In Depth

White Brits ‘twice as likely to hold extreme views’ as British Pakistanis, survey finds

New research also shows higher proportion of Muslims than Christians condemn extremist statements

White people in the UK are almost twice as likely to hold extremist views as British people of Pakistani descent, a new study suggests.

Researchers analysed the results of a survey in which 618 men and women were asked whether they condoned actions including suicide bombings and terror attacks as a “form of political protest” or way to “fight injustices”. A total of 15% of the white respondents expressed sympathy for such extreme action, compared with 8% of those with Pakistani heritage.

When classed by religion, 18% of Christians and 8% of Muslims expressed at least some sympathy for hypothetical acts of terrorism, while 59% of Christians and 68% of Muslims condemned them, The Independent reports.

All of the respondents live in the English towns of Blackburn, Darwen, Bradford and Luton, and both the white and Pakistani-origin groups included some people who were born in Britain and some who were migrants, according to a newly published paper on the study in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers found that native-born Brits were more than twice as likely to condone terrorism in some circumstances as those born abroad.

“British counterterrorism policy has had an undue focus on Islamic fundamentalism, with white British extremism normally considered as a lesser option,” said lead researcher Professor Kam Bhui, from Queen Mary University of London.

But “this research suggests that a focus on tackling Islamic fundamentalism is flawed and we need to consider extremism more generally”, he continued. 

The findings should “remind us that our instinctive tendency to view outsiders as potentially dangerous can blind us to home-grown threats”, agrees Tom Jacobs in an article for US-based progressive magazine Pacific Standard.

Dr Clive Gabay, a senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary, added: “These findings dovetail with other research that suggests that large numbers of those who voted in favour of leaving the European Union were rural and suburban middle-class voters with racist and prejudicial attitudes towards migrants driven by socio-economic anxieties.” 

The new study “also found people who were depressed, single or younger were more likely to hold extremist views than those who are happy, married or older”, says the i news site.

Bhui said the higher incidence of extremist sympathies among those suffering depression, anxiety and PTSD “shows us how important it is to support people with mental health issues, who may be less able to manage radicalising messages, and could end up adopting extremist sympathies”.

Researchers have “called for the new study to be used by authorities working to stop radicalisation before it progresses to terrorism, amid a review of the Government’s Prevent strategy”, says The Independent.

Official statistics published last week showed that 43% of suspected terrorists arrested are white, compared with 32% who are Asian.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Through the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, we are taking a comprehensive approach to tackling all forms of extremism. We have been clear that we will not tolerate any group or individual that spreads hate by demonising those of other faiths or ethnicities, or stokes fears within our communities.”

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