Hugh Fitzgerald: Pew Research Center’s Skewed Polls About Islam


Here is another of those Pew Research Center opinion polls, complete with its tendentious title:

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In Western Europe, familiarity with Muslims is linked to positive views of Muslims and Islam…

The short article goes on to note that those who claim to know “a lot” about Islam are the most negative about Muslims and Islam, while those who claim to know “a little” about Islam are not quite as negative. Those with the most positive views are those who claim to know little or nothing about Islam but do have a Muslim as an acquaintance, friend, or colleague.

First, the title ought to have been this:

“In Western Europe, the more you know about Islam the more likely you are to have negative feelings about Muslims.”

But that, of course, would never do.

Second, what constitutes “familiarity with Muslims”? The word “familiarity” is impossibly vague. Does “familiarity” mean having a Muslim as a friend? As a neighbor? As a colleague in the workplace? As the owner of a curry restaurant that you favor? As your garage mechanic? As a member of your soccer team? As a parent of your child’s classmate? There is every possible gradation of intimacy. How much, really, do you know about Islam if all you can claim is that you “personally” know a Muslim?

You know almost nothing. You know nothing about the 109 verses in the Qur’an that command Muslims to wage Jihad against non-Muslims. You know nothing about the verses commanding Believers to “strike terror” in the hearts of the Infidels. You know nothing about Muhammad insisting that “war is deceit” and his claim that “I have been made victorious through terror.” You do not know that Muslims are taught to think of themselves as the “best of peoples” and non-Muslims as the “most vile of creatures.” You do not know that Muslim husbands may  beat their wives if they prove disobedient, and divorce them merely by uttering the triple-talaq. You do not know that in Islam a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, or that a daughter inherits half that of a son. You do not know about the dozens of hair-raisingly antisemitic verses, or the verses that tell Muslims not to take Christians and Jews as friends “for they are friends only with each other.”

Across Western Europe, people who say they personally know a Muslim are generally more likely than others to have positive opinions of Muslims and their religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center study in 15 countries. However, knowing something about Islam – as opposed to personally knowing a Muslim – is less associated with these positive feelings.

This pattern is evident across several different questions the Center asked of non-Muslim Europeans to gauge attitudes toward Muslims, including whether they think Islam is compatible with their country’s culture and values and whether they would be willing to accept a Muslim as a member of their family.

Those people who, after they have admitted that they know nothing or very little about Islam (but they “know a Muslim personally”), are asked “whether they think Islam is compatible with their country’s culture and values,” are in no position to answer that question. For this alone, this is a confusing and even senseless poll.

But there is another problem with it. Those being polled were also asked this question: “Do you agree/disagree that ‘Muslims want to impose their religious law on everyone else in the country’? There are many gradations of anxiety about Muslims, and this offers only the highest level. Very few will agree with that statement as written. But what if they had been asked a different, more useful set of questions, such as: “Do you agree/disagree that a growing Muslim population has increased the security threat to this country?” Or “Do you agree/disagree that a growing Muslim population has made life more difficult for many of us”? Or “Do you agree/disagree that a growing Muslim population has been a disruptive development for this country?” Or “Do you agree/disagree that Muslim No-Go Zones are a problem for the police?” These questions make more sense. These are the kinds of anxieties people might be willing to admit, even if they have been subjected to endless propaganda about the need to avoid the appearance of “Islamophobia,” while the statement “Muslims want to impose their religious law on everyone else in the country” will strike a great many of those questioned as simply too extreme, and they will choose to “not agree.” It’s a question deliberately designed to elicit disagreement, and then to make us think — wrongly — that many people are unconcerned about Islam. Ask a different question, or many questions, and the alarm expressed will be palpable.

Too many  of us are naive and sentimental when it comes to the matter of Islam. We are naive, because we believe that if we know a Muslim, as the Pew Poll fulsomely puts it,  “personally,” then we necessarily must know something about Islam. In fact the reverse is true: the more Muslims we know “personally,” the less likely it is that we will know something true about Islam, for our source of knowledge about the faith — those Muslims we know “personally” — are the most unreliable of informants. Well-versed in taqiyya and tu-quoque, smiling outwardly while hostility lies hidden — these Muslims know exactly how to present themselves to the unwary Unbelievers.

We are Sentimental, because we tend to see Muslims not as they are, but as we want them to be, in our unproven conviction that People Are The Same The Whole World Over. Realism, especially if it involves unpleasantness, is not the sentimentalist’s strong suit. Unsurprisingly, Muslims put their faith’s best face forward with the Unbelievers they have befriended. They want everyone to know: that Islam is much misunderstood and maligned; that its message is peace and tolerance; that Muslims revere Jesus and Mary; that Jihad is a spiritual struggle; that the Five Pillars represent the “essence” of Islam; that in Islam “there is no compulsion in religion” and Muslims are told that “he who slays someone,  it is as if he slew a whole people” and  so on and so predictably forth.

What is the value of this Pew Poll that was conducted in 15 European countries? What did we learn? We learned that the more you know about Islam, the more you worry about Islam and Muslims. And the less you know, the less you worry. And if you know a Muslim “personally,” then you are even less likely to worry about Islam. The Pew pollers want you to believe that knowing Muslim “personally” gives you some kind of insight or understanding of Islam. That might be true, if we knew “personally” a Muslim in a Muslim land, secure and perfectly willing to reveal his true beliefs. But it is less likely to be true for Muslims in Europe, where they do not yet dominate, and who will be on their best behavior, for now, as they pull out all the stops to deceive and win you over.

To understand Islam you have to study the texts,  the teachings, the history of Islam, the history of Jihad. Only thus, and it takes work. Many people would prefer not to engage in such intense book-learning. Besides, all those Arabic names get confusing. How much more pleasant to think you can “learn about Islam” by knowing Muslims “personally” or attending any of the current tsunami of Meet-A-Muslim and Open-Mosque events, which will teach you not about Islam, but about how Muslims can most convincingly offer a sanitized view of Islam. These are different things.

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