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U.K. Support for Political Extremism Is Higher Among Whites, a Study Shows

Whites were twice as likely to sympathize with violent protests and/or terrorist acts as native Pakistanis.
Commuters walk at Waterloo station in central London on March 6th, 2019, a day after a suspicious package was found at the station.

Commuters walk at Waterloo station in central London on March 6th, 2019, a day after a suspicious package was found at the station.

What mental image does the term "violent protester" conjure? How about "terrorist"?

A new study reports that, in a survey of people living in Britain, support for political extremism was twice as high among whites than among those of Pakistani heritage.

"This raises concerns about right-wing extremism, and suggests that a focus on tackling Islamic fundamentalism is flawed," lead author Kamaldeep Bhui of Queen Mary University of London said in announcing the study's findings.

Rather than scapegoating one religion or community, he argues, public officials should spend more effort addressing mental-health issues, which the study finds are linked to extremist sympathies.

The research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, analyzed a survey of 618 people living in three ethnically diverse areas of the United Kingdom. Half of the participants were white, and half were ethnic Pakistanis.

All were asked a series of questions about their level of support for various types of politically motivated anti-social actions. These included committing violence during political protests, engaging in terrorists acts as political acts, and using bombs to fight perceived injustice. They also filled out standard questionnaires designed to diagnose depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Just over 15 percent of white respondents expressed sympathy for such tactics, compared to 8.1 percent of those of Pakistani heritage. Breaking the figures down by birthplace, 14 percent of those born in the U.K. expressed extremist sympathies; among immigrants, the figure was 6 percent.

The researchers also found extremist sympathies were more likely among people suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or some combination of those disorders. This confirms a 2014 British study that found people suffering from depression were more at risk of becoming radicalized.

In addition, support for violent protest was also higher among "lifetime users of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs," the researchers add. Anxiety and depression have long been linked to substance-abuse issues including alcoholism.

The results suggest "how important it is to support people with mental-health issues, who may be less able to manage radicalizing messages," Bhui concluded. He noted that such people appear to be susceptible to radicalization, and, without proper care, they "could end up adopting extremist sympathies."

These results also remind us that our instinctive tendency to view outsiders as potentially dangerous can blind us to home-grown threats. In the United States as well as the U.K., the growing terrorist threat may just come from aggrieved white nationalists.