BBC Poll of British Muslims – What does it really tell us about Islamophobia?


So there has been a poll of British Muslims that was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and the results are now out.

There is both good news but also some rather worrying stuff as well.

First, what did they actually do?

They polled one thousand and that is supposed to be a number that is statistically representative of the population of close to three million Muslims in Britain, however, I do have a problem with this. Primarily, the term “Muslim” is actually quite vague, as vague as say the term “Christian”, so what does it actually mean? In reality there is a vast diversity of different variations of Islam, just as there is a vast diversity of different types of Christian belief, so I’d be very interested to see how such numbers break down across the various sects, the term “Muslim” is simply too vague to give us a really meaningful insight.

But let’s put that thought to one side and dive in anyway.

The Key Findings

  • More than two in five (46%) feel that being a Muslim in Britain is difficult due to prejudice against Islam.
  • Almost all Muslims living in Britain feel a loyalty to the country (95%). Just 6% say they feel a disloyalty.
  • Nine in ten (93%) British Muslims believe that Muslims in Britain should always obey British laws.
  • One in four (27%) British Muslims say they have some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
  • However, two thirds (68%) say acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet can never be justified while a quarter (24%) disagree.
  • Muslim women are more likely than men to feel unsafe in Britain.
  • One in nine (11%) British Muslims feel sympathetic towards people who want to fight against western interests while 85% do not.
  • Half (49%) believe Muslim clerics preaching that violence against the west can be justified are out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion, while 45% disagree.

So can I get the full and complete Analysis?

Yep, you will find it here (pdf) it runs to many pages.

If you take a peek, what is immediately interesting is the observation that the numbers generally stay the same regardless of gender, age or regional location, and that surprises me a bit because I would have expected some gender and age variations for most questions.

However, one interesting divergence was in reply to the question “It is appropriate that Muslims who convert to other religions are cut off by their family?

  • Overall 77% disagree

… but …

  • while only 69% of the over 45 age group disagreed, a rather encouraging 81% of the 18-34 age group disagreed

… and that 12% gap clearly points to a younger more tolerant generation.

Media Spin

As you might expect, some factions of the media focus on the bad stuff … for example, the Daily Mail goes with the headline “A quarter of British Muslims have sympathy for motives behind Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris” … er well yes that is bad, but what they don’t highlight is that the vast majority, three quarters to be precise, are not cretinous lunatics and don’t take that stance.

OK, so what about Islamophobia?

In the context of more than two out of five feeling that being a Muslim in Britain is difficult due to prejudice against Islam, you have to wonder what is going on here and consider the thought that perhaps we really are that biased as a culture. But if you think about what is actually happening, then it is perhaps rather inevitable that it will indeed be like this.

On an almost daily basis we all hear about some abhorrent atrocity, a beheading, somebody being burned alive, a bombing or similar, all being committed in the name of Islam, and if challenged, then appropriate verses from the Qur’an can be quoted to justify it by those doing this.

In reply, the general response from the various strands of Islamic belief within our culture is to denounce them as not “true” Muslims, but at the same time these same people will also vigorously defend any criticism of the same text, the Quran, that was utilised to justify and motivate such abhorrent crimes.

This very mixed and rather confusing message leads to a rather natural psychological reaction; people become afraid not just of the violent extremists, but the belief itself and everybody associated with it.

Is this a rational reaction?

If you asked an ex-Muslim such as Ali A. Rizvi, then he would advise you that such fears really are justified, he wrote this in one discussion thread yesterday

I’m not saying Islamophobia doesn’t exist. It does. I myself am Islamophobic. There are seven countries in the world – all Muslim – where I would be killed by the government for being an atheist. In many others, a mob would get to me before the government could offer me any protection. And they would find justification in their book and hadith to do what they do to me, and even quote it in court to make their case as they usually do. If anything, “Islamophobia” is a misnomer. A “phobia” is an irrational fear. My fear is completely rational.

What I’m doing here is making a distinction between criticism of Islam (a bunch of ideas in a book) and anti-Muslim bigotry (hate against real human beings). As a brown man with a Muslim name, I know that this is real, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it. But it’s an insult to genuine victims of anti-Muslim hate to exploit their experiences for the political motive of stifling any criticism of Islam.

To blame all new atheists of inciting anti-Muslim bigotry is like blaming Noam Chomsky for the actions of Al Qaeda. Why? Well, Osama bin Laden praised Chomsky frequently and recommended and quoted his books. They both had similar views of US foreign policy.

By your logic, it follows that we should not aggressively criticize US foreign policy because it could lead to (and has led to, in the aftermath of the exposure of the Abu Ghraib scandal, for example) attacks on innocent Americans overseas. That’s unreasonable.

Islam is an idea that we should criticize like any other. Yes, there are stupid atheists and murderous atheists as in any group, and they sometimes do terrible things, like in Chapel Hill. But is there an atheistic scripture that endorses hate against all who think differently like the Quran (8:12-13, 9:29-30 and many more) or Bible (Leviticus 24:16 and many more)? No. And if there was, I would slam it – unlike many Muslims who actually defend their book when some of their militant co-religionists actually act on its commands.

To counter anti-Muslim bigotry, that has to stop. The words of the scriptures are clear. No one except the choir in the echo chamber buys those mistranslation/misinterpretation/metaphor/out of context etc excuses anymore. Everyone can read for themselves.

New atheists often say or do stupid things, but they don’t kill in the actual name of their beliefs, shouting “Dawkins hu Akbar” or quoting murderous passages from Origin of Species, because that ideology doesn’t exist.

The factors responsible for animosity against Muslims today are the words of their scriptures and the actions of its closest adherents. Blaming critics of Islam for anti-Muslim hate is like blaming Noam Chomsky for anti-American hate.

… and that really does neatly explain it. If the Muslim community is indeed concerned, then the reform needs to happen, not within our culture, but within their own sub-culture.

“Islam is an idea: like other ideas, it must be open to scrutiny. But supporting secularism and challenging Islamism is not fighting “Islam”. It is moving from extremism to liberal pluralism. By neglecting to challenge extremist views, we will only increase anti-Muslim bigotry.” – Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dem candidate for the Hampstead and Kilburn constitiuency is north London

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