George Jonas, The National Post
Published: Thursday, July 31, 2008
Nearly a third of Muslim students in Britain believe that killing in the name of Islam can be justified, according to a poll described last week in a leading London newspaper.
The study, commissioned for Britain’s Centre for Social Cohesion and conducted by the Internet-based market research firm YouGov, also found that “two in five Muslims at university support the incorporation of Islamic Sharia codes into British law.”
At least, that’s how Abul Taher of the Sunday Times reported it.
Early reactions to the poll’s finding were predictably divided. Britain’s Federation of Student Islamic Societies was critical of the report. “Yet another damning attack on the Muslim community,” said FOSIS President Faisai Hanjra. Buckingham University professor Anthony Glees thought that “the finding that a large number of students think it is OK to kill in the name of religion is alarming.” An understatement even by British standards.
One of the study’s authors, Hannah Stewart, was quoted as saying that the poll was “deeply embarrassing for those who have said there is no extremism in British universities.” At the same time, Wes Streetling, president of the National Union of Students, found the study itself embarrassing, along with the Sunday Times report.
“This disgusting report is a reflection of the biases and prejudices of a right-wing think tank — not the views of Muslim students across Britain,” the Sunday Times quoted Streetling as saying. “Only 632 Muslim students were asked vague and misleading questions, and their answers were wilfully misinterpreted.”
A closer look at the study tempts me to agree with Streetling up to a point. Respondents were asked if killing in the name of religion can ever be justified. This is such a vague hypothetical question — asking if something can ever be justified — that even a normally pacific person might say “yes” to it. Also, while 32 per cent of Muslim students answered in the affirmative, only four per cent said it was justifiable to kill to promote or preserve one’s religion. The majority, 28 per cent, said that killing was justified to defend one’s religion when it came under attack.
Leaving aside whether or not killing in defence of one’s religion is the same as self-defence, accurate reporting would try breaking down variants of the answers to reflect how the students actually replied to the question, instead of lumping everything together to say: “Almost a third of British Muslim students believe killing in the name of Islam can be justified,” as the Sunday Times did.
At the same time, it’s difficult to overcome one’s “alarm” (to borrow Glees’ word) at even four per cent of Muslim students believing that promoting one’s religion justifies killing.
Four per cent of 632 is 25 — and terror isn’t labour intensive. On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 fanatics killed approximately 3,000 people — making it about 157 victims per fanatic, a genuinely “alarming” ratio. When taken together with other findings of the CSC study, such as 40 per cent of Muslim students saying it was unacceptable for Muslim men and women to associate freely, or approximately 33 per cent favouring “the creation of a worldwide caliphate or Islamic state,” the conclusion of Glees that “there is a wide cultural divide between Muslim and non- Muslim students” seems inescapable.
Measuring public opinion is an imprecise art even in the absence of manipulative motives, and manipulative motives are seldom absent from those who measure public opinion. I agree with Streetling who sees CSC’s pollsters having spun a study “right” that Streetling himself would probably have spun “left” — or suppressed. As it turned out, though, the study appears to have concluded reflecting both “the biases and prejudices of a right-wing think tank” — and the views of a minority of Muslim students across Britain.
Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, reacted to the report by delivering a peerless platitude. “Violence, or the incitement to violence, has no place on a university campus.”
Doesn’t it, though? One only wishes. Universities have always been hotbeds of incitement to violence, from Nazi-time Heidelberg to the 1960s “Situationist” citadel of Sorbonne. Or Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, where PhD student Kafeel Ahmed was said to have been radicalized enough to set a Jeep on fire and smash it into a Glasgow airport terminal last year.Universities produce violence more reliably than higher learning. Actually, for reducing violence in the world, abolishing universities might not be a bad start. Beats gun control, for sure.
George Jonas is a columnist for the National Post.