Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Muslim attitudes and attitudes towards Muslims

At the end of January, an academic research report from the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter said that media coverage of Muslims was a factor in Islamophobic attitudes and hate-crime.

Almost all the media ignored the report. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

One who did step in to fight her corner was Melanie Phillips. As the report had suggested the use of the term 'Londonistan' was unhelpful, and that is the title of Phillips' BNP-approved book, that was to be expected.

Two of her arguments deserve comment. One was this ridiculous straw man:

The attacks on British Jews, which mean that every single Jewish communal event has to be guarded and Jewish schools now shelter behind razor wire, are coming from both white racists and Muslims.

But there’s no mention of that in this study.

So Phillips was actually criticising a report entitled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: a London Case Study for not covering attacks on Jews.

And then there's her view about whether the media influence anti-Muslim opinion:

This study claims effectively that such commentary incites violence against British Muslims. There is not one shred of evidence for this.

But she goes on to say:

Conversely, the authors make no acknowledgement of where 'truly' false and irresponsible reporting has indeed inflamed violence against a vulnerable British minority.

The way the British media reports the Middle East incites irrational hatred not just of Israel but also Jews in general.

She puts 'truly' in italics to make it clear that Muslims never suffer 'truly false' reporting (what about this or this?). But her argument is that while there is not a 'shred of evidence' that media coverage incites violence against Muslims, the British media is very responsible for inciting violence against Jews.

She says if Muslims are associated with terrorism that's because:

There is a significant terrorism problem among British Muslims.

But if people dislike Israel, it's nothing to do with the actions of the Israel and all because of false reporting.

If you believe the media has the power to incite hatred against one group, why can't it inform opinion and incite hatred against another? You can't really have it both ways.

(And as for the 'significant terrorism problem among British Muslims', it's worth remembering, as Seamus Milne reported in the Guardian, that Europol figures show 99% of the terrorist attacks in Europe over the past three years have been carried out by non-Muslims.)

Within two weeks of Phillips' piece, there was an attack on the Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Tennessee. Crusade-style crosses and the words 'Muslims go home' were scrawled on the building in red spray paint. And:

A profanity-laced hand written note was also left behind that disparaged the prophet Mohammed and even advocated the eradication of Muslims.

Yet a few days before the attack, the Channel 5 local television station ran a report entitled 'Inside Islamville: Is a Local Muslim Community Tied to TERRORISM?' Although Channel 5 admitted there was 'no evidence' of terrorist training activity, it ran the two-part report anyway.

It was, wrote Jeff Woods of the Nashville Scene:

a new low in broadcast journalism in this city...

We hope Channel 5 managed to goose its ratings a little bit with this garbage. Otherwise, Beres succeeded only in inflaming anti-Muslim sentiments.

The next day, Woods was writing about the attack on the Islamic Centre.

Now it may be that the two events are completely unconnected - clearly Phillips would say they are. But it's a big coincidence given the attack happened within days of the reports being aired and given the previously good relations in the community. A spokesman for the mosque said:

'It’s unexpected...The only thing I can think of is the sensationalized reporting [by Channel 5] over Sunday and Monday. That’s the only thing I can think of. Even after 9/11 we have never had any vandalism.'

Think Progress have an in-depth look at the incident and the Channel 5 report.

A few days after the Tennessee incident, Dr Chris Allen wrote the following in the Telegraph:

Islamophobia does not appear to be being taken seriously by the Government, the media or the general public and the situation is becoming increasingly dire - why this is remains unclear.

It could be because of a lack of understanding and recognition of the seriousness of Islamophobia; it could be because little ‘hard evidence’ exists; it could also be that anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes are becoming more socially acceptable.

Whatever the reason though, it is clear that neither Islamophobia – nor indeed anti-Semitism – are going to quickly or easily disappear.

He tied the Exeter report to a shocking report from the Community Security Trust (CST) which showed a disturbing rise in recorded anti-Semitic incidents in 2009 - up 69% on 2008.

Yet while the CST report was covered in, for example, the Mail and the Express, the Exeter report on Islamophobic hate crime wasn't. Why the difference?

The same fate befell the report Attitudes, values and perceptions - Muslims and the general population in 2007-08. It reported:

Muslims had very positive views about the level of cohesion in their local areas; the vast majority felt that people from different backgrounds got on well together in their local area and that their local area was a place where residents respected ethnic differences between people.

Muslims also expressed strong feelings of belonging, both to their neighbourhoods and to Britain as a whole, and more than nine in ten Muslims agreed that they personally felt a part of British society.

In 2007-08 Muslims also expressed high levels of trust in institutions. They were more likely than the general population to say that they trusted Parliament and their local council and, similarly to the general population, around eight in ten Muslims trusted the police.

All of which gives a very good impression of British Muslims and how they view British society and its institutions. No wonder it was ignored...

In terms of perceptions of religious prejudice, Muslims and the general population believed there was a lot or a fair amount, and that this was up from five years ago.

97% of Muslims and 90% of the general population said there was more prejudice against Muslims compared with five years ago.

Perhaps most telling of all was the responses to a question about 'personally feeling part of British society'. 93% of Muslims agreed and 93% of all people agreed - a noteworthy similarity.

When asked about the most important values for living in Britain, 61% of Muslims said 'respect for all faiths', whereas only 33% of the population as a whole said the same. As a minority faith, Muslims would be more likely to say that is important, but the difference between those figures seems stark.

And it's worth remembering the Gallup Coexist Poll from May 2009 which showed that when asked about whether Muslims were loyal to Britain, 82% of Muslims said yes and 6% no. When the general population was asked the same question about Muslims, 36% said yes and 49% said no.

Why does the general British population have such a negative view of Muslims? According to Melanie Phillips, the drip-drip of biased, exaggerated, unpleasant or untrue media stories about Muslims doesn't even begin to explain it. But given that many millions of people read or see this stuff every day, how can it not have an effect?

There's an agenda behind highlighting stories involving Muslims far more than with people from other religions. Why, for example, were terrorists Terrance Gavan, Neil Lewington and Ian Davison given far, far less coverage in the tabloid newspapers than the case of a Muslim woman who was cleared of 'failing to pass on information that would be useful in preventing an act of terrorism'?

According to two comprehensive surveys, British Muslims feel loyal to Britain, identify with Britain and feel like they belong. They believe people get on well and and there's strong community cohesion. They exhibit a high degree of trust in parliament and local councils (more than the British population as a whole) and in the police. They believe in respect for ethnic minorites and for people from all faiths to a greater degree than the population as a whole.

Yet how often do we see the tabloid newspapers reporting on any of that?


  1. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/2911175/Suns-massive-poll-highlights-voters-anger-over-immigration.html

    The sun has used this tactic before: make a dangerous and inaccurate comment about immigration and hide behind attributing it to asians. It did this previously by going to Bradford and getting random people to say something along the lines of "asylum seekers are bad news".

    Why is an asian's view on asylum seekers any more valid than someone White? And why aren the views of asians in Bradford any more significant than their views on climate change, say?

    It's not only stupid, it's pretty clumsy.

    This time, The Sun, reminds people that the writer, Anila Baig (once given a huge spread when the one-time TV critic shed her headscarf) is herself asian, by stating "Whose parents were immigrants" before Baig herself makes reveals she's from Pakistan.

    Why is Baig suddenly an authority on immigration?

    "I love multi-cultural, multi-coloured Britain..." seems not a million miles from "I'm no racist but..."

  2. A really interesting piece, nice one. I just feel that it is these serious issues where you excel and there is less of a need for you to get involved with debunking the latest crap written about Katie Price in the Star!

    Keep up the good work

  3. Anonymous (14.31) - Thanks for your kind words. For my own sanity, I have to vary the topics I cover and throw in the slightly less serious one every now and again. Some readers have emailed saying the prefer the lighter stuff, so I try to keep doing both.

  4. I am a Muslim and was not aware of Islamaphobia i had been pretty lucky. I started to wear a head scarf 3 months ago and since than have been subject to some hurtful name calling involving my religion. I am actually at uni doing a dissertation on Islamaphobia. I have found your article helpful and am touched by the passion you have demonstrated in your article in such an important phenomenon affecting so many Muslims.

    Keep it up


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