problems
  • 45% believe there are too many Muslims in Britain
  • 55% would be concerned if a mosque was built in their area
  • 58% of Britons associate Islam with extremism.

It’s hard to compare the differences in American vs. British perspectives towards Muslims straight up, since there could and probably are a slew  of other variables affecting the responses (maybe the aftertaste of 9/11 versus 7/7, fewer Muslim proportionate to population, socio-economic position). But I think that this does show that Brits are more unsettled than Americans by the arrival of Muslims. Americans are pretty uncomfortable, but the British seem genuinely scared of Islam. A majority views Muslims as a threat and as creating problems, and a near majority believes that there are too many of them at all. You’d think that all this hostility would get Muslims down. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Muslims seem to be taking it all in stride. The Guardian article covered Muslim perceptions of their place in Britain:

  • 83% of Muslims are proud to be British, compared to 79% of the general public.
  • 77% of Muslims strongly identify with Britain, compared to only 50% of the general public.
  • 86.4% of Muslims believe they belong in Britain, slightly more than 85.9% of Christians.

They don’t seem fazed. Using this as a rough measure of patriotism, Muslims are actually better British citizens than Britons. This is interesting in every way. I had anticipated all scores by Muslims to be lower, not because of their own qualities, but because they face obvious barriers in blending into a hostile society. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really find comparable data measuring the attitudes of American Muslims towards our own nation. A Gallup survey from 2011 found that Muslims are the religious group least satisfied with their local community (81% versus 87% or more from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Mormons), and have the lowest identification with America (69% versus 86% or more from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Mormons). Compared to the situation in Britain, American Muslims face more desirable conditions for assimilation, and yet are less enthusiastic about doing so. The aspects of American versus British societies that create this difference is something to think about.

This is the Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/jul/03/muslims-integrated-britain?CMP=twt_gu

Resources about American Muslims: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/religion/man-behind-mosque/america-and-muslims-by-the-numbers/

Gallup survey: http://www.gallup.com/se/127907/Gallup-Center-Muslim-Studies.aspx

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