British Muslims Abandoning Labor;
In Poll Show Mainstream European Attitudes
The Guardian reports that British Muslims are turning against the Labor Party, which they traditionally supported, presumably over the Iraq War.
How hard it is to interpret statistics in a vacuum is demonstrated by James Lyons’s story about the new poll of British Muslims (who are about 1.6 million strong in a population of 59 million or nearly 3 percent). The two most sensational findings are that about 12% of British Muslims say they support the attack on the US of September 11 (and think further such attacks could be justified) and that 47 % of them said that if they were Palestinians they would consider becoming suicide bombers. And, 80 % were against the Anglo-American war on Iraq.
You could imagine the British tabloids having a field day with statistics like this. But if one looks at them in any sort of general context, they actually show how mainstream British Muslim views are in a European setting. (Of course the views of the 13% on attacks on the US are disturbing and I don’t mean to downplay their danger; but it would be wrong and dangerously blindered to see them as peculiar to this community or to exaggerate the numbers who hold such views or would act on them).
Look at the rest of the article. 73 % of British Muslims opposed the strikes on the US and another 15% fell into the “not sure” category. Anyone who has ever watched US comedian Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” segment– when he goes out on the street and asks the public elementary questions about politics and history and gets blank stares and silly wrong answers– knows exactly what that 15 % represents. A lot of British Muslims are semi-literate workers in menial jobs, and I’d bet you some large proportion of the “not sure”‘s have never heard of September 11.
Now some context. Rightwing Italian journalist and anti-Arab polemicist Oriana Fallaci wrote an angry article a couple of years ago because, she said, a poll had shown that 25% of Italians “could understand” the reasons behind the September 11 attacks. The NYT corrected her and observed “The [Fallaci] article said one-quarter of all Italians could not only understand the reasons behind the Sept. 11 attacks but could also “justify” them – although the actual polling data showed that 27 percent found the attacks completely wrong, 22 percent thought them mostly wrong and only 6 percent considered them mostly right.”
I read this to say that only 49% of Italians in general condemned the attacks outright, and 6 % strongly supported them. It is hard to compare two polls, especially on such fragmentary reporting of them, but it appears that a much higher percentage of British Muslims (73 %) unreservedly condemn 9/11 than did Italians (49 %). And, the percentage of the two populations that approved of the attacks may not be so far apart, depending on how the questions were worded.
Given that most British Muslims are poor immigrant laborers who face enormous discrimination from whites in a highly class-conscious society, these attitudes are actually remarkably sympathetic with the US against al-Qaeda. The real question is what in the world is wrong with so many Italians?
It should also be remembered that 55% of white residents of Louisiana voted for white racist politician David Duke. About a 10% proportion of political extremists is par for the course among Western democracies. In recent elections, about 15% of the French vote for far rightwing fascist Jean-Marie LePen.
Some 43% of British Muslims condemned Palestinian suicide bombings unreservedly. Again, this finding shows how Muslims are not at all monolithic. Here you have a major Muslim community and nearly half are agreeing with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about this. It is true that the poll found that 47% could imagine themselves becoming suicide bombers if they were Palestinians.
But this is a trick question. They don’t say they want to become suicide bombers. They say they could imagine it if they were Palestinians. British Labor MP Jenny Tonge said the same thing.
I’ll tell you what. Blindfold Ariel Sharon. Then pose to him a hypothetical: “What if Syria occupied all of Israel, and stationed its troops at checkpoints throughout the entire country? What if a quarter of Israelis were reduced to dire poverty and its children were malnourished? What if the Syrians had begun busing Syrian colonists into Israel, settling them on land they took away from Israeli farmers? What if Syrian troops routinely used excessive force against Israelis, and killed hundreds of children over a two year period in so doing? Under such a condition, could you imagine strapping on a bomb belt, sneaking into the Damascus bazaar, and exploding it?”
I know my own answer to any analogous question, which is a categorical “no.” I am more or less a Gandhist (if one remembers that Gandhi did not oppose all wars). But I really can’t assure you that Ariel Sharon, who is an extremely violent man and has killed thousands of innocent civilians during his career, would answer no. And that is actually the question the British Muslims were being asked, since they know very well what the Palestinians are living through.
As for the 80% opposition to the Bush-Blair Iraq war among British Muslims, it is low by European standards. In March of 2003 polling found that 91% of Spaniards opposed the war on Iraq. Spain, of course, sent troops in after the war was over, but the rightwing government was acting against the wishes of its people, and has now been punished for it.
Even most Americans were opposed to the Iraq war if it was to be waged without UN approval, and Bush more or less tricked the American public into thinking that a Security Council resolution would be forthcoming (or had been, as 1441). Soon after the Iraq War began, opinion polls were already showing that 2/3s of Americans were opposed to any more wars without UN backing. That is 66 %. Which is to say that if Americans were consistent, their degree of opposition to the Iraq war would be nearly as great as that of British Muslims. (Why “no more wars”? Why not “no wars at all” without UN backing?)
A recent poll shows that almost 60% of Texans think the Iraq thing isn’t going that great.