‘What do British Muslims really think?’ Neither Trevor Phillips nor the mainstream media have sincerely attempted to answer that question.
On Monday 11 April 2016, the market research company ICM published the findings of a juniper survey on British Muslim opinion, which coincided with Channel 4’s What Do British Muslims Really Think? documentary.
Some 1,081 participants from areas with at least 20 percent Muslim population were asked a total of 53 questions on a variety of topics. Unsurprisingly, there were some interesting results, such as Muslims holding onto normative Islamic views, whilst positively identifying themselves with Britain.
Predictably, the mainstream media did not hang about in cherry-picking the most “controversial” and de-contextualised findings pertaining to Sharia law, homosexuality, Prophet Muhammad, polygamy, and Muslim perceptions of Jews, whilst ignoring the following:
• 94 percent of Muslims feel that they can practice their faith freely in Britain
• 86 percent of Muslims feel that they belong in Britain
• 83 percent of Muslims condemn all forms of terrorism
• 85 percent of Muslims condemn suicide bombings
• 73 percent of Muslims oppose ISIS
But the Muslim community’s 15 years’ experience as experts in condemning terrorism did not prevent the main protagonist pushing a seemingly divisive narrative on national television. The former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Phillips, was given the responsibility to analyse the poll’s results, and he concluded that Muslims living in Britain were a “nation within a nation” – a problematic choice of words on his biased reading of a survey with a number of methodological flaws.
It should come as no surprise that a significant number of Muslims espouse mainstream views according to the Quran and the Prophetic teachings. But unfortunately, Islamic orthodoxy has become synonymous with indicators to violent extremism, according to the prevalent “conveyor belt theory” which is championed by the current British government. This baseless “theory” continues to be disproven by numerous academic studies and security analysis, that suggests that religion is not the key driver to terrorism – rather, it plays a contributing and usually a concluding role to an array of grievances and socio-political realities.
But putting all this aside, this survey, and Phillips’ interpretation of its findings, should be rejected and called out for what it is – a highly politicised and skewed poll, which only reinforces the dominant Islamophobic narrative that is peddled by the high echelons of power.
Here are just a few glaring inconsistencies, politically loaded questions, and methodological flaws in the survey:
• Out of a total 53 questions, 13 were related to Jews. That is nearly a quarter of the questions asked in the poll. Was this poll trying to uncover “Muslim conspiracy theories about Jews” as stated by Prime Minister David Cameron?
• All the questions relating to belief and support of a “Caliphate” or an Islamic state were framed in context to ISIS.
• The question on reporting terrorists to the police was framed in the context of the war in Syria – a defensive war of survival against a brutal secular regime, which is deemed as legitimate resistance by many Muslims.
• The lack of qualitative substance and context on theological questions.
• What criteria were used to select the 1,008 members of the control group?
• What was the racial and religious makeup of the control group, and why wasn’t this published? A control group consisting of Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Asian non-Muslims would have been a more accurate comparison, to let’s say, a control group consisting mainly of white secularists, liberals, agnostics, and atheists.
• The conflation between cultural practices and Islamic norms. For example, why is female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages associated with being Muslim? FGM is non-existent among south-east Asians, and forced marriages to first cousins is virtually unheard of among Africans and Arabs.
• The disregarding of Muslims from areas with less than 20 percent Muslim populations.
‘Muscular integration’ or forced assimilation?
Personally, I don’t actually feel the survey’s findings are a cause for concern per se, in fact, some of it reflects the religious views of 150 influential British Muslims within the “Normative Islam Report” commissioned by 5Pillars. The problem lies in the wording of numerous questions, the absence of context, conflation between fringe cultural practices and Islam, and Trevor Phillips’ “muscular” analysis of the findings on a policy level.
The underlying message behind Phillips’ analysis throughout yesterday’s programme was that Muslims must accept British values, and unreservedly aspire to everything and anything deemed “British” like the “rest of us”.
However, the findings of the ICM poll appear to contradict many other studies on British Muslim opinion, as well as surveys carried out on white non-Muslims. For example, a YouGov poll from 2010 stated that 51 percent of British people supported capital punishment. Such polls undermine the growing assumption that British people are a homogenous group of liberals.
Even if an “illiberal” religious minority or working class were growing in number, theoretically this should never pose a problem in a liberal society, which emphatically champions mutual tolerance and freedom of religion from the rooftops of 10 Downing Street. If this is a problem, and it does increasingly appear to be becoming one, then secular liberals in general need to reflect on their own worldview in reference to its applicability, consistency and coherence.
The Channel 4 poll, and more importantly Phillips’ conclusion, has to be understood in a particular context; and that context includes the repercussions of the war on terror, draconian anti-terror policies, the alarming rise of Islamophobia in Britain, and the normalisation of demonising Islam and Muslims in the media.
The casual relationships between Islam and violence assumed by Phillips, and the superimposition of Islam as a determining factor of the poll’s findings should be comprehensively challenged.
What is wanted from British Muslims?
But sadly, the manner in which the survey’s findings were reported on by the press, and conveyed by Phillips in the Channel 4 documentary, only reinforces the systematic continuation of pressuring Muslims to assimilate to secular liberalism, dressed up as “active integration”.
Muslims have lived in this country for the best part of 70 years, and they continue to contribute positively in numerous professional fields, academic institutions and economic industries. Muslims are the most charitable people in the UK, and do not hesitate to come to the aid of their fellow non-Muslim citizens, as witnessed during last December’s flood relief work in the north. Numerous Muslim organisations frequently hold open days at mosques, and engage in community projects hand-in-hand with people of all faiths and persuasions.
Yet this does not seem to be enough. The religious practices and values of Muslims are dissected with a magnifying glass, whilst the conservative and “illiberal” beliefs of other faith groups are ignored.
The desire of Muslims to live amongst their co-religionists is magnified, yet the innate human tendencies of Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, upper middle-class whites, blacks and eastern Europeans to live among people who they share the same culture, language and religion with is never scrutinised, or linked with criminality.
If the British government insists on continuing its ideological crusade to force Muslims to assimilate to secular liberalism by linking religious orthodoxy to terrorism, then more Muslims will become disenfranchised, grievances will build up, and the widespread dissemination of negative stereotypes within wider society will be a recipe for disaster.