• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Spinning Statistics on Muslims

The PA headline reproduced in The Scotsman announces shocking news:

British Muslims ‘Back Terror Strikes on US’

Apparently, a poll has discovered that the Muslims of Britain support al-Qaida! However, if you decide to read on, you find that

Attacks on the US by al Qaida or other groups were viewed as justified by 13% of the 500 British Muslims questioned. Another 15% said they did not know whether such attacks are wrong or right.

In other words, as The Guardian (the newspaper that commissioned the poll) puts it rather less sensationally:

The ICM survey…shows that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims – 73% – are strongly opposed to terrorist attacks by al-Qaida and other organisations. But a small minority – 13% of British Muslims – disturbingly say they believe further such attacks on the US would be justified.

This interpretation is rather at odds with the impression given by the PA headline: a headline that many people will not look beyond, and which is currently on the religious news websites.

The Guardian also explains the methodology of the poll in more detail than the PA report gives us:

ICM interviewed a random sample of 500 Muslims between March 3 and 11 2004. The interviews were conducted by telephone throughout the country. ICM also interviewed a random sample of 1,014 adults aged 18 and over by telephone between March 10-11, 2004. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

That’s fine as far at it goes, but among British Muslims there are Arabs, Pakistanis, West Africans, Turks, white converts and many other ethnic groups, as well as confessional differences between and amongst Shias, Sunnis and nominal Muslims. A random sample of 500 Muslims that may or may not represent all these strands seems to me of limited value.

One Response

  1. I too was shocked by the article/poll you mention. The open scapegoating of Muslims is dreadful and shows all the signs of becoming worse.
    Casual lumping together of all Muslims, or simplistic examples of Islamic ‘ideas’ can only lead to confusion, scapegoating and racism.

    The spin on the Guardian poll you mention is one such example. Already in France the issue of the veil has been used to demonise an entire religious population, even though a fraction of that population would desire to wear the Hijab.

    But for a government like Blair’s, which has been no stranger to the scapegoating tactic, can be expected to repeat this strategy with regard to Islam.

    The consequences of Blunkett’s attitude to Asylum seekers is the rise of the BNP in the North West. I find it truely scary to consider what the consequences of serious scapegoating of Muslims and their religion might be.

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