Saturday 16 April 2016

What British Muslims Really Think, more or less

Islam in England

The most striking aspect of this week's More or Less on Radio 4, however, was its treatment of ICM/Channel 4's 'What British Muslims Really Think' survey.

The programme approached it in its usual debunking spirit, and that tone was maintained throughout. 

Oddly though, the tone was at odds with its findings. And it felt to me as if that was because the programme was engaging in doublethink. They laid out the facts, yet sounded so sceptical about them as to sound snide and dismissive. They sounded as if they didn't want to believe it.

The three types of poll were laid out and ranked: internet polls, telephone polls and person-to-person interviews. Though all were judged imperfect, the face-to-face ones were judged the best. And this ICM/Channel 4 poll was a face-to-face poll.

Then a polling expert laid out why the ICM/Channel 4 poll might be "skewed" (a word the programme kept using). 

He said that, because of costs, ICM/Channel 4 had to go to areas with heavy Muslim populations. To do otherwise would have been ridiculously costly. That, therefore, excluded Muslims who live in areas where they are few other Muslims. And, it was inferred, such Muslims would be more likely to be liberal (as they have to associate far more often with non-Muslim Brits) than the conservative Muslims huddled together in Britain's big towns and cities. 

Thus, the survey was "skewed" in that it gave more emphasis to inward-looking, 'conservative', urban-dwelling Muslims. (I wondered just how many isolated, liberal, rural or suburban Muslims there actually are out there.)

It may just be me but I felt More or Less sounded a bit deflated, however, when the expert then went on to say that - despite that - this ICM/Channel 4 poll was the best survey we've ever had on Muslim opinion in the UK (thus - though this wasn't said - putting the BBC's much-touted past polling into question), and that we need to take it seriously.

None of that then stopped More or Less from continuing with a snide, haughty tone about the ICM/Channel 4 poll and implying it overestimated the 'conservative' (i.e. extreme) element in the British Muslim population. and that this should have been made clearer by ICM/Channel 4. 

I remain doubtful about that. And for anyone who wondered, quite sensibly I'd have thought, whether the polling was actually "skewed" in the opposite direction - by some British Muslims downplaying their real views because they were talking to an outsider (a pollster) or by some British Muslim engaging in Taqiyya - well, you probably won't be surprised to hear that such thoughts never seemed to have crossed the minds of those nice, liberal-minded, 'impartial' folk at More or Less.

It was all a bit odd really - as much of this kind of hand-wringing BBC Radio 4 treatment of Islam in the UK can so often be. The reality seemed to have been glimpsed but everyone on the programme appeared to want to run away from it.


  1. More or Less reveal their ignorance of how Muslim communities work and live. Yes, there might be a minority of Muslims who live outside of areas of high Muslim concentration. But that doesn't mean they aren't travelling thousands of miles every year to maintain contact with family and clan - weddings being the most obvious point of contact.

    And yes I am convinced the polls underestimate extremism, because Jihadis, would be Jihadis and Jihadi sympathisers will not engage with such polls and neither will those very conservative Muslims who instinctively reject all contact with Kaffirs beyond the absolutely essential (gas meter readers, government officials and so on). Reporters often find they simply can't get a view from Mosque attenders be they women or men garbed in conservative Islamic outfit - those people simply refuse to engage. Then , as David Cameron points out, about 25% of Muslim women have no or very poor English language skills - are they likely to get involved?

    More or Less is just the numerate wing (admittedly a very small minority) of the Islington Tendency.

  2. The poll may well under-weight the opinions of liberal Muslims living in largely non-Muslim areas of Britain. However, Trevor Philips' arguments were focused on the effects of segregation on social values, and even the potential to lead to radicalisation.

    Therefore, you could argue that it was more relevant to focus on such areas (areas where c.50% of Muslims live, let us not forget). The findings are still relevant, even if you do wish to dispute how much it translates over to the other 50%.

    There is a hesitancy within the BBC's coverage - as if they worry that the simpletons will not understand the nuances, and instead believe "All Muslims think X,Y & Z". As I've said before, I believe most news consumers are able to decipher the argument, but just want to be informed.


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