British Muslims
People ride on Bumper cars during an Eid celebration in Burgess Park on July 28, 2014 in London, EnglandGetty

For an enemy within, British Muslims are surprisingly patriotic. And for a faith that is supposed to be inherently incompatible with the Western world, Muslims are comfortable enough living in it.

A poll of British Muslims by ComRes on behalf of BBC Radio 4 found the following: 93% believe they should always obey British laws; 95% feel loyalty to the country; 84% would not leave Britain to live in a Muslim state; and 85% feel zero sympathy towards those fighting against western interests.

Perhaps, after all, British Muslims are not simply a swollen angry mass of Islamists who would lop off your infidel head given half a chance and a machete. Maybe British Muslims are for the most part – and here is a radical thought – just like everyone else in the country.

Muslims in Britain are smeared by all sides of the political divide. The right often portrays them as outsiders, an uncivilised people whose faith is incompatible with Western life, represented by pantomime villains like that hook-handed freak Abu Hamza.

They are seen as, above all, a threat. To parts of the right, every Muslim is a potential terrorist, a sleeper agent waiting for an opportune time to commit another 7/7.

On the left, Muslims are also lumped in together like they are a monolithic bloc, who all think the same and act the same. Muslims are angry at the West, we are told. All of them.

When there are violent protests on the streets of Karachi at Western cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, in which people are hurt and even killed, we are told these outrageous acts are indicative of the rage felt by all Muslims across the world.

Charlie Hebdo impact

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we were told by many leftists that the racist cartoonists were targeting all Muslims with their depictions of the Prophet Muhammed, despite the fact that the images clearly satirised the fringe of extremists under that broad banner of Islam.

I suspect many Muslims, who may have been offended by the depiction in itself, were capable of understanding the context of the cartoons and their intended targets, even if those claiming to speak on their behalf – without any authority to do so – could not.

You may point to the ComRes poll that shows 78% of British Muslims find images of their prophet "deeply offensive to me personally". But it is possible to be both deeply offended by something and able to accept that within a free society people have the right to offend you.

This is reflected by other poll questions within the survey. A huge 85% of British Muslims do not think organisations that publish depictions of the Prophet Muhammed should be attacked. And 68% said violence against individuals who publish such images can never be justified.

Though 24% thought it could sometimes be justified, a troublingly large number, you cannot help but wonder what the result would be if you asked all Britons the same question but with burning poppies as the premise. It would not surprise me if the result was higher than 24%.

Charlie Hebdo
Gunmen face police officers during an attack on the offices of Charlie HebdoAnne Gelbard/AFP

The attitude of a minority of Muslims to freedom of speech is indicative of a much wider problem we have in society where we are intolerant – sometimes to the point of violence – of things we personally find offensive. It is by no means a uniquely "Muslim problem".

Just 20% of those polled think Western liberal democracy is incompatible with Islam, against 72% who believe it is compatible. Muslims are as much a part of the West, and British society, as anybody else.

Reasons to be worried

There are significant causes for concern in the poll. That is undeniable. For 30% of British Muslims aged 18 to 34 to say they have some sympathy with the motives of the Charlie Hebdo attackers is scary.

It speaks to the risk of radicalisation that we must counter in an age where youngsters are running off to join Islamic State (Isis), despite its well-publicised brutal crimes, among them burning people alive in cages and sawing off the heads of those they do not like.

But it is not just the extreme fringe that should worry us. There are also large minorities of Muslims who appear to feel ostracised by a society in which they are routinely demonised in parts of the media. In the poll, 35% said they felt most people do not trust British Muslims. And 46% said they thought British society was becoming less tolerant of Muslims. This is shameful.

If we are to fight Islamic extremism in Britain, we need to support the country's liberal Muslims, not make them feel unwelcome in their own homes and on their own streets. We should show young Muslims being groomed by radicals that they are part of Britain, that they have options and opportunities here and are wanted, as Muslims, to play an active role within society.

Both left and right are guilty of judging all Muslims by the actions of the Islamists. It is like judging every socialist by the actions of Stalin, or every Christian by those raving nut jobs in the US who bomb abortion clinics.

The right needs to stop painting them as an invading foreign evil to be purged from the land. The left should stop siding with Islamists out of a misguided cultural relativism that has seen them sacrifice their purported principles and alienate liberal Muslim allies, such as through accommodating the segregation of genders on university campuses to appease zealots.

Muslims in the West are a huge and diverse group of individuals, with competing beliefs and attitudes. But the ComRes poll shows the overwhelming majority of those in this country are united not just by their faith. They are united by their Britishness too. Let us celebrate that.