That ICM Poll – common sense or populist media
The ICM opinion survey which was commissioned for Trevor Phillips programme has drawn – perhaps not unexpectedly – vastly contrasting opinions. Miqdad Versi said in a Guardian headline: “What do Muslims really think? This skewed poll certainly won’t tell us“. The Sun had: “Muslim ghettos in the UK: Warning that a nation within a nation is developing with different values”
How do we ordinary folk navigate between these two poles? I suggest two means to guide us.
Firstly , to read the actual ICM document which is easily available on line. Relying on media headlines is no good and only tells us more about the prior views of the newspaper in question. And as for the radio, the BBC in particular, we simply get a repetition of two different views. Online is no better with a multitude of voices with every conceivable opinion
Second, to draw on our personal experiences of contact, hopefully even relationship, with real live Muslims. If we do not know any Muslims, then that disqualifies us from having a valid opinion and should send us out to do something about it.
The ICM survey is available to read at: http://www.icmunlimited.com/data/media/pdf/Mulims-full-suite-data-plus-topline.pdf
As far as I understand these things, the poll met the best standards of statistical investigation and there is not much point in arguing about its representativity. Of course we should have a healthy scepticism about polls commissioned or a particular programme, but ICM are a reputable organisation and I doubt they would be willing to skew their methodologies for the benefit of a particular programme
So the question, as always, is how we interpret the results and what lens we use to interpret them. What pre-existing ideas, even stereotypes, do we bring to bear in assessing the significance of the poll? Is it possible that, especially where we do not have a ‘control’, that is, a personal relationship to start from, our interpretation might be skewed by what we have read in the media?
The tables include for each question the responses of the different generations. That seems to me to be an important indicator of the extent to which attitudes change by the impact of cultural adaptation. It is one of the more interesting results that generational attitudes have not changed as much as one might have thought they would.
On some of the specific questions which have attracted particular attention
Questions to ask about extremism
I listened to an item recently on BBC Radio 4 which consisted of a religious affairs correspondent visiting Bradford and interviewing a number of Muslim people about extremism and their views. The responses were mixed with some saying that the problem was not so much in the mosques but in homes with access to the internet; that not enough was being done and said by Islamic communities to challenge the ideology of ISIS and related organisations; and that Muslims felt at risk from the backlash from acts of Islamist terrorism.
What struck me was that the correspondent’s questions, though interesting, were superficial and added nothing to our understanding of the issues that we all, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or any other, need to address. The current emphasis on ‘extremism’, particularly where ‘extremism’ is defined in a shallow way as being against ‘British’ values of democracy, equality and respect for others, is insufficiently sharp edged to get at the roots of the problems we face or are perceived to face. One person’s extremism is another’s norm. For some, perhaps many, ‘radical’ is an honourable title. Christianity’s challenge to the dominance of the market over human relationships, attitudes to sexual relationships and gender and much else, might be ‘extreme’ to libertarians; Islam’s prohibition on alcohol and interest might be ‘extreme’ to hedonists and financiers; Judaism’s commitment to keeping Shabbat and to kashrut might be extreme to some commercial interests. ‘Extremism’ is too relative and culture specific to be a useful term. ‘Are you an extremist’ would seem a strange question to virtually everyone, probably including ISIS.
What is needed is a set of straightforward questions – the questions which are actually the kinds of ones that ordinary people ask, and particularly ask of the three Abrahamic religions. These should be questions, which although capable of being discussed and debated as to their precise meanings and particular exceptions, do give the possibility of straightforward answers of a yes or no kind. The questions below are a first attempt at this. They are drawn from a religious perspective but are relevant to people of no religious belief as they draw on Article 18 of the Universal Convention. The questions are at the present time particularly acute for Islam, but can be legitimately asked of anyone.
- Should every person in every country be free to choose or change their religion without hindrance or penalty?
- Should every person in every country be free to practise their religion publicly as well as privately without hindrance?
- Should everyone in every country be free to advocate their religious belief to others?
- Do people who kill innocent others in the name of their religion go to paradise?
- Should men and women in every country be considered, in doctrine and in law, to be of equal status and value?
- Should there be a nation state of Israel?
Each of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have passages in scripture and tradition which advocate or can be used to advocate, both the answer yes or no to the above questions. It is insufficient simply to cite passages or texts which provide a superficial yes or no. Each of us must be ready to say how, whether by contextualisation, reinterpretation or abrogation, our religious belief, rooted in our scriptures and reinforced by oral Torah, Hadith or tradition, can and does provide a deep and consistent yes or no to the questions
3rd January 2015
Anti extremism policy
Together with a variety of other faith leaders I attended a meeting recently at the Department for Communities and Local Government as part of the consultation about the “anti extremism” report by Louise Casey for the Prime Minister. After the meeting we were asked to offer any further thoughts, and these were mine:
- I do think that separation of communities is not something unique to Muslim communities but is part of the much more general fragmentation of society where because of technology, mobility and other factors, those who can move to be in areas where others ‘like them’ will congregate, do so; and those who cannot are left behind. Of course there are particular factors for Muslim and some other communities, notably Jewish, where patterns of prayer encourage clustering around mosques or synagogues. But beyond that there are also particular issues of separation for the Muslim communities which arise from for example: numbers and density where all needed services can be found within the community; cousin marriage and intercontinental marriage ( I saw a study in Bradford which indicated that even amongst 4th generation South Asian Muslims, inter continental marriage still accounted for 50% of marriages); satellite tv access and more. I think that whilst there are general societal problems of separation and clustering, there is a particular and significant issue in the clustering of Muslim communities
- There are many language issues that we discussed particularly in relation to integration/segregation, extremism etc . Whilst I appreciate that the report is to do with ‘anti-extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’, I think that these are rather unhelpful and over polemical words. What we really need is to normalise the idea that ordinary people can/should engage across all the differences that we know exist. We need to think of this as a fundamental aspect of society, that local human interaction in our neighbourhoods in a multiplicity of ways is necessary and enjoyable. The rebuilding of social capital is at the heart of this.
- Keep programmes well away from security programmes as much as possible
- The thrust of policy and programmes needs, I think to be focussed on ways in which encounter, association and mutual involvement are encouraged and facilitated at neighbourhood levels using local initiatives and organisations. There is a considerable amount going on already but it needs to be intensified and broadened. Examples are Near Neighbours, Presence and Engagement, the network of parish churches etc from the Church of England’s side; the work of other organisations such as St Ethelburga, Initiatives of Change, Search for Common Ground, Bridge builders, Catalyst, Feast, Three Faiths Forum, Faith Matters and many more across the communities. I think it is important that we should not over focus on ‘inter faith’ work. ‘Normalisation’ means understanding the work of bringing people together as being a much broader agenda than simply inter faith, which can add to the problemisation of faith in general and Islam in particular
- Much of this ties in with Mehri Niknam’s point that the issues are at least as much cultural as religious. Schools have an important part to play here
- Of course there is real room for inter religious and other leadership organisations to play their part. It is helpful for communities to see their leadership speaking positively about programmes and policies which aim to bring people together. IFN,CMF,CCJ etc are part of this swathe of leadership organisations. I was however quite struck by the participants in the meeting – pretty much the same generation as I was working with six years ago!
- Much greater use of social media seems to me to be very important – encouraging and facilitating local organisations to tell positive stories on social media. One aspect of this is the making of short videos for circulation through Youtube and all the other channels that are available. As we know, the ISIS and other related organisations are extremely competent and I read recently that their output exceeds by far the counter narratives on social media
- I think that there could helpfully be an emphasis on the organisations which promote training courses for young adults. Where these involve a residential component, in my experience, the impact can be very powerful in changing perspectives
The latest Vatican document on Jewish – Christian relations is of great significance
Here are some thoughts on the Vatican’s Document by the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich and Chair of CCJ
The recent Vatican document issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews – The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable – is highly significant both for Catholic-Jewish relations and more widely as a call to all Christians. It asks the Christian community to look back on the past 50 years of improved relations with Jews with gratitude, and it also provides a new stimulus for the future. Although it is not a magisterial document or a doctrinal teaching of the Church, it reinforces the ground breaking call of Nostra Aetate for the Church to revisit her approach and attitude to Jews and Judaism on several key theological questions, and emphasises the duty of those in authority to ensure that the message is heard.
While dialogue with all faiths is important, and should follow the principles outlined for dialogue with Jews, nonetheless, this document emphasises that the dialogue with Jews is qualitatively different for Christians because of the history and the role Judaism has played in Christianity. Indeed, the document declares that Christian-Jewish dialogue is not a matter of choice but a duty.
While affirming Christian beliefs about the person and work of Christ, the new document points out that both Jesus and his disciples studied and taught within the context of Torah observant Judaism; “Fully and completely human, a Jew of his time, descendant of Abraham, son of David, shaped by the whole tradition of Israel, heir of the prophets, Jesus stands in continuity with his people and its history.” Jews are to be regarded as the “elder brothers” and “fathers” of the Christian faith. Moreover, the document clearly states that one cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples apart from the horizon of the living tradition of Israel. More importantly, it warns that we would understand these teachings even less if they were seen in opposition to this tradition. While the Jewish origins of Jesus and his first followers is less controversial than it was when Nostra Aetate was first issued, there are still many parts of the Christian world where this has not truly been acknowledged.
The new statement also rejects supersessionism or ‘replacement theology’, the erroneous teaching which taught that Judaism had been made redundant and was now ‘replaced’ in the covenant relationship by Christianity. Instead, the statement explains that the New Covenant is not an annulment nor a replacement, but rather a fulfillment of the promises of the Old Covenant.
Another significant development in the statement concerns the question of mission. It aspires to articulate the logic for a very real tension between two seemingly incompatible claims: that there is only one path to salvation through Jesus Christ, but also that the Jews are not excluded from salvation because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The document declares that it is unquestionable that the Jews are participants in God’s salvation (for the Scriptures affirm that salvation comes from the Jews), but how that is possible without confessing Christ is and remains a “divine mystery.”
The title of the document itself is carefully chosen, quoting the letter of St Paul to the Romans regarding the enduring relationship of God with the Jewish people. By quoting this text, it is clear that the statements made here are emphatically following the teaching of the Church from its first days, and are consistent with Christian scripture.
The Church clearly and unambiguously is recommitting herself to a right relationship with Jews and Judaism. Vestiges of old, harmful and erroneous teachings are to be cleared away. The document also recognises that although texts and documents are important, they cannot replace the ongoing commitment to personal encounters and face-to-face dialogue. For these reasons, this document provides a significant signpost and must be welcomed by all who value Christian-Jewish relationships.