Thursday, 14 April 2016

What Muslims Don’t Really think

Well, after all the hype, how did Trevor Phillips do? If polled, I’d be inclined to say that after all that hype, the programme itself was an anticlimax. 
Did you think Trevor Phillips’s programme was truly representative of what Muslims think? 
  • Strongly agree, 
  • Agree, 
  • Neither agree nor disagree, 
  • Disagree, 
  • Strongly disagree. 

I’d tick ‘neither agree nor disagree’  
I’m a terribly bad liar. I hardly ever lie in real life, but when I’m polled I lie all the time. Not that I’ve ever been polled about anything interesting. Just market research, which I deeply regretted as soon as I realised I was being bombarded with junk mail purely because of my gullibility.

The programme itself was always going to be an anticlimax, these things always are when all the juicy bits have already been cherry-picked and disseminated all over the place.
I thought it was a good plan to begin with a reassuring preamble about the methodology of the ICM poll. Insurance against the kind of criticism Trevor Phillips correctly anticipated he would face. The last thing a programme like this needs is doubts about its veracity. However it didn’t convince me. 
I mean, the decision to select interviewees from heavily Muslim-populated areas threw up more questions than it answered. The logic of that decision was missing. Surely including areas populated more sparsely (by Muslims) would show up a different set of results with a different set of questions, eg., would these Muslims absorb western culture or resist it more fiercely if they weren’t cushioned by or influenced by the like-minded? 
I was more interested in some of the press reviews of the programme than my own reaction to it. 
Andrew Billen’s review in the Times included this passage: 
“Phillips, knowing that his programme would be controversial and that the pollsters are not riding high on credibility, took admirable care to explain the methodology of his documentary’s professional question posers. I have no quarrel with how ICM found the 1,081 Muslims it talked to face-to-face. Quarrels with the programme’s interpretation of their answers I do have.
However, the Telegraph’s Emma Barnett questions the methodology.:
I don’t have a problem with such surveys being done per se, although there are some serious questions about the methodology used – one being that the only Muslims polled lived in areas where they made up more than 20 per cent of the local population. 

Allison Pearson, also in the Telegraph, takes a different approach. She takes the methodology at face value because she’s much more interested in the fact that at last someone has decided to investigate this topic, and even better, that a mainstream channel has agreed to air it. She takes recent events into account and puts them into context, something which the other journalists cited here seem afraid to do.

Emma Barnett seems angry. She thinks Trevor Phillips has only succeeded in making British Muslims feel more isolated. Jeremy Corbyn’s fans dismissed accusations of his links with terrorists and antisemites as ‘smears’. Is that what Emma Barnett is doing here?
Having had real conversations with some real Muslims, they are appalled by his handiwork and feel attacked, not “listened to”. 
As one woman said to me: “Even the title of the programme implies Muslims have some sort of collective hidden agenda, which is horrifying.” 
Reactions online have been predictably hysterical, with people seizing upon the data to support their creeping Islamophobia.”
This response goes to show that some people are resistant to any interpretation of any kind of poll if the findings indicate something disagreeable.

Andrew Billen seems to be echoing Polly Toynbee. He compares the conservative attitudes of pre-enlightened non-Muslim Britain with current Muslim attitudes towards, say, same-sex marriage or the ethics of including the word ‘obey’ in the marriage vow. 
With a little wishful thinking one can equate and conflate some conservative attitudes in the hope they’ll eventually liberalise. That might be a plausible theory, but the attitude to terrorism was not quite so easy to dismiss. He admitted it was worrying, but he disputed the presentation, i.e., the way the question was phrased.
Well, it’s a poll. The wording’s subtle affect on the outcome is one of the built-in shortcomings of polls. Nuance there is not. 

The issue both the programme and the reviewers skirted round - or ignored - concerned the attitude to Jews. 
Many Muslims said they thought Jews had too much power. That’s a view that is embedded in their religion. That’s where Andrew Billen is wrong. The softening of hard-line views necessitates a softening of the religion itself. The views we fear are part and parcel of the religion. If Muslims are unable to relinquish some of their religiosity (which their religion does not permit) no amount of wishful thinking will help.


  1. What no one seems to realise (or is perhaps prepared to admit) is that the polling will inevitably have UNDERrepresented extreme opinion. Most Jihadis and Jihadi sympathisers aren't so stupid as to think that the security services couldn't one way or another get access to such polling results. And many Muslims are very careful not to show their religion in a bad light - I am sure we all have seen for instance the TV discussion programmes where apologists for Islam wriggle and squirm, dodge and deny, and never admit anything when confronted with the plain fact that punishment for apostasy under Sharia is death, pure and simple. I am not surprised therefore that stoning as a punishment had so few supporters, but if you explained to a devout follower of Islam (assuming they didn't know already) that Mo approved of stoning, then they could never condemn it honestly they could only do so as part of a policy of taqiyya.

  2. One thing about Trevor Phillips that is important in my view is that he is one of the first public figures I can think of who has made some practical suggestions about what can be done to tackle the real problem and alter the cultural mindset of Muslim communities in the UK e.g. suggesting that Sharia courts should be required to sit in public as opposed to counter-terror and "prevent" measures (which . It doesn't really matter about the particular merit of his suggestions - it is a marvel that anyone in public life, so craven has our approach become, to actually make positive proposals that could have some effect.

    We need a proper debate and consideration of a number of possible policies, backed by law.