Children as young as 13 are displaying signs of Islamophobia and are voicing their support for the British National Party, researchers have found.
Young teenagers are increasingly saying they have negative views towards Muslims and do not want Islamic culture expressed in the classroom. The study of 1,500 students aged 13 to 24 was presented at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Manchester yesterday.
Researchers asked students from 14 secondary schools and one further education college in York for their views on Islam since 11 September 2001. Three of the schools were from the independent sector and the others came from a wide geographical and socio-economic area.
Nathalie Noret, the lead researcher, from York St John’s College, said: “The younger pupils were more likely to exhibit extreme views and Islamophobia than older students, and there were no differences between schools.” She added that Islamophobia was a “double whammy” as it discriminated against people not just on the basis of religion but also the colour of their skin.
Overall, 43 per cent of the participants said their attitudes towards Muslims had got worse or much worse since the attacks. A quarter said they had worsened still further since the invasion of Iraq.
Ten per cent of girls and 23 per cent of the boys said they would object to female Muslim school pupils wearing a hijab in the classroom.
When asked about the British National Party, almost 10 per cent said they either agreed or agreed strongly with the views of its far-right politicians, with 15 per cent saying they were neutral.
Boys were more likely to adopt extreme views and Islamophobic attitudes than girls, with 4.5 per cent of the male participants strongly agreeing with the BNP, against 1.2 per cent of girls. Similarly, 23 per cent of the boys said their attitudes to Muslims had become much worse since 2001, against 14 per cent of the girls.
More than 10 per cent of non-Muslim students said they had seen or heard verbal or physical victimisation of Muslim pupils inside or outside school.
One example involves a 14-year-old schoolboy and two other teenagers, 16 and 17, who desecrated dozens of Muslim graves last year in Charlton, south-east London. At Inner London Crown Court yesterday they received community rehabilitation orders.
Judge Lindsay Burn told them: “The jury were convinced, and I am satisfied, that at least one of your motivations was hostility to the religious beliefs of those buried in that section of the cemetery, namely those of the Muslim faith.”
Anas Altikriti, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: “It is extremely saddening when children are already adopting attitudes like this towards Muslims. Children get these views from television and the media and the conversations they hear from adults. It is incredibly distressing that when they should be at an age where they rise above race and colour and creed, children are already having these negative emotions.”