In Sindre Bangstad’s recent article in the Guardian, he wrote how:
“Many Norwegians conveniently managed to convince themselves that Breivik came from Planet Wacko rather than Oslo West, and that his ideas and actions had nothing whatsoever to do with Norwegian discourses on Islam and Muslims in the past decade.”
Sadly, the comment resonated with my own recent experience.
Having been invited to speak at an international conference at the University of Bergen last November on the issue of Europe’s Islamophobia, I was surprised by the response from some of the University’s faculty members in attendance.
Having spoken about the anti-Muslim anti-Islam discourses of the far-right – to much nodding and visible agreement – I went on to speak about ‘liberal discourses’ also; about how they not only fed into the ‘background noise’ about Muslims and Islam across Europe but so too gave some legitimacy to those from the far-right.
For some, even merely suggesting this was a step too far.
Whilst I was given time to finish my paper, the Q&A session became a heated affair. Some of the participants refused to address me directly, some refused to speak in English (the official language of the conference was English) while others resorted to mere insults. In the end, a professor stood up and ordered a number of his staff to walk out in protest.
Last night I was invited to speak about Islamophobia at a meeting of the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub. You can find out more about Birmingham Skeptics by clicking here but in essence, the group aim to put on events of a broadly skeptical or scientific theme that will interest as many people as possible.
Being an entirely different audience than normal for me, I took up the challenge and delieverd my talk in the upstairs bar of the Victoria pub on John Bright Street in Birmingham city centre.
Today, one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics – Patrick Redmond – posted a review of my talk on the group’s website. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Patrick not just for his very kind words about me but also for his review which is absolutely spot on – I couldn’t improve it in any way whatsoever !!!
As such, I’m reproducing it below but if you would prefer to read the article – and associated comments – on their website, you can do so by clicking here.
Questions and challenges for a liberal society and for a Skeptics in the Pub
To those that don’t know any better they might think that Skeptics in the Pub is just about mediums and homeopathy. It’s more than that though; it’s about looking at difficult questions and claims and trying to discern the evidence. Not all subjects are black and white and nor should they be. Last night we were fortunate to have a great talk by Dr Chris Allen, “Islamophobia, Questions and Challenges for a Liberal Society”. This was Chris’s first visit to a SitP and I’m always a bit nervous and excited when we have a debut speaker as you are never sure what is going to be said or how it will go down.
(Being Director Research & Policy at an equalities and human rights agency – brap – means that I have to communicate with others about the things that we are concerned about. Below is a slightly belated post relating to the findings from the recently published British Social Attitudes Survey. You can visit the brap website here but do please note that the opinions expressed by brap are solely those of the organisation and do not necessarily reflect my own. Suffice to say, the opposite also applies. Thanks also to the Tasneem Project for condensing the survey into manageable chunks from which this brap release drew heavily.)
Last week, the 24th British Social Attitudes Survey was published. Whilst the headline findings conclude that British people are on the whole becoming more ‘tolerant’ and ‘liberal’ in their views and practices brap notes that this ‘tolerance is not extended to all in society. As the report notes:
“If anything bucks the general trend suggested by the survey of a “more tolerant Britain” they are the twin issues of race and poverty.
One in four people now think that poverty is due to “laziness or lack of willpower” – up from one in five in 1986.
And while prejudice against homosexuals has fallen, there has been an increase in the number of people (30%) who describe themselves as prejudiced against people of other races, compared to 2001 (25%)”
The report’s authors note that the rise in racial prejudice “is likely to reflect the impact of events such as 9/11″. In other words, a hardening of attitudes towards Muslims has underpinned this rise.
Evidence from the report also shows that pockets of prejudice continue to exist in today’s society:
In 1987, three-quarters of people (75%) thought that homosexuality was always or mostly wrong. Now, a third (32%) take this view.
Three in ten people (30%) describe themselves as very or a little prejudiced against people of other races, down from 34% in 1985. But there has been an increase in racial prejudice since 2001, when only 25% described themselves in this way. This is likely to reflect the impact of events such as 9/11. The increase however has been among those who feel ‘a little prejudiced’ rather than ‘very prejudiced’ (which has remained unchanged at 2% since 1991).
Nearly one in five employees (18%) think that there is some prejudice in their workplace against Asian employees. 13% think this in relation to black employees, and 13% about disabled employees.
Around a quarter of employees (22%) think that their colleagues would mind if an Asian with suitable qualifications was appointed as their boss. However, only 9% say that they themselves would mind this appointment.
The most commonly admitted prejudice relates to age: over a third of employees (35%) think that their colleagues would mind a suitably qualified younger person being appointed as their boss (17% say that they themselves would mind). The lowest levels of prejudice relate to women; 12% think that their colleagues would mind having a woman as their boss (5% say that they themselves would mind).
A substantial minority think that equal opportunity measures for different groups have ‘gone too far’. A third of people (36%) think that equal opportunity measures for black and Asian people have gone too far, while 41% think that they are about right. But when it comes to disabled people or those with a long-term illness, only 6% think that equal opportunities measures have gone too far, while 57% think that they have not gone far enough.
The co-author of the report, Chris Creegan, comments that there are two clear messages emerging from the survey:
‘The first is that there is little appetite for further measures on equal opportunities – except to pursue equality for disabled people. The second is that attitudes to different groups are not uniform, implying that a one-size-fits-all approach must be avoided’.
You can download a copy of the report here.