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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.