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EDITIONS
Monday, 28 October, 2002, 01:11 GMT
British Asians uneasy over Iraq - poll
Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Warned over Iraq, but also admired

A survey conducted for the BBC reveals fears among British Asians over a possible war on Iraq - but also admiration for Tony Blair.
November is an important month of reflection within Britain's Asian communities. Sikhs and Hindus look back at the past year and contemplate the next during Divali on 4 November. Two days later, the country's Muslims will begin a month of fasting for Ramadan.

One of the issues that will perhaps concentrate minds more so this year is the possibility of war with Iraq. And with appropriate timing, the BBC's Asian Network (newly launched on national digital radio this week) has sought to find out what Asians in Britain think.

According to the results, 61% of those polled said they disapproved of how Tony Blair has been handling the Iraq situation to date.

This may not come as a surprise to many, given the current level of public unease already voiced. But when compared with a recent survey of all Britons carried out by Mori, it suggests that the country's Asian groups are more critical of policy than the white population.

Q: Is there more or less racial prejudice than five years ago?
More now: 33%
Less now: 19%
The same: 34%
Don't know
Refused: 1%
This supports anecdotal evidence that has emerged over the summer, most significantly from within the UK's Muslim population.

Community leaders have warned of growing concerns over the prospect of war, for two reasons. Firstly, Asian groups in Britain - not just Muslims - have suffered fallout in the wake of September 11 with a reported increase in racism.

They fear that war will bring more of the same. Secondly, and among Muslims in particular, there is a fear of where exactly the war on terror is headed.

Iqbal Sacaranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, is not known for overly controversial comments. But on the anniversary of September 11 he told Tony Blair not to underestimate the distaste that many Muslims feel for American policy - and warned that he did not want the UK to become seen in the same dim light.

Radical groups

Six out of 10 of those surveyed said they would support a ban of Muslims groups described as extremist. Among the Muslims polled, 55% support a ban.

President George W Bush
President Bush: Some persuading to do
It is fair to say that many Asian community leaders are exasperated by what they regard as persistent generalisations over where they stand on this particular issue.

One northern Imam said: "The whole extremist thing is a bad joke. There's this feeling that Muslims sympathise with extremists. It's like saying all white people think the British National Party is fair-minded. We just can't understand why this is so hard to appreciate."

He went on to suggest that the figure supporting a ban would have been perhaps higher if the issue of exactly what is an "extremist" could be resolved.

For instance, 9,000 people recently attended a London conference on "Muslims in the West". Governments consider the organisers, Hizb ut-Tahrir, to be extremists. But the audience at the London Arena included a large number of families on a day out: all of those we interviewed on the day were horrified at the suggestion that they were somehow a threat to the UK just by being there.

Admiration

When it comes to figures worth admiring, the results are quite stark. In line with similar general polls, politicians figure far lower than actors or sports stars (the most admired figure in this case being film star Amitabh Bachchan).

Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan: Most admired
The most admired politician among those polled was Tony Blair. Even though there is a majority concerned over his handling of Iraq, 21% of respondents placed him in their list of most admired people - placing him joint fourth in the league table with actress Aishwaria Rai.

Home Secretary David Blunkett, who recently sparked controversy among British Asians by suggesting they should speak English at home, won the admiration of only 4%. President George W Bush scored 3% and Conservative leader Iain Duncan-Smith picked up 1% of the vote.

A number of questions revealed important facets of Asian Britain that sometimes goes unnoticed by the white majority - this is not one single community. Half of those polled said their views of the Muslim community had not changed since 11 September.

But a quarter of those polled said they now viewed Muslims less favourably than before, revealing undercurrents that largely go unreported.

Secondly, two-thirds believed that young British Asians belonged more to the UK than to the South Asian nations of their parents and grandparents.

On matters of integration, 46% said immigrants should adopt the "culture and lifestyle" of Britain. A slightly lower figure, 42%, agreed that immigrants should be encouraged to speak English at home.


Mori interviewed 507 Asians in Britain for the BBC Asian Network between 5 and 15 October. Data was weighted to match the known population profile.

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See also:

27 Oct 02 | Entertainment
03 Sep 02 | Politics
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