14 April 2016
The Muslim Council of Britain today issued the following reaction to the build-up to and broadcast of the programme “What British Muslims Really Think?” aired on Channel 4 on 13 April 2016. The programme claimed to present ‘the most detailed and comprehensive survey of British Muslim opinion yet’, based on polling conducted by ICM.
Responding to the programme, Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The picture presented by Trevor Phillips of British Muslims is one that the vast majority of British Muslims do not recognise and reject. It has been widely derided for cobbling together all the negative stereotypes people have of Muslims.
Rather than be ‘a nation within a nation’ as the programme asserts, the British Muslim community is in fact a diverse one with a multiplicity of views.
Statistics can be misinterpreted in different ways when not understood in the appropriate context, For example, the programme highlighted that 4% of British Muslims said suicide bombing was justified and sensationally claimed this would mean 120,000 would justify this heinous act.
However, using the same methodology with the ‘control group’, would mean some 630,000 non-Muslims think suicide bombing is justified too. Of course, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, believing suicide bombing is justified is plain wrong.
The majority of Muslims, we believe, do not think that homosexuality should be banned, that terrorism is OK, that our Jewish friends are the enemy or that Shariah law should be the law of the land.
We recognise that Muslims, like people of other faiths, must reconcile their deeply held beliefs and the evolving norms of our British society. But this cannot be done by stigmatising and scapegoating Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims are appreciative of their nation and what it offers, particularly in the respect of religious plurality. We are all in favour of integration, but the starting point should not be that Muslims are the problem, “not quite British enough”, and must be civilised into a pre-existing notion of Britishness. Integration is a process that requires the involvement of all communities, not just Muslims.
We are in no doubt the presentation of these results will be seized by some to create anxieties. This programme was less about what “British Muslims Really Think” and more about “what we want to think of British Muslims.” It would be worrying if this divisive programme will subsequently be considered as a basis for formulating government policy. The government’s review into integration in this country would do itself no favours it if took this programme, and its skewed presentation of the ICM poll seriously.
It would seem that the poll, as showcased in the programme, focuses heavily on asking ‘negative’ questions and spends little time on what really matters to British Muslims. As our own research shows in our Fairness not Favours and British Muslims in Numbers document, British Muslims don’t only think about religion in its strictest sense but are also worried about the quality of their lives, charity and the people around them.
We also note that the starting point of this programme was terrorism and extremism. Adherence to Islam, the programme seems to argue based on a misinterpreted understanding of Islam, leads to terrorism. Essentially it tries to paint for us what a good Muslim and bad Muslim should look like. That is wrong and has been rejected by those who know a thing or two about terrorism. We all know, for example, that many of those misguided young Muslims going to Syria have extremely low levels of religious literacy, almost to the point when some were found to purchase ‘Islam for Dummies’ before they embarked on their misguided journey.
The worrying misinterpretation of the poll should also be of concern to the pollsters. Is ICM, the polling company, happy with the way in which Channel 4 have presented its findings in such a divisive manner? Earlier in the year Survation, a polling company, distanced themselves from The Sun newspaper when they claimed that 1 in 5 British Muslims sympathised with Jihadists. The paper was subsequently censured by IPSO.
There are also particular concerns around the methodological basis of the poll. We understand the poll draws answers from areas where Muslims formed more than 20% of the population. These happen to be some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK with a disproportionately high number of people with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnicity. Choosing specifically to poll in areas that are poor and more religiously conservative, skews the results and makes it indicative of these areas and not of British Muslims nationally.
Many British Muslims will find it bemusing that commentators and the media have constantly tried and failed to paint a picture of British Muslims at odds with the rest of the country. The way this poll has been formulated and presented in this climate of fear against Muslims is most unfortunate. We note that similar attitudes have not been compared in other faith communities.
To single out Muslims in this study may be deemed as ‘courageous’ by the establishment, but in our view it will do nothing but harden attitudes on all sides.