Discrimination against Muslims and "Islamophobia" in western society may have encouraged support for the September 11 terrorist attacks, researchers at Leicester University have concluded.
A study has found that more than 2 million Muslim people living in the UK faced the greatest risk out of all religious groups of implicit racism and general discrimination before, as well as after, the attacks.
In a survey of people from five religious and seven ethnic groups, religion was shown to be a stronger motivator for discriminatory sentiment and behaviour than race or ethnicity, with Muslims as the most frequent targets. The research found that white Muslims as well as those from ethnic minority groups were discriminated against.
Although the mainstream Muslim community publicly condemned the "tiny lunatic fringe" who supported the terrorist attacks on the US, the survey found Muslim people in the UK still felt they were treated and viewed with suspicion and hostility.
According to Lorraine Sheridan, a psychology lecturer at Leicester who led the research, the most surprising finding was that these feelings were evident even before September 11.
She suggests that under these conditions, some in the Muslim community were more likely to feel isolated and to support dangerous factions such as al-Qaida.
Ms Sheridan said: "Previous studies have shown that if you discriminate against a certain group, you push them away and make them more likely to support radical organisations. If you treat people badly, then it is more likely they will react against you."
The survey found that ethnic Pakistanis who were Muslims experienced the biggest increase in discrimination after September 11.
A report on the findings says: "One possible reason is that following September 11, Pakistan saw a number of protests against military action in Afghanistan, perhaps leading some westerners to believe that all Pakistanis were supportive of the Taliban."