Britons link Islam with extremism, says new poll

The instances of real extremism receive most attention, and are then taken to represent everyone and

The findings of today's YouGov poll conducted for the Exploring Islam Foundation make depressing reading. Fifty-eight per cent of Britons surveyed associated Islam with extremism, 50 per cent associated it with terrorism, 40 per cent thought Muslims did not have a positive impact on society, and 70 per cent believe the religion encourages repression of women.

Uphill work indeed for the EIF, which aims to "dispel the common stereotypes and myths about Islam and Muslims". One of the main problems is the lumping together of everyone or everything to which the labels Islam or Muslim can be attached. Inevitably, the instances of real extremism receive the most attention, and are then taken to be representative of all.

I've begun to explore some of the consequences of this in a short series on the New Statesman's website, Rethinking Islamism.

"Islamists" are some of those we -- the media, public opinion -- are supposedly most worried about. But how often do we stop to ask what we mean by that term? As I pointed out in the first post, Turkey's government is Islamist. Does that mean that country is part of the problem now?

Among the subjects I want to look at are misconceptions about sharia: what it is and how it is practised in different parts of the world, what an Islamic state might be and what countries that call themselves Islamic states actually are, and whether political Islam is always actually about religion.

If readers would like to suggest other areas to look at, I would welcome their thoughts. Fear that stems from ignorance at least leaves open the possibility of people changing their minds . . . although this poll shows that the EIF has a struggle on its hands.

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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader agreed to back down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while he would hold a free vote, party policy would be changed to oppose military action, an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote. Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, members made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbot and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory"approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet. There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.