A series of blogs analysing the recent Channel 4 documentary titled, “What British Muslims Really Think”
Part 1: An Orchestrated Attack on Islam
Part 2: Brief Profile of Trevor Phillips
We now turn our attention to the Channel 4 documentary.
There has been much discussion on the survey from the perspective of methodological issues, with some commentators even edging on the patronising as the insinuation is made that “conservative views” are the preserve of “deprived areas” that house “Pakistani or Bangladeshi” people.
More troubling criticisms relate to the loaded question fallacies inherent in the survey, the applicability of questions to the control group, and the subsequent spin which Trevor Phillips applies. These aspects will be will be touched upon through this piece.
Accompanying the neocon propaganda documentary was a piece authored by Trevor Phillips himself in the Daily Mail. Both were a master class in spin constituted of a number of red herrings. These will be deconstructed to reveal a concerted effort to excommunicate the Muslim minority from society, rendering them the alien upon which neoconservative policies can be predicated.
From Islamism to Islam as the Problem
Right from the outset of the documentary, Phillips openly declares Islam to be a problem:
“I think there is little doubt that it is the extremist adherence of one particular faith, Islam, who have created a major fault in this country.”
Note that it is not “Islamist extremism”, but extremist adherence to Islam itself which is the problem. In other words, an increase in Muslim religiosity is made by Phillips to be a problematic cause of societal demarcation. Later on in the documentary he notes that the “problematic views” which Muslims hold is because, for Muslims, “it is all about religion”. Comparing his Christian outlook to that of Muslims, he notes,
“However, even amongst us Methodists, the Bible doesn’t provide a guide as to what to do every single minute of every day. Down the road at the Finsbury Park Mosque, attitudes are very different. For the believers here, the Qur’an provides teachings and guidance for Muslims to follow in all aspects of their lives.”
Phillips concludes that Muslims are heading in the “wrong direction” and would rather live under a “wholly different system”. Indicating the anti-Islam bias, Phillips has never (to my knowledge) publically aired his reservations on these same issues with the orthodox Jewish community, who also adhere to the “Torah way of life”.
Noteworthy here is that Michael Gove, who has championed Tony Blair’s ideological focus, in his book Celsius 7/7 makes the same precise point; that Islam informs each and every aspect of a Muslim’s life. In his book, he calls them “Islamists” – the perpetual neocon enemy on par with fascism. Nearly a decade after the publishing that book, Phillips now calls them Muslims.
Proving the “Other”
Writing in the Daily Mail, Phillips informs his readers that the survey holds a “grim message”. To prove the “chasm” between Muslims and the rest of society, Phillips cites several key details which only prove the epistemological imposition of a presumed moral superiority which is universalised to the “rest of society”.
To worsen this state, the questions themselves are impregnated with orientalised, positivist viewpoints. For instance, “obedience to husband” is insidiously linked by Phillips in his Daily Mail piece to domestic violence, ignoring the cornucopia of Prophetic narrations which posit the kind treatment of wives as the moral ideal and the right of the wife. In other words, an Eurocentric analysis is assumed which isolates and distorts the holistic understanding of Islam in an effort to destroy the “last bastion of Shari’ah” that is the European-constructed Muslim “personal law”. Would Phillips apply this far-right reductionism to Jews and Judaism too, where a similar dynamic exists?
By conflating malaises like domestic violence with theology, the effort of course is to discredit Islam. Taking this approach however, anecdotal evidence can also be used to question Western culture. Below are a few relevant headlines:
Is it the “Judeo-Christian” culture that is producing the above set of disturbing headlines?
In fact, according to one poll conducted for the Home Office, one in seven people in the UK believe that women wearing revealing and sexy clothes deserve to be beaten up by their husbands, and that women who nag and moan at their husbands deserve to be slapped by them. The poll further found that “about a quarter of people believe that wearing sexy or revealing clothing should lead to a woman being held partly responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted”.
For neoconservative philosophers like Roger Scruton, alcohol and its consumption is a “necessary lubricant of the Western dynamo”. Thirty-six percent of domestic violence cases occurred under the influence of alcohol in 2013/14.
Despite all of the above, we have yet to see these problems being framed as a Western, European or Christian problem. Neither is it, through this culturalist construction, made the subject of media programmes, surveys and stigmatization.
This comparatism deliberately seeks to “create a repulsion” of Islam by highlighting the (mainly post-colonial) “failures of Muslims”, and the “successes” (i.e. the normalcy) of the West. There is no comparison of say, failures in both Western and Muslim societies. One can easily visualise the inverse of this methodological approach; where the media is leveraged for persistent attacks on Western culture, with daily or weekly televised programmes focussing on why British women suffer from alcohol-related violence, widespread work place sexual harassment, eating disorders, industrialised plasticisation and “mutilation” of intimate female body parts in the name of beauty dictated by the expectations of the “rest of society”, and constantly ascribing all this to a barbaric and backward “progressive” European or Christian culture.
For Muslims though, this inexorable, neoconservative, culturalist attack is the alienating, stigmatising and discriminating norm.
Beliefs Unique to Muslims?
The “conservative” aspects which Phillips attempted to use to excommunicate the Muslim minority from the mainstream are shared with other groups in Britain. In fact, I wrote a dedicated piece on this point to demonstrate the political hypocrisy in reference to orthodox Islamic practices in comparison to the treatment of orthodox Jewish practices, which in some cases is more restrictive.
Whilst much fanfare was made of mere Muslim agreement to restricted polygyny (31%), research suggests that up to 28% of heterosexual couples are involved in polyamorous relationships. Indeed polygyny is not outlawed completely in Judaism, and precedents for its practice exist in the UK context.
A major issue was made of the responses regarding homosexuality in the survey. It also made headlines in major media outlets. In the Daily Mail piece, Phillips loosely stated that “more than half of Muslims think lesbian or gay relationships should be illegal”. In contrast, the survey asked participants to determine the agreement to the limited statement “gay marriage should be legal in Britain”.
As far as this latter statement is concerned, the Anglican Church has had major schisms over acceptance of same-sex marriages. Earlier this year, a majority of the Anglican primates voted to punish a US Episcopal Church for changing its marriage rites to allow same-sex marriage. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (albeit clearly showing signs of cognitive dissonance) and former Archbishop George Carey, who has called same-sex marriage “cultural vandalism”, continue to oppose gay marriage.
Just this week, a BBC report shed light on an orthodox Jewish woman who revealed that the orthodox Jewish community sees “being gay is the equivalent of being a bad person. It’s seen as an evil desire that is completely unnatural.” The article further shed light on other “separatist” practices:
“Our schools are completely segregated so girls and boys have little to do with each other from the age of three. The strictest families will even discourage brothers and sisters from playing together.”
Shari’ah courts come in for particular attention once more to prove a “parallel” system. But as mentioned many times on this blog, such a comment is never made in the political sphere regarding the Beth Din system which has been operational for some three centuries in Britain.
Unlike the poll and the subsequent media juggernaut targeting Islamic beliefs, articles about the Orthodox Jewish and Christian communities remain informative pieces. Phillips will not dare to declare “intolerant” the same beliefs in the context of Jews and Christians.
Neither will such articles become primers for a discriminatory policy designed to perpetuate anti-Muslim neocon agendas.
Clearly, there are other groups in Britain who share some or all of the views which are used by Phillips to construct his Other. The targeting of Islam only, and the construction of such beliefs as evidence of separateness from Britain is flagrant Muslim minority discrimination and a recipe for second-class citizenry.
“Segregated Communities” and Terrorism
Unlike other orthodox religious communities too, Muslims are actively alienated and smeared with the terrorism card.
Phillips explains that the winner of the TV programme “Great British Bake Off”, Nadiya Hussain, came from Luton but so did the 7/7 attackers, with the insinuation being that segregated communities produce “extremism”. However, again this type of analysis, which implies communities to be Islamic swamps which need to be drained both physically and theologically, is not relatively applied to white communities – the majority of what Phillips calls “the rest of society”.
Former BNP/Conservative candidate Robert Cottage who plotted to kill Tony Blair was found with an arsenal of weapons and explosives in 2006. He lived in the predominantly Christian (64.8%, 0.3% Muslim) area of Colne and had “strong views on immigration”, suggesting his racism was not particularly integrative. Michael Piggin, who plotted a columbine-style massacre at a college, had sprayed “No More Mosques!” on the wall of al leisure centre, and in another video, stated,
“We are against the Muslim invasion of our country. If you are looking at us… we will kill you, yeah – we are willing to take arms to fight for this country.”
The religious make-up of where he lived was 49.7% Christian and 36.6% no religion. Only 1.8% was Muslim.
Ian Forman, who also hated Muslims and sought to target them, came from Oxton, Merseyside, which is circa 96% “white”.
Are these communities also implied to have something wrong with them? Perhaps they are “adhering” to Christianity or British nationalism a bit too much?
In fact, when it comes to segregated communities, at least one long-term study examining school pupils indicates there seems to be greater attitudinal problems related to “white extremism” among the white/Christian community. Do not, however, expect a documentary called What White Christians Really Think, which insinuates “extremist adherence” to Christianity as a problem, being made any time soon.
Securitisation of Islam and Propaganda for Counter-Extremism Thesis
In the latter part of the documentary, there is a propaganda effort to rescue the neocon “extremism” thesis. The ICM pollster identifies the factors relating to sympathy for violence: wanting “fundamentalist Islamic lifestyle” and “wanting Shari’ah law”. Phillips then claims “there are many theories swirling”, with the Iraq war getting solitary mention – a reference to foreign policy – however, for Phillips, the statistics tell him that “Muslims who have sympathies with violence are significantly more likely to hold illiberal views”. He then concludes that these factors may explain why some may move down that path toward violence. This is a finding which is “the most significant” the riveted viewers are told.
The only problem is, using the same statistics, one can conclude the exact opposite.
The logic here is that the more separate and more religiously one wants to live, the more “sympathy” to violence the person will have. On questions of “separation”, aside from “completely integrated” which reads precisely like assimilation, three levels of “separation” are asked about in the survey (page p.83):
|Separation/Islamic Lifestyle Question||Percentage of Agreed with statement||Sympathy for use of violence for justice|
|Integrate on most things, but separation in some areas, such as Islamic schooling and laws||29||43|
|Integrate on some things, but prefer to lead a separate Islamic life as far as possible||17||29|
|Live in a fully separate Islamic area subject to Sharia law||1||2|
As the desire to live more religiously and separately increase, the level of sympathy for violence decreases.
A further problem relates to the control group and the context specific nature of the questions. As Jahangir Mohammed notes,
“The survey did put questions about Muslims to the comparator non-Muslim control group. However, there was not much point in some of them given they were not issues that non-Muslims had a close attachment with such as Syria. These cannot therefore rightly be called comparative. If ICM wanted to get an understanding of support for violence as a means of action and change, then they should have picked not the same issue but ones where non-Muslim communities might be engaged with. For example “is it okay for non-Muslim Britons to go and fight with groups like the Kurds against ISIS in Syria”? Or “did you support the Iraq war” would have been another. These questions should also differ for other communities, Hindu support for RSS and BJP, Jewish support for British Jews going to train and fight for Israel and Buddhist support for the behaviour of the regime in Burma against Muslims.”
Despite this, against the backdrop of trepidatious music, the pollster casually informs us that 4% who support violence (and therefore automatically terrorism), “equates to just over a 100,000” – a ridiculous extrapolation which also insinuates that there 640,000 of the broader population that also remain in the shadows ready to strike at any time. Indeed, this can be taken further; the 2003 Iraq war motion was approved with 73% of the votes. If Parliament represents the democratic will of Britain, and if we crudely extrapolate this representation to the British population, nearly three-quarters of Christian Britain is “sympathetic” to violence.
Such shoddy statistical derivations however, have a purpose. And that is to prove the defunct conveyor belt theory, and specifically, that adherence to Islam increases propensity towards violence. This, against a growing body of far more rigorous academic opinion and studies, and even Mi5’s own behavioural science study, which concludes precisely the opposite.
For Phillips, however, the data needed to fit his narrative on Muslims. The racist, terrorist-inspiring, far-right, counter-Jihad, neoconservative narrative on Muslims:
“What the survey is showing is, a nation within the nation.”
In the next part, we will examine the historic implications of such a statement and observe that this is as much about forcing the marginalisation of Islam and Muslims as it is about pursuing the neoconservative agenda to carve a new national identity and terraform Britain into an increasingly “closed society”.
 The moral ideal is exemplified by the Prophet, peace be upon him. As narrated by A’isha, may Allah be pleased with her, “the character of the Apostle of Allah was the Qur’an”. (Muslim). The following narrations of the Prophet, peace be upon him, are indicative:
“Fear Allah regarding your womenfolk…” (Muslim)
“A believing man should not despise a believing woman [i.e. his wife]…” (Muslim)
“The best of you is whoever treats his wife kindly.” (Tirmidhi)
“The most perfect believer in faith is he who has excellent character, and the best of you is he who is best to his family (wife)” (Tirmidhi)
“Do not hit the female slaves of Allah [i.e. women]” (Abu Dawud)
“The best of you is the one who is best to his wife and I am the best amongst you (with regards to the treatment of wives), for my family”. (Tirmidhi)