By Paul Goodman
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Earlier today, Sunder Katawala at British Future tweeted the full text of Sayeeda Warsi's speech yesterday evening to Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks). The Baroness broadened and deepened the argument she put in her controversial "dinner party speech" last year, but the most striking part of her speech is not the words, but the statistics. "Early indications are that 50 to 60% of reported religious hate crimes were anti-Muslim", she said, referring to information from the Association of Chief Police Officers.
She also quoted figures from polling, which found that "just 23% of people said that Islam was NOT a threat to Western civilisation", and that "only a mere 24% thought Muslims were compatible with the British way
of life – with nearly half of people disagreeing that Muslims were
compatible". Over at Demos, Max Wind-Cowie of the Progressive Conservatism Project has tweeted that he finds these figures "frankly unbelievable" and that it is "irresponsible" for Warsi to use them in this way. (He has also blogged about the speech here.)
Citing Drs Matthew Goodwin and Chris Allen, Warsi refers at once to "their" polling and "indicative data from a recent online YouGov survey". I'm not a polling expert, but would like to know more about the difference between indicative data and that which is (presumably) more full. That said, there is clearly a great deal of anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain, which I think another figure cited by Warsi – this time she cites Dr Allen as the sole source – casts light on: "74% of people claim that they know ‘nothing or next to nothing about Islam’ ".
Both fascists and Islamists, those peas from the same pod, claim that Islam itself (as opposed to Islamism) is incompatible with liberal democracy – often citing the same texts in the same way: i.e: with no or little context. This is simply wrong. Islam is in itself no less compatible with liberal democracy than its two fellow Abahamic religions. Rather, Britain is part of the worldwide stage on which the future of Islam is being contested, and British Muslims are themselves endangered by the extremism of some of their co-religionists…and by that, too, of others.
So: how much is there? I was the first Member of Parliament to call for a Select Committee Enquiry into anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice. And amidst these statistical claims, there is some evidence for one to explore. I reported almost two years go that Eric Pickles was to set up a working group into anti-Muslim prejudice, and his department is (rightly) supporting the work of Tell MAMA (see above) – which monitors anti-Muslim incidents in much the same way that the Community Security Trust monitors anti-semitic ones.
I hope that, as Tell MAMA continues to build up its evidence base, the Select Committee will take an interest in its findings. And while Britain has been a welcoming country for Muslims (as for those of other faiths), Warsi was surely right to say: "I don’t need to give you story after story about the mosque that’s been
attacked or the women who have had their headscarf ripped from their
heads, or abused for wearing religious dress, or the discrimination in
the job market or the online abuse."
As I've said before, "try swapping the word "Muslim", when you see it in a newspaper headline
with the word "Jewish". The parallel isn't exact, but it's close
enough to give pause for thought."