Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Strange Times

According to an article in The Times today, "Poll shows voters believe press is right not to publish cartoons". It continues:

According to a new Populus poll for The Times, two thirds of voters think Muslims must accept the principle of freedom of speech and the right of papers to publish such cartoons. But, true to liberal principles, they do not think that editors should publish them, out of respect for the Muslim community.

Polls can be misleading. The Spectator's website claims that "Times poll on cartoons should be discounted because of dodgy question wording / lack of any opposing case, an old trick". Well, let's give Populus and The Times a fair crack of the whip. To the Populus website.

Hmmm... No mention of this poll. The latest Times poll listed is one based on a small survey of 500 British Moslems between the 9th and 19th of December 2005.

But this one makes interesting reading. In fact, it forms the basis for most of the Times article linked to above. The article concludes:
Supporters of violence remain a small minority, but a wide gulf remains over the fundamentals of freedom of speech and democracy.

So, what constitutes a small minority? Overall, 7% think that suicide bombings can be justified against the UK (ostensibly, their own country), 16% think they can be justified against Israel, 13% in Chechnya and 15% in Iraq. 7% think they can be justified against civilians.

The phrase "tiny minority of extremists" is widely employed, but in the article about this poll, this has been altered to "small minority". I guess it is a small minority, but an average of more than 10% being able to justify suicide bombings under some circumstances is not cause for celebration.

Imagine this through the looking glass. What if a poll had established that nearly 10% of Britons approved of randomly killing civilians in Pakistan?

And it gets worse. Anomg 18-24 year old British Moslems, 28% approve of suicide bombings against military targets. But these military targets include British troops. Let's say that again: more than a quarter of young British Moslems approve of lethal attacks on their own armed forces.

Abu Hamza has just been sentenced to seven years for inciting murder and racial hatred. 27% of younger Moslems, and 13% overall, agree with his views.

28% of younger Moslems and 17% overall (with a bias in favour of women, for whom the figure is 21%) agree with Omar Bakri Mohammed. Omar Bakri has been living in the Lebanon since being expelled (in absentia) from Britain last year. But he spoke to the BBC yesterday, and according to Lebanon's Daily Star:
Bakri claimed "everybody" now acknowledged that cartoons of the Prophet which first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September were insulting.

"In Islam, God said, and the messenger Mohammad said, whoever insults a prophet, he must be punished and executed," he added. "This [cartoonist] should be put on trial and ... executed" if proven guilty.

In an apparent reference to Denmark, which has defended the cartoons on freedom-of-speech grounds, he said if nations fail to put people on trial for insulting Mohammad, they must "face the consequences."

So, nearly one in five British Moslems would agree with this.

A poll of just 500 people is not statistically significant (rather like the Lancet study a while back that concluded that there had been 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq but was based on just 30 households). But poll after poll shows that between 10% and 25% of British Moslems are essentially a mistrustful, alienated and fascistic group that approves of violence, whether or not they induge in it themselves. They also show that this problem is worst among younger Moslems.

There are between one and two million Moslems in Britain, depending whose estimate you prefer. One in five feel little or no loyalty to the country and, among the under 25s, that same proportion approve of violence, lethal violence, against British people and institutions.

The Times chose to end its piece on a reassuring note. In all honesty, I cannot do the same.

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