Asking what British Muslims ‘really think’ encourages exclusion

A new documentary by Trevor Phillips promotes the idea that Muslims are homogenous and threatening

Image: Shaista Aziz

‘What do British Muslims really think?’

It’s a loaded question. But it’s one Trevor Phillips, armed with a recent poll, will ask in a Channel 4 documentary later this week.

The former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Comission is sending out a message: whatever British Muslims say to you or others, they’re not being honest; any opinions they express could be a lie.

As Miqdaad Versi has pointed out, Phillips propped up this poisonous premise by stridently arguing that pollsters wanted to make sure the people they questioned didn’t ‘disguise’ their answers for fear of ‘disturbing’ people.

Muslims, he suggests, aren’t to be trusted. This from a man who introduced the subject in the Sunday Times by reminiscing about his childhood mixing with Muslims. As former Tory cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi implied it read like a classic racist’s apology: ‘I’ve got Muslim friends, but…’

If this is a move towards the government adopting a ‘muscular integration approach’, as Phillips has called for, it will fail because its very premise is flawed. British Muslims aren’t a homogenous group entirely separate from wider society.

But the way this poll of 1,000 Muslims has been reported it’s as if they’re a species being covertly tracked in a David Attenborough documentary. They are the ‘other’ for us all to gaze upon once trapped into giving an honest answer.

This intent focus on British Muslims perhaps wouldn’t be such a problem if this extremely diverse group of people hadn’t been lumped together in recent years; at the same time exoticised, as an object of study, and demonised, as a threat to society.

British Muslims often aren’t given the space to speak for themselves and that’s not what this poll is doing given lack of nuance Phillips’s presentation of the findings.

What’s more, Muslim are still underrepresented in certain areas of the British mainstream: only 0.4 per cent of journalists are Muslim, compared with 5 per cent of the population; they are least likely of all religious groups to be in professional or managerial jobs and they’re more likely to be unemployed or living in poverty.

Meanwhile Islamphobic hate crimes in Britain have risen in recent years. With an increasing number of Muslim MPs in Parliament the tide might slowly be shifting but the anti-Muslim bias that flourished over the past decade, in large part thanks to the War on Terror that far too often treated ‘Muslim’ as synonymous with ‘terrorist’, hasn’t gone away.

Yet there are issue that need to be addressed. The poll found that 52 per cent of Muslims asked didn’t agree that homosexuality should be legal. Homophobia is never acceptable; such objectionable views should be taken head on at multiple levels of society until they’re stamped out.

But unfortunately they aren’t confined to one religious group. Studies suggest that, although they may be improving, negative attitudes towards gay rights continue to exist among Evangelical Christians, as well as Muslims.

Essentially, this polling and Phillips’s accompanying commentary have cleared the way for entrenching the divisions Phillips claims he wants to eradicate. Despite what we’re told, British Muslims are not a ‘nation within a nation’ and community cohesion is a two way street.

Maya Goodfellow writes for Media Diversified, The Independent and LabourList 

7 Responses to “Asking what British Muslims ‘really think’ encourages exclusion”

  1. David Lindsay

    Do 50 per cent of British Muslims wish to make homosexual activity illegal? 25 years ago, you would have got a higher figure than that from the British population as then constituted. 25 years before that, or nowhere near that long ago in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it was in fact the law of the land. In Northern Ireland, especially, no small proportion of the population wishes that it still were.

    Nothing relating to homosexuality has ever appeared in any Conservative or Labour manifesto at a General Election. That reticence, which is ongoing, is not a consequence of Muslim immigration. In fact, the laws against homosexual activity in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are of British colonial origin. As are those in numerous other places, some of which contain few or no Muslims.

    One of those is proportionally the most Anglican country in the world, with a very high level of regular church attendance. Elsewhere in the region, decriminalisation took the Caribbean Territories (Criminal Law) Order 2000 to achieve. A direct intervention by the United Kingdom over the heads of the local legislatures.

    Think on.

  2. ad

    in large part thanks to the War on Terror that far too often treated ‘Muslim’ as synonymous with ‘terrorist’, hasn’t gone away.

    We certainly can’t say it has anything to do with Muslims being overrepresented among religiously-motivated terrorists, can we?

  3. Barry Edwards

    I’m sure there are Muslim extremists, as there are also Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists, atheist extremists and probably even agnostic extremists.

    There are extremists, even very violent extremists, in every part of our communities. But I have not seen anything that suggests they are very much a minority everywhere.

    The main weapon of extremists is to try and convince the non-extreme members of the community they are in that the ‘others’ have it in for them all. Phillips has just given them a helping hand.

  4. Luke

    I don’t believe 1,081 UK Muslims questioned represents the whole Muslim Population of UK 2,706,066 (2011 Census).
    It doesn’t fit with media reports in the past “Muslims are steeling our jobs” – “Muslim women are steeling Nursing jobs” ….how can the media then go on to say “Muslims are not integrating?” If they are working then they are integrating and working alongside other British workers., working and paying taxes.

    The Media “Muslims stealing jobs” is another load of rubbish, just looking for someone to blame.

    I am not what some call an apologist or whatever, I just don’t wear blinkers I look at the bigger picture. People in a box can only see what is inside the box.

  5. Imran Khan

    Not all Muslim are terrorists. Most terrorists in the world today are Muslims and I say that as a Muslim.

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