The Guardian has a story on the attitudes towards homosexuality of British, French and German Muslims, as disclosed by the Gallup Coexist Index 2009, commissioned by the Coexist Foundation, an impressive body of worthies.

There are many interesting little gems in this survey. For example, more British Muslims, than the British public at large, would like to live in a mixed society of “those who share your ethnic and religious background and others who do not”. By contrast, a higher proportion of “the British public” would like to like in ethnically and religious monocultural neighbourhoods. The British Public, contrary to the Guardian article, may include some Muslims as a weighted (and therefore small) part of that sample.

There’s interesting stuff in there. 3% of British Muslims regard the hijab as a “threat to British culture”. But 26% of the British Public are of that view. By contrast, 12% of British Muslims regard it as “an enrichment to British culture”. That view is shared by 37% of the British Public. The French Public is much more likely to regard the hijab as threatening to European culture, while only 29% believe it to be an enrichment.

Oh, and 2% of British Muslims find honour killing acceptable. While 3% of the general public find “crimes of passion” morally acceptable, no British Muslims expressed that view.

However, the story that the Guardian has picked up on is this, and it is quite shocking:

The French public is more likely than any other population polled to view homosexuality (78%) as morally acceptable. As points of comparison, 68% of Germans and 58% of Britons believe homosexuality is morally acceptable.

Among European Muslim populations surveyed, the acceptability of homosexuality is highest among French Muslims (35%) and lowest among British Muslims (0%).

Well, hurrah for the French!

But there’s an important story here, and it is one that the Guardian has missed. It was picked up by a commenter a thread, below, and it is this. A reason for the disparity between the views of British, French, and German Muslims may be as follows. British Muslims are largely South Asian in descent. German Muslims are significantly of Turkish and Kurdish heritage. French Muslims are overwhelmingly North African in origin. In other words, what you’re seeing here could in part reflect significant regional variations in attitudes.

This, in effect, is a story about categorisation. It shows, clearly, that a monolithic attitude towards Muslims, as a bloc, is mistaken. It would also be interesting to see what the results would be if we sliced the cake in a slightly different way: by looking at the attitudes of “People Who Attend A Religious Ceremony At Least Once At Least Once A Month, or if we compared the attitudes of “British Muslims” with (say) “British Christians of African Descent”.

Indeed, it is interesting that few – not even the BNP – would suggest that our values are under attack by the presence in our societies of British Christians of African Descent, who generally also regard homosexuals with moral disdain. Yet that is a charge easily levied at “British Muslims”.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that this is not a disturbing finding of the survey. It is pretty dismal that out of 500 British Muslim interviewees, not one found homosexuality morally acceptable. I would, however, be interested to hear how what percentage would find it acceptable that a person be attacked in the street because of their sexuality, or indeed, how many of those of all faiths and ethnicities would commit such an act themselves. Or vote for a law which imposed punishment on homosexuals for expressing affection towards each other. That’s a figure that I do regard as a matter of public concern. I suspect – hope – that very few people in this country would find that acceptable. I find the national response on both “Crimes of Passion” and honour killing, heartening in that respect.

The point here is one which Kenan Malik makes well in From Fatwa to Jihad. It was only following the pro-fatwa, anti-Rushdie demonstrations, that “muslimness”, as an official categorisation, was endorsed. That endorsement may not wholly have created that identity out of nothing, but it gave it respectability, common currency, and political power.

Perhaps it isn’t only the North African heritage of most French Muslims that explains the difference in attitudes towards homosexuality. Perhaps it is also, in part, a product of the long established French state policy of laïcité. After all, it isn’t only the French Muslims who have decoupled their moral views from the teachings of their faith.


Joseph K points out something that I had carelessly missed:

That’s strange. I looked the list of Trustees of the Coexist Foundation and found, as I expected, a list of well-meaning liberal worthies, churchmen, academics etc. And, oddly, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt.

This, surely, cannot be the same Sheikh Ali Gomaa who, at the time of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, declared Hezbollah‘s attacks on Israel as “defense of its country and not terrorism.” (conveniently ignoring the fact that it was a deliberate attack on a Israeli patrol on Israeli territory by Hezbollah “defenders of Lebanon” that started the conflict.)

Not the same Ali Gomaa who, during the same conflict, wrote in the Egyptian state newspaper Al-Ahram:

“These lies have exposed the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers who were described by Filmange in his book The Treasure Hidden in the Talmudic Laws [sic], which tells how [the Jews] planned [to prepare] a matzo [unleavened Passover bread] using human blood”.

And definitely not the same Ali Gomaa who, having told the Washington Post’s On Faith forum that Muslims are free to leave the faith, then backtracked on his statement, declaring that Islam prohibits Muslims from changing their faith and that apostasy was a a crime “which must be punished.”

Not, it can’t be the same guy. I mean, why would an organisation promoting inter-faith understanding have anything to do with someone holding such views?

That is pretty remarkable.

Gomaa should clearly resign from the Coexist Foundation.