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.