Deluded extremists or ordinary citizens? The battle for British Muslim representation in the media

Published December 4th, 2016 - 02:05 GMT
Far-right group the English Defence League protest against Islam (Wikipedia)
Far-right group the English Defence League protest against Islam (Wikipedia)

The British tabloids are infamous for their alarmist headlines and double standards, and Muslims have once again fallen victim today to a distortion of the facts.

A new study has shown that British Muslims are less likely to support terrorism than the population as a whole, with a striking 90% condemning acts of terror. Muslims also largely endorse the government’s counter-terrorism initiatives.

The report, produced by Policy Exchange, revealed that “the priorities and everyday concerns of the overwhelming majority of Muslims are inherently secular,” with their biggest worries being health care, unemployment and immigration.

Writing in the Independent, Saeida Rouass of the counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam Foundation, said that “[the] report is, for its mundane findings that British Muslims are essentially no different than other British communities, groundbreaking.”

Yet, the well-evidenced findings of the Policy Exchange research have been drowned out by the publishing of rather different figures in popular right-wing newspapers.

“Isolated British Muslims are so cut off from the rest of society that they see the UK as 75 per cent Islamic” the Daily Mail’s click-baiting headline crows. Muslims, in truth, represent less than 5 per cent of the UK population.

The Mail’s article apparently draws its statistics from an as-yet unpublished government review, which the paper claims has been delayed due to its criticism of the government’s handling of immigration. They do not reveal their sources for the report’s contents.

The same paper’s reporting of the Policy Exchange survey declared: “Only one in 25 British Muslims believe Al Qaeda carried out 9/11 terror attack and believe 'wild and outlandish conspiracy theories'”

Such headlines are widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, spurring on growing levels of islamophobia and racism among many elements of British society.

However, in reality brief headlines and statistics unaccompanied by analysis do not provide a sufficiently detailed picture of the attitudes and beliefs of a diverse community. For instance, this account, which claims to “fight radical Islam”, provides only a selective pick of the statistics:

Yes, there is considerable support for “Sharia law” among Muslims in Britain. However, the reality is that this support is largely theoretical and most do not, for example, use Islamic banking. Added to that, enthusiasm for Sharia is lower among young people.

The Policy Exchange report might well be ground-breaking. However, until media sources such as the Daily Mail cease to publish fear-mongering sound-bites and under-analyzed data, it is unlikely that it will find much ear for its nuanced results.

Meanwhile, Islamophobia in the UK increased by a staggering 326 per cent in 2015, and Muslims are increasingly feeling threatened in their own communities following the “Brexit” vote.



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