A majority of the British public believes that multiculturalism is good for the country despite last month's deadly bombings by radicals of the nation's Muslim community, according to a new BBC poll.
The poll showed that 62 percent of the general public and 87 percent of British Muslims surveyed had favorable views of multiculturalism. The presence of ethnic groups in Britain has been hotly debated since the July 7 subway and bus bombings that killed 56 people, including the four presumed bombers, and injured 700, followed by an unsuccessful second attack two weeks later.
But the BBC poll suggested that the public had mixed feelings about such complex issues.
While the survey was greeted by human rights activists and others as a reaffirmation of Britain's acceptance of cultural diversity, it also showed that about one-third of the general public felt multiculturalism to be a threat. In addition, 54 percent agreed that "parts of the country don't feel like Britain any more because of immigration."
The poll, conducted by the Mori research organization for the BBC, questioned 1,004 people around the country, along with a separate survey of 204 British Muslims.
Britain has long maintained tolerant policies toward immigration and has encouraged immigrants to maintain their cultural identities and practices. But Britons were outraged after police reported the bombings were carried out largely by young Muslim men from the nation's Pakistani and East African communities. Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday said in a televised news conference that more effort was needed to encourage immigrants to integrate into British society.
The case of Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical Muslim cleric who left Britain for Lebanon last weekend, underscores the difficulties facing the government as it tries to implement tough new anti-terrorism measures outlined by Blair. Bakri has enraged many Britons for his controversial statements, including a recent assertion that he would not alert the police if he knew of another planned attack.
Yet it remains unclear whether the government could block him from entering Britain if he tried to return.
Bakri arrived from Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s as an expelled dissident. He sought political asylum and was granted permission to stay in Britain indefinitely because of the possibility he could be persecuted if he were to return to Saudi Arabia or his native Syria.
But government officials have told reporters here that Bakri broke no laws by leaving the country, and he could return if he chose to.
"At the moment he has the right to come in and go out," Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told reporters. "It's a democracy, not a dictatorship, for God's sake." But Prescott made it clear he hoped Bakri would stay away.
A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity as is customary for British officials, said the British home secretary did have the power to revoke permission to stay in the country, or to refuse entry to the country, if a person is determined to be detrimental to the "public good." But it remained unclear whether that formulation could apply to Bakri. The issue took on new urgency Wednesday with media reports that Bakri intended to return to Britain for heart surgery at one of the country's publicly financed hospitals.
Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the moderate Muslim Council of Britain, said in an interview that "Omar Bakri has spent 20 years vilifying this country and its values and what it stands for and all the while he has been quite content to live on state benefits. He has no appreciation for the assistance that's been given him."
Bunglawala said the media had seized on Bakri's more controversial statements, including that he would not report fellow Muslims planning an attack on Britain. He called that a "ridiculous" interpretation of Islam that is not shared by the vast majority of British Muslims. But he said Bakri had received so much media attention that he had "created a very skewed view of what our community stands for."