Absurd Being

A place to take a moment to reflect on what it all means

Polls, Birth Rates and Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

We live in a unique age; smartphones, driverless cars, apps for every conceivable purpose, and a somewhat bizarre Muslim poll fetish. Every week it seems there is another poll reporting that some percentage of Muslims like this, believe that or want to take over the world one European country at a time. Don’t get me wrong. I love polls and statistics as much as the next guy but when I’m being relentlessly battered over the head with them, well, methinks the lady doth protest too much. The thing with polls is that while they are useful in reasonable hands and discussions, in the hands of a thug they become little more than blunt instruments used for inflicting as much damage in as little time as possible.

What follows is a list of some of the way polls are being misused along with some recent examples kindly provided by our friendly, neighbourhood, anti-Muslim nationalist:

1. Poor polling methodology – There are a number of well-known traps pollsters can fall into including things like coverage bias (samples not representative of the population) and selection bias (some members of a population having a greater/lower probability of selection). Of course, it’s not easy to identify polls that make these errors but in some cases they make it easy for us.

a. 4% of British Muslims sympathise with suicide bombers (source: ICM[1]) – However, ICM only polled areas where Muslims made up greater than 20% of the population excluding Muslims who live in more integrated communities and are probably more likely to hold more liberal or progressive views.

b. 1 in 6 French citizens (over 16%) support ISIS (source: ICM) – This is very surprising considering that Muslims only make up about 7.5% of French citizens.

c. 1 in 7 young Britons (around 14%) likes ISIS (source: Populus[2]) – “Young Britons” were defined as people aged 18-24. Considering Muslim youths only made up around 5% of the youths aged 16-24 in 2011[3]/[4] clearly something has gone very wrong here.

It’s no good arguing that, even though the results can’t literally be true they still show massive support for ISIS, because they have clearly failed so completely as polls that the findings are absolutely unreliable and, more importantly, unrepresentative (the most basic requirement of a poll or survey).

2. Blatantly false statements

a. 72% of Dutch Muslims say fighting in the Syria jihad is defensible[5] (ref: DDM) – Actually 72% of Dutch Muslims were “pleased that Dutch go to Syria to fight against the regime of President Assad”.[6]

3. Semantic “glosses” that exaggerate the negative

a. 1 in 7 young Britons “likes ISIS”[7] (source: Populus[8]) – Actually nobody said they “liked ISIS” at all. Populus asked respondents to rate ISIS on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being “a very warm favourable feeling” and 5 being “not particularly favourable or unfavourable either way.” The percentages of respondents who rated ISIS from 10 to 6 were; 2%, 4%, 1%, 1%, and 6% respectively. Added together that makes 14% (or 1 in 7). Not only did almost half of this 14% answer with a 6, none of them said they “liked” ISIS.

b. 31% of British Muslims “support murdering apostates”[9] (source: Policy Exchange[10]) – They didn’t say that. They were asked whether they “personally agree or disagree” that “Muslim conversion is forbidden and punishable by death”. You might think this a trivial point but then why was the wording changed from a passive sentence to an active one that includes the words “support” and “murder”?

c. “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”[11] (source: The Sun) – In this case IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) forced the paper to publish a “critical adjudication” because the question referencing those, “who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria” was misleading as it didn’t specify leaving to join IS (as opposed to fighting Assad or joining one of the Sunni groups). The word “sympathy” was also ambiguous as it could mean either sympathy for or sympathy with.

4. Cherry picking/Biased reporting – No alarmist article represents statistics in context or within the purview of a wider, complete study. Plucking results from here, there and everywhere ensures they are never in danger of coming to any thorough, reasonable conclusions.

a. 20% of British Muslims sympathise with the July 7 bombers[12] (source: ICM) – But what they don’t tell you is that same poll also found that 99% thought the bombers were wrong to carry it out.[13]

b. Why don’t Muslims denounce terrorist attacks? They seem to just accept (or is that “approve of”) them. This is a common misperception. Individual Muslims and wider Muslim community groups and mosques do denounce violence in the name of religion again and again. But which do you think is more newsworthy; “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” or “Normal Muslims like all normal people the world over condemn the Paris attacks”? And which sticks in your memory?

5. Contradictory findings – With so many polls being done it isn’t hard to find contradictory findings but rather than attempt to look at why these contradictions exist, pundits just take the most inflammatory finding and run with it.

a. A study on Dutch Turks found high support for jihad but little support for a religious caliphate.[14]

b. Only 34% of British Muslims would report someone to the police who was involved with people who support terrorism in Syria. (source: ICM[15]) – This sounds shocking but another survey found 94% would report someone whom the respondent knew to be planning an act of terrorism.[16]

c. 71% of the wider British population think migrants from Muslim countries are not integrating well. (Source: YouGov[17]) – And yet 86% of British Muslims say they feel very or fairly strongly that they “belong to Britain”.[18]

6. Irresponsible interpretation of findings – This is usually done by leaping to conclusions not directly implied by the answers to the questions. This is a major reason why polls are so ambiguous and open to (mis)interpretation.

a. 1 in 7 young Britons likes ISIS (source: Populus[19]) Conclusion: 1 in 7 young Britons support everything ISIS stands for. One online commentator concludes, “this means huge numbers of European Muslims are in favour of this:” and then shows a picture of hooded ISIS slaves for sale.[20] “Liking ISIS” (which was already a semantic gloss) does not equate with supporting slavery or murdering infidels. That may be what you and I associate with ISIS but the only way to know what someone else thinks is to ask them. Populus didn’t.

b. Thirty percent of British Muslims would prefer to live under sharia law than under British law (source: NOP Research) Conclusion: 30% of British Muslims are hard core fundamentalists who want to see public beheadings and stonings as legal punishments. The reality is far more nuanced than this as the Policy Exchange poll (referenced earlier) reports, quoting one respondent who answered in favour of sharia as saying; “well, I think life would be better under sharia, yeah, because society would have direction… but it’s hard because it wouldn’t work in a mixed society like the UK… but I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it properly. I know it’s the ideal system to live under as a Muslim but I know that it wouldn’t really work for non-Muslims.” This young man is one of that 30% but is clearly rational and thoughtful; hardly representative of a “divided society”.

c. 4% of British Muslims sympathise with suicide bombers (source: ICM[21]) – “Sympathy” with (for?) suicide bombers in no way indicates that one is prepared to commit a terrorist act… or keen on establishing a global caliphate… or trying to overthrow Western values.

7. Blind reliance on alarmist headlines – Otherwise known as; “It must be true. I read it on the internet!” Do any of the people who store up lists of inflammatory poll results as ammunition actually bother to look at the source polls anymore? Having an unlimited amount of information at our fingertips is great but unfortunately it hasn’t resulted in better quality information. To sift through the garbage though you need to do a little legwork. It’s just so much easier to grab the soundbite though…

8. Results are virtually never compared with the wider public or other minority religious groups

a. 28% of British Muslims agreed that they dreamt of Britain one day becoming an Islamic state (source: NOP[22]) – First, we can’t conclude these people are thinking of a state ruled by people like ISIS. Second, how many Christians would dream of the day when the whole world would embrace Christianity?

b. 57% of UK Muslims disagreed with the statement, “One of the benefits of modern society is the freedom to criticise other people’s religious or political views, even when it causes offence” (source: Policy Exchange[23]) – 43% of the general population did as well.

c. 86% of British Muslims say they feel very or fairly strongly that they “belong to Britain” (source: ICM[24]) – The national average is only 83%.[25]

Basically all of this boils down to one thing; polls aren’t facts. But most of us know this. They are a sample of a population in an attempt to understand that population. Remove the “attempt to understand” – which requires a detailed, thoughtful study, not spending a week making phone calls, asking simple yes/no questions, and tallying up responses – and all you are left with is a sample that may say something, or nothing, about the wider population.

Very few, if any, of the polls cited above qualify in this sense as an actual study. No further questions were asked to understand the responses and no reasoned conclusions were sought; in fact, once the questions have been written up the pollster could just about be replaced with a chimpanzee; listen and tick. The more reading I’ve done on the Middle East, the more I’ve come to see just how complex the issues and people’s feelings about them are. Simplistic yes/no questions coupled with simplistic yes/no conclusions that fail to appreciate these complexities are doomed to yield only a superficial understanding of the issues and the people who care about them. Of course, the real problem is that this is all the rhetoric-pushers are looking for; simplistic, prejudiced generalisations that allow us to scapegoat an entire culture.

The scary thing regarding this obsession with polls is what it says of the underlying intuitions of the people ‘Trump-eting’ these selected results; namely the desire to attack a specific segment of society. I suspect that if any bigoted or racist majority in history (American whites regarding blacks, Christians regarding Jews, Catholics regarding Protestants, Nazis regarding Jews, etc.) had bothered to conduct surveys with the fervour that our own modern day far-right bigots are demonstrating, they would have come to the same conclusions and been able to rattle off equally impressive lists of statistics justifying their bigotry. Hmm, no red flag there.

This Muslim-targeting agenda is evident in the way that all – every single one – of the anti-Muslim articles complain about figures that consistently show a minority of Muslims holding non-progressive or negative views. If this was any other topic, poll results like 70%, 80% and even over 90% of Muslims don’t want sharia, don’t sympathise with suicide bombers and don’t want to live apart from non-Muslims, would invite comforting assurances in favour of the group being polled. But in Britain, the finding that a whole 4% of British Muslims sympathise with suicide bombers is met with claims of a terrorist underground (here come the calculators) about 100,000 strong. This is madness of the highest order.

The bottom line regarding my displeasure with the superficial polling orgy the anti-Muslim nationalists are revelling in at the moment can be summed up by the following sentence; there are lies, damned lies and poll results.

Reading this you might imagine that I think all Muslims are saints, that I’m a defender of Islam (don’t you know it’s a religion of peace) and that I’m pro-immigration. None of these statements are true and nothing I’ve said commits me to any of them.

Obviously not all Muslims are pure, kind-hearted saints. We don’t even need to look beyond Europe’s borders to see this (crime, sexual assault, etc.) but this is only one half of the picture. We need balance. These anti-Muslim articles emphasise and exaggerate the crimes and terrorist acts only a minority of Muslims are committing while trying at the same time to paint all Muslims with that brush. This is dishonest and false. It is also the reason behind their bizarre statistics fetish. This statistic plus that poll result plus these figures all add up to a general perception that Muslim people are not people like us and we would be better off getting rid of them. I’ve already commented on the dangers of this xenophobic, nationalist attitude here.

Islam, like all religions, is a useless, irrational collection of outdated, sometimes brutal doctrines we would be much better off without. Muslims, on the other hand, are people.

Nothing I have said above is related to immigration in any way. Obviously, Europe has been completely overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of migrants that have turned up on their doorstep and this has led to a breakdown in the asylum process such that migrants have been let through with little to no vetting, they have been shipped to countries and towns in such numbers that those places are being pushed to breaking point, disproportionate numbers of those being granted asylum seem to be young males, and so on. These are all problems that need to be brought up, investigated and rectified. Xenophobic cultural slurs rooted in fear and prejudice and propagated in line with a rhetoric-blasting nationalist agenda (whew) have no place in this process and this is what I (and a significant majority of European Muslims) take offence at.

On to birth rates (once more). This is a remarkably resilient myth that just won’t die. Wildly alarmist rhetoric concerning both Muslim populations in Western countries and Muslim birth rates continues to fuel fear and hatred of this “invading evil”.

What percentage of the UK is Muslim? 15%? 25%? Try 5%[26]. (Most Britons think it’s 21%[27]) How about terrorist central, Belgium? Under 6%[28]. To keep this in perspective, Mexicans make up 11% of the population in the US and about 10% of Egypt’s population is Christian.

How about birth rates? What is the global Muslim birth rate? 4? 5? 7?! Nope; 3.1[29] and for Muslims in Europe it’s only 2.2[30]. What’s more, this figure is falling and has been in decline for years now. For perspective once more, globally, Christians have on average 2.7 children.

Now given the above figures how on earth can we explain the urgent and alarmist rhetoric pumping through the internet about an imminent Muslim takeover? Yes, globally Muslims are the fastest growing religious group but that is only a serious problem if you think that that all Muslims are religious extremists bent on creating a global Caliphate and they are deliberately having babies to achieve the subjugation of the West (cough *conspiracy theory* cough).

At any rate, we know that religious fundamentalists of all stripes have higher birth rates than both religious moderates and secular liberals. What do the right-wing nationalists suggest we do about this? Are they personally churning out babies to counter this trend? Should we turn on these fundamentalists and slaughter their children wherever we find them? There’s some Old Testament morality for you.

The bottom line is that these specious birth rate statistics just don’t translate into a global Muslim conspiracy to subjugate the West.

So, that deals with the rhetoric, but besides the conspiracy theories and ethnic/racial bigotry, there are actually some serious issues we should pay attention to. Among these is the breakdown in the asylum application process I have already mentioned, the apparent fact that young Muslims in the West are over-represented in crime statistics and the worrying reports surrounding refugee criminal activity, particularly sexual attacks and the unconscionable cover-ups police seem to be involved in.

I share the outrage and disgust you should feel for incidents like those which took place in Cologne over the New Year and were completely and shamefully inadequately dealt with by police. The stories emerging about police failing to deal with shocking crimes for fear of appearing to be persecuting migrants or minority groups are also absolutely inexcusable. No one is above the law; migrant or citizen. But no one is beneath the law either; automatically guilty by race, religion or creed. We offer help to those in need and we punish those who violate our laws. Neither our succour nor our punishments should be tied to race, religion or creed.

If so-called “Muslim ghettoes” are seeing a lot of crime, then that’s where we focus our efforts; increased police presence, community initiatives, research to find underlying reasons, etc. We don’t just look at the ethnicity of the perpetrators and start to propagate hatred, mistrust and anger towards the entirety of that ethnic group. Isn’t that obvious?

The larger point I’m trying to make here is that the far-right, cherry-picked, statistics-obsessed rhetoric against Muslims (Ban Muslims! Be wary of the alien “other” in our midst! Islam is an extreme religion therefore all Muslims are suicide-bombing extremists!) is not just unhelpful in finding a solution to any genuine problems that exist, it directly obstructs the clear-headed, rational discussions that we must have if we are to have any chance of finding real solutions. Questions like, “Why do more and more Muslim youths resent the West?” are important but the simplistic and shrill, “Well duh, they’re Islamic extremists in whose eyes we’re all infidels to be killed or subjected” response is trite, thoughtless, medieval and only creates a wedge between members of a society.

I don’t know what the answers to these questions and solutions to these problems might look like but surely we can do better than attacking innocent Europeans just because they share a religious affiliation with certain extremists and turning away innocent people who have come to us for help. We need to create the mental space for solutions. Both the uber-PC left (to the extent they ignore crime carried out by minorities) and the radical right (to the extent they demonise vast swathes of society indiscriminately and fan the flames of division) have to share the blame for any failures to achieve this.

[1] http://www.icmunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf

[2] http://www.populus.co.uk/polls/?search=israel&poll-s-year=2014

[3] https://www.mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/MCBCensusReport_2015.pdf

[4] http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/2011censuspopulationestimatesfortheunitedkingdom/2012-12-17#the-structure-of-the-population-of-the-united-kingdom

[5] http://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2016/04/09/dougsandersporkies/

[6] http://www.dagelijksestandaard.nl/2013/05/nl-moslims-massaal-achter-jihad-syri/

[7] http://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2016/04/09/dougsandersporkies/

[8] http://www.populus.co.uk/polls/?search=israel&poll-s-year=2014

[9] http://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2016/04/09/dougsandersporkies/

[10] http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/publications/living%20apart%20together%20-%20jan%2007.pdf

[11] http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/sun-censured-ipso-over-significantly-misleading-front-page-story-1-5-brit-muslims%E2%80%99-sympathy-jihadis

[12] http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/articles/opinion-polls.aspx

[13] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1510866/Poll-reveals-40pc-of-Muslims-want-sharia-law-in-UK.html

[14] http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2014/11/young-dutch-turks-radical-views-worry-mps-call-for-more-research/

[15] http://www.icmunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf

[16] http://www.comres.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/BBC-Today-Programme_British-Muslims-Poll_FINAL-Tables_Feb2015.pdf

[17] http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/4opseuuz4d/YG-Archive-Cam-migrants-integration-results-080513.pdf

[18] http://www.icmunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf

[19] http://www.populus.co.uk/polls/?search=israel&poll-s-year=2014

[20] http://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2016/04/09/dougsandersporkies/

[21] http://www.icmunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf

[22] http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/291#comments

[23] http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/publications/living%20apart%20together%20-%20jan%2007.pdf

[24] http://www.icmunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf

[25] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/10/uk-muslim-ghettoes-warning/

[26] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/5-facts-about-the-muslim-population-in-europe/

[27] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/oct/29/todays-key-fact-you-are-probably-wrong-about-almost-everything

[28] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/5-facts-about-the-muslim-population-in-europe/

[29] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/pf_15-04-02_projectionsoverview_totalfertility_640px/

[30] https://muslimstatistics.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/pew-fertility-rate-for-muslims-and-non-muslims-in-europe/





User Comments


Philosophy Categories


Ancient Greece