Although the number of overt racist and anti-muslim attacks has slowed down from its post-Brexit peak, prejudice and misunderstanding in the general population continues to run high – and could boil over again.
Ipsos Mori has now released the results of its 2016 Periols of Perception survey, which has been conducted in 40 countries. It establishes that there is a general global trend for majority non-Muslim populations to over-estimate the numbers of Muslims living in their country and the rate by which the Muslim component is increasing. In the UK, those questioned estimated that one in six of the UK population is Muslim – though in fact it is approximately one in 20, less than one third of the general estimate. Looking to the future, respondents estimated that 22% of the U population will be Muslim by 2020 – again, more than three times the level suggested by research.
Other European countries with populations which overestimate the proportion of Muslims in their populations include Italy, Belgium, Germany and France – where the average guess is that 31% of the population is Muslim (the official figure is 7.5%) and that 40% of the population will be Muslim by 2020 (official projections are around 8.3%). Responses were similar in Canada and the USA, where people guessed the current Muslim population was around 17%. Official figures are 3.2% in Canada and just 1% in the USA. US respondents estimated that the proportion of Muslims would grow to 23% by 2020 but the official projection is a growth to 1.1%.
With public perceptions this inaccurate, it is not surprising that both France and the USA are going down right wing roads at the moment. In France, the Front National (Nationalist Party), led by Marine Le Pen, is expected to come second in the first round of the presidential election next year, with approximately one third of the popular vote. The USA has just elected Donald Trump as its new President, on slightly less than 50% of the popular vote, after a long campaign peppered with anti-muslim, racist and misogynist rhetoric. He will take office next month.
•The news about public perceptions comes days after the UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee announced that it will hold sessions around the country to hear local views on the topic of immigration. It hopes to stimulate debate on what kind of immigration policy the UK should adopt as part of the “Brexit” process. The Committee is chaired by Yvette Cooper MP, a leading figure in the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which were not known for their enlightened views on immigration. The Muslim population will have to ensure that it is well represented at the regional sessions.
•For more information about the Ipsos Mori 2016 Periols of Perception survey, go to: