One of the most influential think tanks in London, Policy Exchange, in conjunction with the polling company ICM, surveyed more than 3,000 British Muslims and held a number of focus groups across the UK to better understand their attitudes towards a range of issues.
They have just released their findings in a report called Unsettled Belonging: A survey of Britain's Muslim Communities.
There were some very interesting findings, most notably the fact that the majority of British Muslims in the UK are just like everyone else – they share the same concerns, hopes and aspirations as the rest of civil society. According to the foreword:
"On the whole, [Muslims] are among the country's most loyal, patriotic and law-abiding citizens."
British Muslims comprise a more religiously devout sub-set of the UK population, but it is clear that the more religious character does not detract from the fact that most of them are living secular lifestyles. So why, oh why, do many media outlets and governments want us British Muslims to be engaged with differently from the rest of society?
Well, it is a question of gatekeeper representation – the fallacy that most Muslims only regard themselves as having one identity only, which for many non-Muslims is best reflected by the global Islamist Muslim Ummah gang.
To answer this question in part, we have to examine the data in more detail and look at some of the history of Muslim engagement by authorities over the last two decades. Out of the 3,000 people surveyed, only 20% expressed they see themselves as being represented by those organisations who claim to speak for their communities, and The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was identified by just 9% of those who preferred to engage via Muslim organisations. This equates to only 1.9% of British Muslims surveyed saying that the MCB represents them.
This is worth noting, as an organisation that claims to have the largest Muslim representation in the UK has seen their support go down from 6% (in a previous survey by Policy Exchange) to less than 2% over the last decade.
We can say that the model of engaging primarily with Islamist organisations as representatives of wider British Muslims is dying
Reminiscent of days gone by where colonial masters would ask people to "take us to your leader", the previous Labour government empowered the MCB as their pet project to become Muslim community interlocutors and gatekeepers. A recent Muslim Brotherhood review found that the MCB are heavily influenced by Islamist organisations such as The Muslim Brotherhood, and that what was actually happening was a reinforcement of Islamist identity politics driving Muslims into the trap that the best way for political and social engagement for British Muslims was via this 'gatekeeper' model. Having photographs taken with prime ministers and senior politicians gave them the credibility and legitimacy to be able to spin this yarn.
The Labour government realised its mistake. In an attempt to suffocate them from the political oxygen the organisation needed to survive, removed the MCB twice from their table for not doing enough to tackle extremism, and their deputy for having signed the Istanbul Declaration, which specified that attacks on British troops in the Middle East were legitimate, as well as advocating attacks on Jewish communities around the world.
The coalition and current government decided they would continue with this strategy so as to isolate the MCB's ideas and support for hate preachers and, after reading the findings of this report, we can say that the model of engaging primarily with Islamist organisations as representatives of wider British Muslims is dying. Yet why do lazy journalists and commentators still go to them as the very gatekeepers and representatives they claim to be?
We can now quantify that in fact the MCB is a fringe element that is by no means representative of British Muslim communities. Furthermore, nobody does nor should represent British Muslims other than the representatives they elect in a secular democracy – which the survey shows is exactly what British Muslims want.
British Muslims have rejected en masse Muslim gatekeepers such as MCB – now it's time for the rest of society to catch up and acknowledge it, and we must realise that the model does not work.