In Defence of Liberty

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On the ICM Poll of British Muslims

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British Muslims have a general affinity towards Britain, but some have concerning views. (Edited: Wikimedia Commons)

The polling company ICM conducted a survey of 1,081 British Muslims, which formed the basis for the Channel 4 programme, What British Muslims Really Think, presented by Trevor Phillips [1].

(Video: Channel 4)

The poll of Muslims was conducted face-to-face, but only in areas where Muslims made up at least 20% of the local population, between 25th April and 31st May 2015. Nearly half of British Muslims were not eligible to be included in the sample. The control group survey was a telephony poll of 1,008 British adults, between 5th and 7th June 2015. In both surveys, the data has been weighted by age, gender, region and work status. The purpose of this control group was to ensure that erroneous conclusions are not drawn.

The full ICM tables, which stand at 615 pages, include a summary comparing their poll of British Muslims with their control group [2].

Questions on social conservatism

83% of British adults say they feel strongly towards Britain, whilst 86% of British Muslims feel the same. 94% of both surveys say they agree, entirely or partly, they are able to freely practice their religion.

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Muslims feel a strong affinity towards Britain. (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

On questions of social conservatism, 33% of British Muslims in the ICM poll believed that girls and boys should be taught separately, whilst 10% of the control group survey agreed.

Only 28% of Muslims thought it was acceptable for “a homosexual person to be a teacher in a school”, compared to 75% of British adults overall. 64% of the Muslims polled agreed that Muslim girls should have the right to wear a Niqab in school, whilst only 37% of all adults do. Muslims had a higher propensity to agree that “British society treats women with respect”: 77% to 72%.

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Most Brits have accepted the idea of gay people teaching their children. (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

Continuing in that theme, 31% of the Muslims polled agreed it is acceptable “for a British Muslim to keep more than one wife”, whereas only 9% of the control group survey does. The statement “wives should always obey their husbands” had 39% agreement among British Muslims, and only 5% in the country overall.

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The vast majority of Brits do not believe that wives should always obey their husbands. (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

18% in the Muslim survey agreed that “homosexuality should be legal in Britain”, whilst 73% of the country overall does. Similar figures are found for the legality of gay marriage.

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Only 18% of British Muslims believe that being gay should be legal in Britain. (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

“Feeling thermometer”

A “feeling thermometer” allows respondents to say how they feel about a group, scoring between 0 and 100. Whilst the mean score for the Muslim perception of Jews is lower — 57.1 to 63.7 in the control study — a higher proportion of the control study have a unfavourable perception of Jews than Muslims do.

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Of the religious groups, Muslims were the most negatively perceived (but still positive overall). (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

This is calculated by comparing those respondents giving a score below 50 for their feelings on Jews: 39% of British Muslims give such a score, whereas 52% of British adults do, with 43% giving a score between 41 and 50. Indeed, British adults have more negative perception of Muslims — with a mean score of 55.2 — than Muslims do of Jews.

This distributional difference in Jewish perception by British Muslims is observable in questions relating to Jews, and anti-Semitic conspiracies. 35% of Muslim respondents agreed that “Jewish people have too much power in Britain”, whilst only 9% of the control respondents agreed the same.

Similar figures can be seen for Jewish “power” over the government and the media.

18% of the control group survey agreed that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”, and 34% of the polled Muslims agreed with that statement.

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34% of Muslims and 18% of British adults believe that “Jews still too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”. (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

Whilst it is not the majority, there does appear to be animosity and conspiracism aimed towards Jews among a substantial proportion of British Muslims.

Extremism mostly rejected

There were also questions about “attitudes to extreme activity”. 18% in both polls sympathise with people who “commit minor crime in political protests”. Small rates of less than 11% — though with British Muslims polled typically higher than British adults polled — sympathised with people who engaged in violence in political protest, threats of terrorism as part of political protest, organising “radical groups”, and committing terrorism.

83% of British Muslims condemned, to some extent or completely, terrorism as a form of political protest, with 95% of the control group doing the same.

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Terrorism is widely condemned. (Data: ICM. Visualisation: Tableau)

60% of the control group sympathised with those using violence to protect their family, with 44% of Muslims also sympathising. Violence in protection of a group’s religion garners 24% of Muslim sympathy, but only 7% of all British adults polled thought the same.

Religion is neither a shield from criticism nor a justification for persecution. The hatred towards groups must be criticised and counteracted, regardless of source or target. The rates of agreement with statements about Jewish power and the acceptability of gay people among British Muslims are worrying. This has been noted in other documentaries, such as Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK, where a young British Muslim was told he would be forgiven by his mother for killing a man, but not for loving one.

(Video: BBC)

Some positive conclusions

There are positive conclusions to draw from this polling too: British Muslims feel comfortable in the practice of their religion — which should be received well by defenders of religious liberty — and the vast majority of British Muslims condemn terrorism and violence, as well as feeling a great affinity towards Britain.

on-the-icm-poll-of-british-muslims-nadiya-gbbo-guardian

Nadiya Hussain’s victory on The Great British Bake Off was seen as a triumph for modern Britain, but Ms Hussain was more worried about her baking during the show itself. (Source: Guardian)

The programme presenter Trevor Phillips, who was the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said this poll meant there was “the unacknowledged creation of a nation within the nation, with its own geography, its own values and its own very separate future”.

Whilst there are certainly concentrations of Muslims in some geographic areas, stating that British Muslims have divergent values is rather overwrought: opposition to gay marriage may be found in Evangelical Christians, for instance [3].

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Mr Phillips also suggested that it was “alarming” that only 34% of Muslims would report someone to the police if they thought going to support terrorism in Syria. This ignores the point of the control group study, where only 30% of British adults thought the same.

Polling

Some commentators have chosen to attack the polling directly. Miqaad Varsi wrote in The Guardian [4]:

From the outset, it was carried out in areas where Muslims formed more than 20% of the population. These happen to be some of Britain’s most deprived neighbourhoods, with a disproportionately high number of people with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnicity. Choosing specifically to poll in areas that are poor and more religious conservative skews the results and makes them indicative of these areas and not of British Muslims nationally. And while Muslims were polled face to face — because, as Phillips says, he wanted to avoid the failures of the past — the control group was polled via telephone.

From a methodological perspective, the decision to focus on Muslims in areas with more than a fifth penetration was most likely due to cost, and also due to the focus of the programme: integration. The question of the sample choice can be answered in the poll itself: Muslim penetration and social grade does not seem to vary support or opposition to socially conservative statements by very large amounts.

For instance, agreeing that wives should always obey their husbands stands at 32% for British Muslims in the ‘AB’ social grade, but at 44% for those in the ‘DE’ social grade. In the control group, 4% of ‘AB’ adults agree that wives should always obey their husbands, and 7% of ‘DE’ adults agree.

There is some variation — even substantial differences in sub-samples — but it is not large enough to detract from overall conclusions: British Muslims are, on aggregate, opposed to gay people being free to love or marry who they choose.

Flippancy towards polling was encapsulated by Aatif Nawaz, who contributed to the Channel 4 programme [5]:

This makes the survey the documentary was based on all the more perplexing. How can it be possible that the views of 1,000 odd people can prove something about an entire community? According to the survey, half of all British-Muslims believe homosexuality should be illegal in the UK. I’m supposed to take ICM’s word for it? Because they were so right about the general election?

That is how polls work: we derive conclusions about a population based on asking a sample of people. You are not supposed to “take ICM’s word for it”: they wrote down the words of Muslim respondents and that was their answer. This is not to suggest — as Mr Nawaz rather foolishly does — that the poll somehow implies a uniform opinion: it is the aggregate opinion of respondents that is concerning.

All polls can be criticised for deviating away from methodological perfection in some regard. However, these criticisms neither affect the major conclusions that can be drawn, nor has any evidence been offered that British Muslims living in areas that have less than a fifth Muslim penetration have wildly divergent views from those within the polling sample. The poll was undertaken according to the agreed methodologies of the British Polling Council.

It is a debate for the whole of British society, about how welcoming we are, about how integrated recent immigrants are, about the values we perpetuate. That debate must continue unabated.

References

[1] ICM, 2016. ICM Muslims survey for Channel 4. Available from: http://www.icmunlimited.com/media-centre/polls/icm-unlimited-survey-for-the-channel-4-programme-what-muslims-really-think [Accessed: 16th April 2016]

[2] ICM, 2016. ICM Muslims survey Full Tables plus topline. Available from: http://www.icmunlimited.com/data/media/pdf/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf [Accessed: 16th April 2016]

[3] Doré, L., 2016. The majority of young C of E, Anglican and Episcopal Christians agree with same-sex marriage. Indy 100. Available from: http://indy100.independent.co.uk/article/the-majority-of-young-c-of-e-anglican-and-episcopal-christians-agree-with-samesex-marriage–ZkKps1IV6e [Accessed: 16th April 2016]

[4] Versi, M., 2016. What do Muslims really think? This skewed poll certainly won’t tell us. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/12/what-do-muslims-think-skewed-poll-wont-tell-us [Accessed: 16th April 2016]

[5] Nawaz, A., 2016. Not all British Muslims think the same – whatever Channel 4 might claim. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/15/channel-4-islamophobic-bandwagon-british-muslims [Accessed: 16th April 2016]

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