Today’s Daily Mail carries the headline “The latest WikiLeaks revelation: 1 in 3 British Muslim students back killing for Islam and 40% want Sharia law.” If that sounds awfully familiar, it should: back in 2008 the paper revealed that “one third of British Muslim students say it’s acceptable to kill for Islam,” and that “40 per cent want to see the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Britain.”
The Mail in 2010 claim the figures are from a “a survey revealed by the WikiLeaks’ publication of U.S. diplomatic cables,” but in fact the cables simply repeat a survey published in the, er, Daily Mail two years ago.
The figures were dodgy in 2008, and they’re dodgy now, painting a spectacularly misleading picture of the results of a poll of British Muslim students conducted by the Centre for Social Cohesion. Unfortunately the original poll is no longer online, but luckily I worked through some of the actual questions two years ago.
Let’s take the two big assertions, summarized neatly in the Mail’s 2010 article: “1 in 3 British Muslim students back killing for Islam and 40% want Sharia law.” What questions were actually asked?
“How supportive, if at all, would you be of the official introduction of Shari’ah Law into British law for Muslims in Britain?”
Very supportive – 21%
Fairly supportive – 19%”
The headline conveniently drops the clause “for Muslims”, and in 2008 the clause was buried from the article completely. 2010’s reporting is fractionally better, but still implies a black & white debate when in reality the question accomodates a range of views – what does “fairly supportive” mean, for example?
But the biggest and clearest misrepresentation is the claim that “one third of British Muslims students say it’s acceptable to kill for Islam.” This is such a blatant distortion that it’s hard to explain how journalists could twist the results of the poll in such a perverse way by accident. The actual question asked was:
“Is it ever justifiable to kill in the name of religion?”
Yes, in order to preserve and promote that religion – 4%
Yes, but only if that religion is under attack – 28%
32% said that it was acceptable to kill in the name of a religion – not Islam, any religion. Of those, 87.5% said “only in self-defense”, while the tiny remainder said yes to an answer that includes the confusing conflation “preserve and promote”. I’m curious to know what percentage of Christians would give similar answers, and what proportion of human beings in general if we substitute “religion” for “philosophy” or “way of life”.
In fact Kenneth Ballen at the Christian Science Monitor tackled this point quite neatly in 2007, in his article on “the myth of Muslim support for terror,” pointing to opinion polls that showed, for example, that:
“…only 46 percent of Americans think that ‘bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians’ are “never justified,” while 24 percent believe these attacks are ‘often or sometimes justified.'”
You could report that as “54% of Americans think it’s fine to kill civilians in the name of capitalism!” but then you would be as stupid as the ubiquitous anonymousity who lurks under the name “Daily Mail Reporter.” [Note: Edited to correct missing words and failure to add up properly]
Curiously, more positive results were ignored both then and now. 89% of those surveyed said women should be treated equally, with only 5% disagreeing, only 25% had an issue with homosexuality, nearly 80% said it was possibly to be equally Muslim and British, 92% had a range of friends across cultural boundaries, and nearly 80% had respect for Jews (with only 7% expressing disrespect), while a similar number respected Atheists. More than 70% said they were more liberal than their parents.
The results are fairly meaningless of course unless you’re going to compare them to the general population as a control, but this hardly looks like a menace to social cohesion.
Which is more than you can say for the comments left under today’s article:
“Who now can say – without irony – “tiny minority of extremists”?”
“Ever remember the law called TREASON? I am so sick of PC UK and EU. This is why UK is a hotbed for terrorism!”
“And we’re still fighting terrorism where again? Oh right Afghanistan perhaps we should target schools in the UK.”
“The hatred that these people demonstrate is sickening to see and would not be tolerated if it were Christians behaving so in a Muslim country.”
“In which case…. kick OUT the 40% and the 1 in 3 as We DON’T need or want them here.”
“Its not that this is not know rather our gutless Governments failure to do what is necessary about it!”
“they are not content with just ruling their own countries – they want to rule the world!”
“the Quran commands them to either destroy or convert us.”
“A perfect reason to vote BNP.”
And so on, ad nauseum. I’m not saying there aren’t problems with radical Islam in the UK and further afield, but this reaction is dire. Who’s the bigger threat to society here, the average British Muslim student, or people leaving comments like the above, egged on by outrageous reinterpretations of the facts? I know who I’d rather be locked in a room with.
Originally posted in the Guardian