Islamophobia in the West

Islamophobia in the West: Measuring and Explaining Individual Attitudes, edited by Marc Helbling (of the Social Science Research Centre, Berlin) was published by Routledge on 16 February 2012 (ISBN 978-0-415-59444-8, hardback, £80). The book comprises 13 essays exploring the views of ordinary citizens toward Islam and Muslims as revealed by survey evidence.

Following an introduction by the editor (chapter 1), including discussion of the complex definitional issues, there are case studies of Islamophobia in the United States (chapters 2 and 12), Great Britain (3, 11 and 13 – each summarized below), Norway (4), Sweden (5), Spain (6), Switzerland (7), and The Netherlands (8, 9 and 10). The full contents table can be viewed at:

Chapter 3 (pp. 39-55): Erik Bleich and Rahsaan Maxwell, ‘Assessing Islamophobia in Britain: where do Muslims really stand?’

This is a study not merely of national attitudes to Muslims but also of Muslim attitudes toward British society. The principal source is the Government’s Citizenship Surveys from 2001 to 2009, with some subsidiary use of the Pew Global Attitudes Surveys and Eurobarometers. The authors conclude that ‘Islamophobia may be a real challenge and an obstacle to intergroup harmony but is not yet the most significant cleavage defining the nature of group divisions in British society’. They likewise highlight that ‘despite the tense atmosphere in contemporary British society, Muslims have remarkably high levels of positive national identification and political trust’.

Chapter 11 (pp. 147-61): Clive Field, ‘Revisiting Islamophobia in contemporary Britain, 2007-10’

The attitudes of ordinary Britons towards Muslims and Islam are reviewed through 64 opinion polls conducted in 2007-10. Comparisons are also drawn with 2001-06 (the subject of an earlier article by the author). Islamophobia is shown to be multi-layered, affecting one-fifth to three-quarters of adults, the actual level depending on topic. It is said to be undoubtedly increasing, albeit still less pervasive than other western European countries, and is by far the commonest form of religious prejudice in Britain. Muslims are seen as slow to integrate, to have a qualified patriotism and, sometimes, to be drawn to extremism. Negativity is found to be disproportionately concentrated among men, the elderly, the lowest social groups and Conservative voters.

Chapter 13 (pp. 179-89): Marco Cinnirella, ‘Think “terrorist”, think “Muslim”? Social-psychological mechanisms explaining anti-Islamic prejudice’

The author ‘draws upon an eclectic mix of different theoretical traditions from social psychology’, in particular social representations theory, terror management theory, social identity theory, self-categorization theory, and intergroup threat theory. Their aggregate applicability to Islamophobia is demonstrated by two small-scale research projects among British students, in 2006 and 2008. The first project revealed that ‘exposure to media social representations of Muslims is likely to be a causal factor in Islamophobia’. The second discovered that perceived cultural threat from Muslims, realistic threat from Islamist terrorism and strength of British national identity were all predictors of Islamophobia.

This post’s inevitable focus on the three chapters affecting Islamophobia in Britain is not to imply that the remainder of the volume should be ignored by BRIN users. Several authors provide invaluable comparative insights, while chapter 2 offers us an Anti-Muslim Prejudice scale developed for the American context. This can be compared and contrasted with the equivalent scales which have been proposed in the UK by Adrian Brockett, Andrew Village and Leslie Francis (the Attitude toward Muslim Proximity Index in 2009 and the Outgroup Prejudice Index in 2010).


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