One of the four strands in the previous Labour government’s CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy was focused on preventing extremism. It was especially concerned to stop the radicalization of young Muslims, following the London bombings in 2005.
In an effort to improve the evidence base, the Department for Communities and Local Government decided to include an experimental module on attitudes to violent extremism in the first three quarters (April-December 2009) of the 2009-10 Citizenship Survey of England and Wales.
Fieldwork was undertaken by Ipsos MORI and TNS-BMRB among a representative sample of adults aged 16 and over, including booster samples of ethnic minorities and Muslims. 12,089 people were interviewed in all, among them a core sample of 6,963 and 2,708 Muslims.
The headline results from the module have been published recently in a statistical release from the Department (ISBN 978-1-4098-2529-6), which can be read online at:
Professing Christians (87%) were more likely than Sikhs (82%), Muslims (80%), people with no religion (79%) and Hindus (76%) to say that it was always wrong to use violent extremism in Britain to protest against things deemed to be very unfair or unjust.
The proportion thinking it was sometimes, often or always right to deploy violence stood at 8% overall, peaking at 15% for Hindus, 12% for Muslims and 10% for the irreligious. Jewish and Buddhist sub-samples were too small to report.
However, in a multivariate analysis, taking account of age, income, social class and other circumstances, only people with no religion were found to be significantly different from Christians.
So, while Muslims and Hindus (as a group) were less likely than Christians to reject violent extremism, the differences are largely explicable in terms of their younger age and/or divergent socio-economic profiles. Age is particularly relevant.
This explanation does not hold good for the no religion group. Even controlling for age and socio-economic factors, its members remained less likely than Christians to reject violent extremism.
The report is at pains to point out that ‘this does not mean that the absence of religious beliefs contributes to greater support for violent extremism. There may be other factors, which were not included in the multivariate analysis, which explain the difference …’
In addition to this general question, respondents were asked about the use of violent extremism, in the name of religion, to protest or achieve a goal. In the core sample (excluding 2% who failed to answer), 95% said that this was always wrong, 4% often wrong, 1% sometimes right and sometimes wrong, with very small numbers indeed opting for often or always right. These results are not broken down by religious affiliation.