Young British Muslims are more likely than their elders to support sharia law and admire al-Qaida, but three-fifths of 16-to 24-year-olds say they have as much in common with non-Muslims as with Muslims, according to an opinion poll published on Monday.

According to Jonny Paul, writing in the online edition of The Jerusalem Post, the survey, entitled “Living Together Apart: British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism” and carried out by UK think tank Policy Exchange, found evidence that young Muslims held more fundamentalist beliefs on key social and political issues than those over age 55.

Forty percent of Muslims between aged 16 to 24 said they would prefer to live under sharia law in the UK, compared to only 17 percent of those over 55. Thirty-six percent of the younger group said a Muslim who converted to another religion should be “punished by death,” while only 19 percent of the older group agreed.

Thirteen percent of young Muslims surveyed said they “admired” organizations such as al-Qaida and others who were prepared to “fight the West.”

The newspaper says there was also strong support for wearing the veil in public, 74 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds compared with only 28 percent of over-55s, and Islamic schools, 19 percent of over-55s, increasing to 37 percent among 16-to-24-year-olds.

Pollsters questioned 1,003 Muslims, weighted to represent the population across the UK, using Internet and telephone questionnaires.

The newspaper, in a report to which the Associated Press contributed, also said that despite concerns about Islamophobia, the great majority of Muslims – 84 percent – said they have been treated fairly by British society and feel they have as much, if not more, in common with non-Muslims in Britain than with Muslims abroad. The survey concluded that British authorities and some Muslim groups have exaggerated the problem of Islamophobia and fueled a sense of victimization among some Muslims.

Foreign policy was shown to be a key issue for British Muslims, with 58 percent of respondents saying many of the world’s problems were “a result of arrogant Western attitudes.” Their knowledge of foreign affairs was sketchy, with only one in five knowing that Mahmoud Abbas was head of the Palestinian Authority.

Munira Mirza, the leading author of the report, said the results suggested UK government policy was to blame for sharpening divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims and suggested the government should engage Muslims as citizens, not through their religious identity.

She said: “The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multicultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasized difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.

“There is clearly a conflict within British Islam between a moderate majority that accepts the norms of Western democracy and a growing minority that does not,” she added.

Shahid Malik, a Labor member of Parliament who is a Muslim, said: “This report makes very disturbing reading and it vindicates the concern many of us have that we’re not doing enough to confront this issue. For years, I have argued that the [far right] British National Party is a white phenomenon which it is up to the white community to address.

“Well, extremism exists in the name of Islam, and that’s something the Muslim community has to take leadership on. It’s my view that the mainstream umbrella Muslim organizations have not risen to the challenge and don’t accept the depth of the problem that’s facing them.”

Bangladesh-born Baroness Uddin, the only female Muslim member of the House of Lords, said she agreed that British foreign policy had aggravated Muslim grievances but added that the poll did not reflect her experiences of the views of most members of the community.

“Unlike their parents, our young people feel that this is their country and are saying, ‘Why are we being told we do not belong here?’ There is also a problem of a lack of opportunities. Some people have been brutalized by their experiences with the police and this war on terror,” she said.

Poll results for the 16-24 age group, with 209 respondents, had a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percentage points, and for the group of 55 people aged 60 and over the margin was plus or minus 10 percentage points. For the entire sample, the margin of error would be plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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