Former Equality and Human Rights Commission head turned arch-Islamophobe Trevor Phillips is out to tar Muslims in Britain as a self-segregated and reactionary minority.
Phillips says a new survey by the ICM firm proves his long-held belief that Muslims in Britain are a “Nation within a nation”. His claims have been taken up across the media as proof that the Muslim minority rejects the majority’s liberal ideas and refuses to integrate.
But Phillips’ research is flawed and the conclusions he draws verge on the ridiculous.
Muslims told Socialist Worker that his Channel 4 programme, What Muslims Really Think, is based on “lies” and only reinforces how “marginalised” they feel.
The clue to Phillips’ intentions lie in the word “REALLY” in the programme’s title.
It will doubtless remind many people from ethnic minority backgrounds of the way racists ask, “But where are you REALLY from?” after we insist we are British.
It’s designed to suggest that Muslims are hiding something.
Ifhat from Hackney, north east London, told Socialist Worker, “It’s a horror that someone in this position is using it to peddle Islamophobia. How could he have been the head of an equality and human rights unit?
“It allows our right wing government to say, ‘This is not racist, we’ve got a black man saying it’.”
Haras Ahmed from Waltham Forest, east London, added, “It’s a really shoddy piece of journalism and tries to paint everyone with a one size fits all brush. It’s doing what the politicians are doing.”
Even ICM’s data doesn’t show a single set of beliefs to which all believers subscribe. Instead Muslims hold a variety of views, just like any other section of the population.
And its methodology distorts the results. A poll of just over 1,000 people was conducted in areas that are at least 20 percent Muslim.
Half of Muslims live in areas that are more diverse than this but their experiences count for nothing here. Instead, we are offered a control group of “normal” British citizens that we can chart Muslims against.
When asked about harassment of Muslims, some 22 percent of respondents said it was a problem, 27 percent said it was not a very big problem, and 46 percent said it was no problem at all.
Yet Muslims in areas where they are a much smaller minority can experience far worse levels of Islamophobia—something the study, by its nature, excludes.
It was skewed towards areas of relative social poverty and people of particular ethnic backgrounds. Haras said, “The polling was taken in the most deprived areas and that’s reflected in the programme.
“If you went to ‘white working class’ areas, the consensus would also be that people are alienated and put out.”
Many previous studies also show that Muslims hold a variety of views on key questions.
A 2013 YouGov poll asked people what they thought of abortion law in Britain.
Roughly a third of Muslims questioned thought that abortions should be banned. But 13 percent—the highest percentage of any religious group sampled—thought the time limit for abortions should be raised above the current 24 week limit.
The idea of self-segregation is convenient for those who want to blame Muslims for their relative isolation and deprivation—and for conservative views helped on by that environment.
But the 2012 Dynamics of Diversity survey showed that Muslims are becoming less segregated over time, and repeated polls report a desire for inclusion.
Haras said, “We’re well integrated in Waltham Forest and any divisions are caused by the media whipping things up.”
Ifhat added, “Muslims who came to Britain have chosen to stay here, they do mix. Part of my family isn’t Muslim and the same is true of my friends. When my children and their friends go around each other’s houses, we’re mixing.”
Even ICM was forced to concede that 83 percent of Muslims are proud to be a British citizen, compared to 79 percent of the control group.
Some level of segregation can come about through discrimination—or in response to the sort of racism that Phillips is whipping up.
Haras said, “When Muslims from Pakistan or Bangladesh came, it was to areas with a labour shortage to work in the factories and mills. You’re stuck on a low wage and can’t afford to move out. When you come, English isn’t your first language and it’s hard to get access to things. So you set up communities that can support each other.”
Muslims face institutional racism when they try and participate in public bodies.
Ifhat said, “I used to be a school governor, but theypushed me out and tried to keep me out. You have white middle class parents who’ve come in and become parent governors. If Muslims do it, they say we’re taking over schools.”
No attempt was made to compare the views of Muslims with those of non-Muslims in each area—or of other religious groups in British society.
This is particularly important when evaluating Muslim views on homosexuality, where there is an attempt to portray Islam as uniquely backward.
Extensive surveys that show that all those who believe in god are more likely to hold conservative ideas on this question, with evangelical Christians being the most prejudiced.
Writer and activist Nicola Field signed LGBT+ Against Islamophobia’s statement against the programme. “The idea that Muslims are more homophobic than other people is wrong,” she said.
“I grew up in a white family, if there was any religion it was Christian. When I came out many of them were homophobic and some still are now.”
LGBT+ rights are not “British values”—people had to fight Britain’s establishment to win them. Nicola said, “Until recently we didn’t have the same rights, whether that was adoption or same sex marriage.
“In the 1980s gay people were being smeared as a threat to society and those smears had real consequences. Now Muslims are treated as outsiders in the same way.”
Phillips chastises Muslims, saying that 21 percent never go to the house of a non-Muslim. But if any group is ethnically isolated, it is white people. Over half only have white friends.
“British expats in Spain don’t speak the language,” said Haras. “They have their own pubs and housing and that’s not seen to be a problem.”
By Phillips’ logic we’re all terrorists
The “chasm” that Phillips insists is opening up between Muslims and the rest of Britain is linked to scaremongering over terrorism.
This led to headlines such as, “Two in three British Muslims would NOT give police terror tip-offs” in the Daily Express.
Only 34 percent of Muslims said they would report someone to the police who was involved with people who support terrorism in Syria.
But even fewer—just 30 percent—of the control group would do the same.
This only shows that a great many people of all backgrounds are reluctant to hand over their friends to the cops. There are many good reasons to think that way.
Asked about support for terrorism and Isis, Muslims were more likely to say they were sympathetic than the control group.
But the actual numbers are so low that no serious statistician would want to draw hard conclusions from them.
Some 7 percent of Muslims said they supported Isis’ principles aim of creating a caliphate, while 67 percent were opposed.
But when asked about how Isis was going about this, support fell to an almost irrelevant 3 percent.
Meanwhile 1 percent of the control group support Isis’s methods.
Phillips’ skewed reading of his own skewed data leads him to demand that “muscular liberalism” be enforced on Muslims who are said to have deliberately segregated themselves.
Phillips echoes the theory behind the Prevent strategy that sees terrorism as a product of “extremist” ideas.
Haras said, “This ‘conveyor belt theory’ is not backed up by studies or evidence.”
Phillips dismisses the possibility that imperialist wars in the Middle East have any influence on the minority that travel to Syria.
Under this narrative any Muslim who questions or stands up against foreign or domestic policy is singled out as a potential extremist.