In the Firing Line

One of the more surprising religion-related news stories in recent weeks has been the row which developed over the use of models of ‘generic Eastern buildings’ on the Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s firing range at Bellerby, North Yorkshire. They were designed to simulate an overseas environment in which British troops might be operationally deployed.

However, the Bradford Council for Mosques thought the mock-ups looked suspiciously like mosques. Under a barrage of criticism, not just from Muslims, the Ministry issued a public apology and partly dismantled the offending structures.

YouGov tested popular opinion on the subject in an online survey among a representative sample of 2,404 adult Britons aged 18 and over on 9-12 April 2010. The results of this poll, with breaks by gender, age, social grade and region, are posted at:

28% of respondents thought that it was wrong for the MoD to use mosque-like replicas on the firing range, with women (33%) and Scots (35%) being especially critical. 64% could find nothing specifically wrong in what the MoD had done, including 74% of men. There were 9% don’t knows.

35% wanted the mosque-like replicas to be changed, the figure rising to 41% for women and 45% for Scots. 54% (with 64% of men) thought they should be retained since they helped the training of the armed forces. 12% expressed no view either way.

30% agreed that the MoD had not thought or worried about the potential fallout from using the mosque-replicas, 39% disagreed, with 32% neutral or don’t knows.

29% agreed with the chairman of the Bradford Council for Mosques that the MoD’s actions reinforced existing negative perceptions of Muslims, implying that mosques were places of danger which were legitimate ‘targets’. The figure rose to 32% for women, 34% for those aged 18-34 and 35% for Londoners. 44% disagreed with the chairman, with 27% undecided.

In a subsequent online poll (12-14 April among 2,095 adults), YouGov asked respondents to imagine an alternative scenario, whereby a foreign defence ministry had used models of Christian churches on its firing ranges, to simulate the conditions of war in a Christian country.

Interestingly, opinion was more evenly divided in this case, 40% considering it would be wrong for the foreign defence ministry to do this (including 33% of men and 47% of women), and 42% finding nothing objectionable (57% of men and 27% of women).

In other words, 12% more of the population are worried about the use of replica churches on firing ranges than about the use of replica mosques. Perhaps this is another subtle manifestation of British Islamophobia?

This second YouGov poll can be found at:

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

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