Britons Respond to Pastor Jones

The ninth anniversary of 9/11 was somewhat overshadowed by the crisis precipitated by Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville (Florida), who planned to mark the occasion by an ‘International burn a Koran’ day but, in the face of overwhelming opposition, called off the event at the last minute.

British public opinion on the subject was tested by YouGov as part of its regular weekly polling for the Sunday Times, although this particular question did not feature in the reporting in yesterday’s print edition of the newspaper. YouGov interviewed 1,858 adults aged 18 and over online on 9 and 10 September. The data table is available at:

Respondents were asked whether the US government should or should not allow Pastor Jones to proceed with the ‘International burn a Koran’ day. It was not explained that, in practice, there was no legal basis on which the US government could have intervened, since Jones’s intended action was defensible under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

In reply, 24% of Britons thought that the US government should allow the burning to take place, citing Jones’s right to free expression. 65% wanted the US government to intercede on the grounds that Jones was inciting racial hatred. The remaining 11% expressed no view.

Those in favour of the US government standing aside were especially to be found among Conservative voters (29%) and men (31%). Jones’s opponents were most numerous with Labour voters (72%), Liberal Democrats (74%), women (69%) and the over-60s (72%).

In other British polls the elderly have usually been found to be the most Islamophobic of all age groups, so the finding from this particular survey is as interesting as it is unusual. Possibly, the over-60s were most fearful of the international consequences (in terms of protests and violence) had the Korans been burned.

The closest analogy to the incident in Britain is reaction to the international controversy surrounding the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper at the start of 2006. Several opinion polls were conducted on the issue.

British attitudes towards these cartoons were somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, the principle of freedom of expression was deemed to justify their publication abroad. On the other, the decision of the British press not to republish them, out of respect for the Muslim community in Britain, was simultaneously supported, while the excesses of Muslim protests were roundly condemned.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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