SEATTLE — In the aftermath of the Paris attacks perpetrated by eight European-Islamist terrorists pledging fealty to Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the group also known as the Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL), media pundits have come forward with a plethora of warnings and unsolicited advice to the world’s entire 1.6 billion Muslim population. Among them, several polls have been commissioned purporting to trace Muslim support for terror.
The Sun, the British right-wing news outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., published a poll late last month which claimed that one in five British Muslims has “sympathy for jihadis.”
Respondents were asked: “How do you feel about young Muslims who leave the U.K. to join fighters in Syria?” They could choose from the following: “A lot of sympathy;” “Some sympathy;” “No sympathy;” “Don’t know.”
Writing for The Independent the day after the story appeared on the front page of The Sun, Jon Stone noted “some very big problems with this story and the way it has interpreted a poll.” In particular, he pointed out weaknesses in the wording of poll questions which guaranteed results The Sun likely favored. For example, he noted, the poll question does not mention “jihadis,” and its vague wording doesn’t even specify which fighters they’re joining in Syria.
“There have been high-profile examples of British people going to fight on the side of, for instance, the Kurds, who are fighting against Isis.
Much of the media coverage of these people has been quite positive and such fighters were labelled ‘heroes’ in the national press after a Channel 4 documentary aired about them in September.”
The Guardian examined the methodology of the poll, discovering it had not been conducted according to established practices. Instead of amassing a pool of potential respondents and choosing them in a scientifically valid and randomized method, the pollsters cut corners to fit the newspaper’s tight budget and time constraints. They scanned a phonebook for “Muslim names” to get their pool from which they chose respondents that are supposed to be representative of the 2.7 million Muslims who live in the United Kingdom.
In fact, according to The Guardian, The Sun’s standard pollster refused the job because the budget was too low for them to do the poll properly. Further, the firm didn’t believe the method suggested would be scientifically valid.
The Sun provoked a Twitter-storm and the creation of a new hashtag, #1in5Muslims, which features some hilarious and acerbic commentary on the controversy. The U.K. press regulator, the Standards Press Office, logged 2,600 complaints from the public about the poll. The Sun’s sister Murdoch publication, the Times of London, issued a mea culpa of sorts when it acknowledged that the newspaper’s headline inaccurately characterized the survey results: “Our headline, ‘One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis’, was misleading…”
British MP Paul Flynn retweeted a pro-Palestinian activist’s warning that the kind of Islamophobia being spread by The Sun might incite a terror attack like Anders Breivik’s 2011 killing spree in Norway, which left 77 dead. On the heels of pressure from the leading pro-Israel publication, the Jewish Chronicle, Flynn deleted the retweet.
— Jo (@JOYOURPAPARAZZI) November 23, 2015
Referencing a report from The Independent which indicated a 300-percent spike in hate crimes targeting Muslims — particularly, women and girls in traditional Islamic dress — in the week following the Paris attacks, Stone wrote:
“People carrying out such hate crimes presumably think, for some reason, ordinary Muslims have some sympathy with the Paris attacks.
It’s hard to see how statistically questionable coverage of the issue helps reduce such crimes.
Maria Sobolewska also points out that counter-terrorism policy and extremism strategy may rely on misreported polls like the one discussed today. She says this is ‘truly scary.’”
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