Friday, 21 September 2012

The Ebbs and Flows of Radicalism

This week has seen a continuation of the chaos and controversy throughout the Arab world prompted by the release of the amateur video "The Innocence of Muslims". Very well-timed, therefore, is the release by the Pew Research Centre of new data on global religious intolerance.

These statistics show not only an increase in the numbers of people suffering from religious harassment, but also an increase in the number of countries that seek to actively restrict different kinds of religious observance. Christians in particular saw a significant rise in opposition when compared to the previous year, and remain the most harassed religious group worldwide, according to the study. Buddhists also saw a large rise in opposition, although they remain the least troubled individual group covered by the study.

The release of this data does however come soon after that of a very different set, this time focussed entirely upon the UK. A recent study by the Extremis Project and YouGov designed to map the development of political radicalism in Britain appears to tell a much more encouraging story. While a significant proportion of the population remains open to policies aimed at curbing the growth of religious groups or halting all immigration (for example), these views are largely polarised towards older sections of the population. Those under 39 (and those under 24 even more so) appear largely opposed to such policies.

Initial analysis of the data has suggested that this is evidence of "an emerging generation that is both more tolerant and accepting". This is a fairly optimistic appraisal, as the study fails to take into account the data from previous years needed to draw such a conclusion. It might equally be evidence of a modern youth already familiar with and ready to accept the harsh realities of the present economic environment, or of a relationship between age and discomfort with social change, for example.

Whether this is a trend that will continue is therefore a mystery, especially in the face of evidence from the Pew study that suggests that Britain has actually become less tolerant of different religions since 2007. Nevertheless, it presents a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. That, if nothing else, should be something to be cheerful about.

The data on religious restrictions can be found here and on the Guardian's Datablog. The study on extremist views in Britain can be found here.