British Islam conference 2018
Speaker: Rosie Carter
Research focused on public attitudes towards immigration.
The research covered 56 cities, with more planned, covering the British Isles from Shetland Islands to Penzance. It included both rural and urban communities. In total 130 meetings were held with community stakeholders and citizens panels that broadly represented the local population.
The purpose of the research is to move away from what is a polarised debate on immigration to a more meaningful engagement to understand the views of people that occupy the middle ground in British life.
The findings were that most people take a more nuanced view of immigration. Appreciating that there are some benefits but at the same time there are real concerns too.
The key fears on immigration expressed by local people were:
- Security particularly concerns regarding the effects of criminality from immigrant communities
- The feeling that immigrant communities fail to make a positive contribution to societies
- A lack of trust in the political system to address the concerns around immigration
The local context plays a significant role in forming views on immigration much more than that expected by the researchers. What they experience in their day-to-day lives shapes their views on immigration. As an example where there were problems with rubbish on the streets the immigrant communities culture was blamed.
There is an awareness that there is a distorted portrayal of immigrants through the media but positive representation of immigrants, particularly Muslims, is also mistrusted. Initiatives such as Visit my mosque has resulted in negative encounters. There is a tendency for visitors to look for evidence reinforcing existing negative views. The encounter can also be counterproductive when for example one visitor asked the Muslim if they would visit a church. The reply was no and the visitor is more negative towards the Muslim community viewing them as inward looking and not willing to interact with wider society.
The researchers found fake news stories had enormous strength within communities that suffered from economic and social deprivation. In these areas there is a strong belief that Easter, nativity plays and Christmas trees are banned in some parts of the country because of immigrant communities.
In conclusion there is potential for many in mainstream British society to move towards an extreme intolerant position. It is vital to have conversations with this mainstream section of society to ensure their views and concerns are understood and addressed.