British Muslims on policing, extremism and Prevent

Muslim Council of Britain infographic
New research from Crest Advisory into what British Muslims think about policing, extremism and the Prevent programme

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Based on a poll with 1,000 British Muslims

A new report from Crest Advisory looks at what British Muslims think about policing, extremism and the Prevent programme. The report is welcome because there is surprisingly little publicly available research  on British Muslim attitudes to policing and to counter-extremism efforts. Instead, there are superficial characterisations of British Muslim opinion, which divide people into binary groups. Where research does exist, it has been media-commissioned and/ or has methodological limitations, while larger scale, more robust academic studies have tended to focus on broader research topics, without looking at attitudes towards extremism specifically.

 There has been evidence that trust in the police is relatively high among British Muslims and considerably higher than among, for example, Britain’s Black Caribbean population. However, it has not been known how deep or broad this trust is and, in particular, whether it extends to police involvement in counter-extremism. Previous research has identified a potentially broader range of views than the dominant media narratives suggest, with most British Muslims neither wholly hostile nor wholly supportive of counter-terrorism or counter-extremism programmes, but holding a range of questions and legitimate concerns about this work and its impact.

This research project aimed to build a richer picture of British Muslim attitudes towards life in the UK and its institutions generally and towards the police and counter-extremism work in particular, using methodologically strong qualitative and quantitative research. Following an initial review of existing research, Crest conducted structured focus groups with British Muslims in eight towns and cities across Britain and subsequently commissioned a robust opinion poll of a representative sample of Britain’s Muslim population and a comparison group of the general population. 
Muslim Council of Britain infographic
Muslim Council of Britain infographic

Findings

Narratives applied commonly applied by some politicians, media and campaign groups to British Muslims about these sensitive issues are fundamentally flawed. There is little or no evidence to support claims that British Muslims do not recognise the threat posed by Islamist extremism nor to support the argument that the Prevent programme is a toxic brand which has alienated them.

In contrast, Crest’s research found that majorities of British Muslims trust the police, are concerned about Islamist extremism, support the aims of the Prevent programme and would refer someone to it if they suspected that they were being radicalised.

Findings from the representative Savanta ComRes poll include that:

  • 63% of British Muslims said they were worried about Islamist extremism, compared to 67% of the general population.

  • 55% of British Muslims and 68% of the general population said they had not heard of the Prevent programme.

  • 36% of British Muslims said they supported the principle of Prevent being focussed in large part on Muslims communities due to the threat of extreme Islamist terrorism. A further 38% said that while they also supported this principle, they had some concerns about it.

  • In comparison, 43% of the general population said they supported this principle while 42% of the general population said they supported this principle but had some concerns about it.

  • 64% of British Muslims said they trusted the police, compared to 71% of the general population.

 

Overall, the report found levels of support for policing and counter-extremism work among British Muslims were similar to those of the population as a whole. These findings contradict common polarising narratives which claim either that British Muslims do not accept that Islamist extremism is a serious threat and are “in denial” or that argue Prevent is “toxic” to British Muslims and has “alienated” them.

However, it found strong evidence of the need for more and better engagement with all sections of the population at risk of radicalisation, Muslim and non-Muslim, by the police and other agencies, and it identified serious concerns among British Muslims about Islamophobia, their representation in the media, and about the conflation of Islam with terrorism.

Conclusion

As many of us have felt for some time, the issues concerning Islamist extremism and how best to tackle it are complex and not best served by the current binary public discourse.

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