By Kat Hind
It is always concerning when media outlets produce articles, programmes or polls that claim to have the definitive answer to what all ‘insert gender, nationality, religious or political affiliation here’ think. This is increasingly concerning when discussing a minority group. That is why I am especially hesitant to give any weight to Channel 4’s recent survey on ‘What British Muslims Really Think’. Already I have visions of #NotAllMuslims and another ridiculous headline in the Sun that reads something like ‘1 in 5 British Muslims Condemn all Tea drinkers’. These kinds of polls just seem to produce hateful, ugly stereotypes and cause more harm to already vulnerable groups in our society.
The survey polled 1000 Muslims from across Great Britain, all of whom lived within communities where the Muslim proportion of population was over 20%. These areas are proven to be more socially conservative than more integrated areas, as one would expect. Some have argued though, that because around 50% of British Muslims live in these areas there is a certain weight to what the poll found. I would like to point out however, that if 50% of British Muslims live within these areas then 50% must also live outside of these areas. I may not be a mathematician but I believe that would make this poll the equivalent of one on ‘What the British Really Think’ where they only ask women- it’s only one, very twisted side of the story.
This is one very obvious and deep flaw in the poll that gives statistics such as ‘52% of those surveyed believe homosexuality should be illegal in Britain’ less of a shock factor. Still this is quite worrying that approximately ¼ of British Muslims, if we extrapolate the data upwards and suggest this is indicative of half of the Muslim population in the UK, believe this.
Again though we must look at the nuances within this poll. We’ve all done those surveys for teacher reviews, friends’ dissertations and online surveys where you get, like Channel 4’s poll, different levels of agreement: strongly agree, agree, slightly agree etc. If you asked a set of run of the mill Catholics how they felt about homosexuality it wouldn’t be incredibly surprising if some of them slightly agreed that it wasn’t right. The debate is still going on within their church today- why wouldn’t believers at least slightly question it?
It doesn’t make this opinion right or justified in our society today, but it gives scale to the statistic. Clearly this survey and its documentary wish to sensationalise the results. That’s what the media do best. This is so unbelievably harmful to our society however. In the UK today we have an incredible diverse population in terms of religion and race. This diversity will only increase. By attacking a growing minority with this kind of scaremongering, we slow down and reverse our progress towards an accepting, equal society, especially when so much of the press surrounding the Islamic faith centres on extremist groups representing a skewed take on the belief system.
I currently live in Jordan where faith is a much more present part of society compared to the UK. Prayers sound throughout the day from mosques. Clothing, eating habits and the relationships between men and women are all symbolic of different beliefs. Christianity, like Islam in the UK, is a minority religion but ask most Jordanians, Muslim or Christian, and they will still say that they are all Jordanian, they are all brothers and sisters. There is acceptance here that your religion does not change the fact that you are a valid member of this society. Similarly Jordanians originally from Palestine will say that they are Jordanian, this is their country now too.
Why then is there a need for this kind of poll in the UK?
We don’t trust what we don’t know and this attitude is toxic. Do you know what might be a good way to find out what a British Muslim thinks? By talking to your Muslim friends in the same way you would talk to anybody else. I have friends who are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Labour supporters, Lib Dems and the way I found out about their beliefs was over drinks at The Swan and Three. I didn’t need a survey to tell me ‘What Durham Students Really Think’ because it’s just not helpful.
This survey did happen though and the damage is clear. Of course everybody’s favourite Katie Hopkins chimed in, writing “British Muslims are not part of some rich tapestry of urban life. It’s a myth, dreamed up by the BBC, and perpetuated by the Islington elite. It is them and us.” She wrote those exact words, “It is them and us”.
If this doesn’t explain how divisive this kind of study can be, then I will never convince you that it just isn’t necessary. You can and never will know what all British Muslims think because you can and never will know what all British Anything think. That’s not how it works so we should just stop trying to explain away the key flaws in Britain today, a lack of acceptance and intolerance, and instead start working on fixing them.
Image: Wikimedia via Creative Commons