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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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.