Are a quarter of British Muslims really extremists?

I hope not to write again about Islam for a while, having already written three pieces since the Charlie Hebdo killings. I aim that this will be the last for a while.

But, suppose that, in a poll of British UKIP voters, a quarter had shown support for violence to achieve their ends. You can bet that the BBC would broadcast that statistic with the highest condemnation, painting the whole UKIP party as extremist.

Well, in the BBC’s poll published today, out of 1000 British Muslims who were asked, two hundred and forty four disagreed with the statement that “acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet Mohammed can never be justified”. Scaled to the British population that is 800,000 Islamic believers who think that violence against those who merely draw cartoons can indeed be justified.

How did the BBC present this finding? Its headline was “Most British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals’.”. Is the idea that most Muslims are not violent now sufficiently remarkable that it becomes the headline? Are we so used to the idea that Muslims are violent that saying that they are not so is now news? Or is this spin, aimed at avoiding emphasis on the fact that a whole quarter of the British Muslims are sufficiently extreme that they do indeed accept violence against what is mere speech?

Note the BBC’s word “reprisals”, which didn’t feature in the actual wording of the poll. “Reprisal” means the “act of returning an attack”, and its use implies that violence is somehow an equivalent retaliation to drawing a cartoon.

The BBC’s report continues with analysis by Sima Kotecha, who declares that: “Islam is a religion of peace and love — not violence”. OK, but a quarter of British Muslims don’t agree.

Muslim protesters

She then quotes a young man saying: “We’re all being branded as extremists in this country”. Might that be because a quarter of you are extremists? If a quarter of UKIP voters or any other grouping accepted violence as a response to critical speech, you can bet that the whole group would likewise be branded extreme.

Kotecha continues: “an overwhelming majority [of Muslims] have said they’re angry that their interpretation of Islam has been eclipsed by an extreme ideology that is too often projected in the media”.

And yet the poll reports that roughly half of British Muslims agree that Muslim clerics who preach violence against the West are not out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion! If a large component of mainstream Muslim opinion supports violence against the West, then why is the blame on the media for reporting it? Surely, if Muslims are angry that Islam is often regarded as an extreme ideology, then their anger should be directed at the fairly large fraction of their own Islamic community who do indeed hold to an extreme and violent ideology.

If any other group in UK society harboured such views in such significant fractions they’d be condemned far more harshly. Yet the BBC does its best to obfuscate that basic point.

Islam protest

The BBC’s report continues with a student at Bradford College, Samaia Aslal, saying that: “It is up to the rest of British society to stop looking at us as some kind of threat, to accept us”. Surely it is far more up to the Islamic community to stop being a threat!

Surely it is up to them to stop accepting violent and intolerant ideologies in their midst, and in their mainstream, and instead to accept that free speech and satirical cartoons are a normal and laudable part of Western freedoms!

To be fair, the poll says that 95% of British Muslims feel loyal to Britain, that 93% think Muslims should always obey British laws, and that 94% would report anyone planning a violent attack to the police. Such attitudes are a strong foundation for a shared future. But that future has to involve acceptance of Western ideals of freedom and pluralism, and a rejection of the idea that anyone has the right to lash out violently just because they are offended, or just because others do not respect their religion the same way they do.

This poll has revealed that a worryingly large fraction of the British Islamic community holds to a violent and extremist version of Islam. If the non-violent majority of Muslims are really upset at the way Islam is portrayed and regarded, then their anger should be targeted at the sizeable numbers in their midst — not a “handful” of extremists but a full quarter — who support violence to back up their intolerance.

The peaceful-minded Muslims are in the best position to change Islam, and it needs to change from an ideology with a strong totalitarian streak to one that lauds the peaceful and tolerant acceptance of free speech.

To quote Maajid Nawaz: “This will require not just the voice of Muslims, but the whole of civil society standing in solidarity with those Muslims who are brave enough to challenge extremists in their midst. Islam is an idea: like other ideas, it must be open to scrutiny. But supporting secularism and challenging Islamism is not fighting “Islam”. It is moving from extremism to liberal pluralism.”.

19 thoughts on “Are a quarter of British Muslims really extremists?

  1. Neil Rickert

    “acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet Mohammed can never be justified”

    It is unfortunate that they used this wording. For “never” is a very strict standard.

    I expect that there are people whose view might be “I cannot imagine a condition where violence would be justified, but ‘never’ is too strong for me. There might be circumstances that I have not imagined.”0

    1. downingno9

      They used “never” very rightfully. Because there is just never a situation where a sheet of paper justifies violence against the publisher. You can curse them. You can write a hateful message in response. You can sue them (When there is a real problem and not just a Mohammed drawing. In this instance you’d have a low chance of success in a real court. I don’t include fatwa-courts. Because religious law is never real law imho.) You can even take to the streets – if you manage to keep it peaceful.

      But if you’re a civilized person you won’t go there and shoot them. Not even slap them in the face or spitt on them. Because that’s childish impulsive behaviour not sutable for a grown-up person. Provocation is not an excuse for violence. If you don’t like something speak out or ignore it. Even if that picture of Mohammed is intented as provocation. Which most of time was not the case. Muslims can’t expect non-Muslims to obide their rules. More so if said Muslims live in western countries and enjoy their freedom as opposed to almost all Muslim countries. Which btw is surely just a coincidence, right?

      If western people exploded every time they see something they find irritating the west would’ve crumbled by now. Generally people here are used to exposure to different opinions. It’s worrying that a large part of Muslims seem not able to fit in.

      Maybe there should be more social pressure by moderate Muslims. Because the radicals smear their image not the people that are afraid of the radicals. They should understand that it’s all a plot against them. The radicals create fear. Fear leads to lashing out against innocent Muslims. So in the end moderate Muslims will suffer from radicals’s actions. I’m not saying there is no discrimination. But this problems will only be solved if the wider puplic is not further unsettled by moderates taking sides with radicals. This religious stuff is not more than a tactic to radicalise people that have already adapted.

      [To avoid misconceptions: My login name is not meant to signify any political affiliation. I’m not even British. But it should be clear by now that English is not my native language. 😉 ]

  2. Phil

    It’s interesting the things we choose to focus on.

    Here in the U.S. roughly a third of all traffic deaths are a result of speeding. That’s something like 10,000 deaths a year, plus many more injuries. And it goes on year after year, decade after decade. And it never makes the news.

    After 9/11 we launched two wars costing over a trillion dollars. And yet we decline to significantly address highway speeding, which we could do dramatically without spending any public funds, simply by passing the full cost of increased enforcement on to speeders.

    This is not to imply that Muslim extremism is not a global problem, for surely it is.

    It is however to argue that reason suggests we prioritize our attention and resources on those doing the most damage. When we focus on Muslim extremists to the exclusion of more deadly problems, we are doing exactly what the extremists wish for us to do. They want to be on the front page, lead the evening news, and be the focus of our public dialog.

    And we are handing them that victory on a silver platter.

    This is because Muslim extremists are actually more sophisticated about modern media and western culture than we are.

    1. Patrice Ayme

      There is a clear self-censorship going on throughout the West right now, because people are scared of these fanatics. This, in turn, is deleterious to any critical mood, thus discourse, thus adverse to fixing any problem.

      One cannot have a sane public discourse if one cannot even draw a human being. Having public insanity in place of public discourse will affect the Republic, to the point it will die, and that is why it died in all and any nation that submitted to Submission (aka “Islam”).

    2. Ron Murphy

      While publicity around road deaths is slim there’s good reason to treat it more like random natural deaths. Though they would be preventable to some degree humans are a varied lot and getting everyone to drive at the right speed would be impossible, and deaths at the right speed would still occur. It’s not like drivers are going around trying to have accidents. Think of the threat from Islam more like incidents of road rage – acts of violence out of proportion to the dispute that incited the violent rage. They do hit the news quite often

  3. Michael R

    Moderate Islam is not a viable long-term movement, IMO, because there is no credible intellectual base for it. It’s futile to support such movements, in my opinion.

    Sam Harris is co-authoring a book with Maajid Nawaz, yet he is still skeptical of Islam’s capacity for reform.

    The problem is, as Sam Harris said: Osama bin Laden is giving a truly straightforward version of Islam, and you really have to be an acrobat to figure out how he is distorting the faith.

    When you read the biography of Mohammed, with all the gruesome head-chopping and sex slavery, how on earth could anything moderate be based on that lineage? It’s a disgusting and incoherent thought.

    IMO, we have to bite the bullet and admit that it is far too risky to continue with this dream of modernising Islam. Better to bite the bullet, admit that Islam and the West are incompatible, and instead seek an amicable divorce between us. Good fences make good neighbours.

    Muslim Peace Conference in Norway conducts straw poll: all agree with death for homosexuals, subjugation of women, stoning punishments etc:

    500 mourn the Copenhagen jihadist in Denmark:

  4. Patrice Ayme

    As it rose Christianism destroyed the Republic. In 363 CE, under fanatical emperor Jovian, an ex-general, a systematic poAs it rose Christianism destroyed the Roman Republic (or what was left of it).

    In 363 CE, under fanatical emperor Jovian, an ex-general, a systematic policy of burning libraries got started (Jovian may have been behind the assassination of laic emperor Julian, I am speculating). In 381 CE under ex-general Theodosius, then emperor, laws were passed to enact a “War Against the Philosophers”. Heresy (“making a choice”) became punishable by death.
    The Roman empire, which still had many characters of a Republic (which officially it was… Now a “Christian” Republic) exploded.
    However, in the next century, in the West, the Franks took control, and build a Catholicism so moderate that it made Paganism, Judaism, and Apostasy all legal (and conversions in all directions legal).

    Interestingly, the Franks, who soon built what they called “Europe”, as an empire, have the reputation of uncouth savages. “Frank” means Ferocious, not just Free.

    But the Franks had no problem with religious freedom. Catholics could become Jews: entire village converted, until the priest was the only Christian in town. Charlemagne himself, 4 centuries after the Franks acceded to power, had his friends call him “David”, because he wanted to be like Israel’s King David (not a friend of God, according to the Bible).

    Compare with the savagery of Islam: somebody who leaves Islam is to be killed, say the Hadiths.
    So what of the supposed great intellectual tradition of “Islam”? That sounds strange, on the face of it.

    What about the great intellectual tradition of Christianism? Well, the answer is that there is no such a thing: as soon as he became a fanatical Christian, Blaise Pascal produced nothing. All great “Christian” intellectuals are intellectuals first, and, second spent the reminder of their mental capabilities avoiding the fire in which the church wanted to throw them.

    In France alone, around 1530, three major philosophers were burned alive for having contradicted Catholicism. This explains why Descartes, a century later, preferred to live in the Netherlands.
    Contrarily to repute, the situation with Islam was even worse. At least, in the West, intellectuals could engage the Church in full combat, and they often won. As early as the Eight Century, the Franks not only nationalized the Church, but then forced it to teach all and any children secularly.

    This is a direct consequence of the Frankish leadership making the Christian leadership submit, starting in the Fifth Century. After that time, the Church was never again the government of the West (except inside the Papal states, a gift of Charlemagne, later de facto rescinded).

    Famously, around 1300 CE Philippe IV of France and his vassal the English king made the the Pope and his army fully submit. The Pope and the Templars both ended judged, dead, and, more importantly, taxed.

    So what of these great Muslim thinkers? The answer is that most of them were, truly Jewish or Christians, or very recently “converted”, or then did not finish too well.

    The fact is, the greatest Muslim university, Al Azhar in Cairo is definitively founded on what the Franks, 15 centuries ago, would have viewed as barbarian principles. It actually refused to condemn the “Islamist State” as not conform to Islam.

    Al Azhar has decided that those who renounce Islam and their children ought to be killed. Here is the full decision:
    “In the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful

    Fatwa Committee

    A question from Mr. Ahmed Darwish who presented the question through Mr. (Blanked out) of German nationality:

    A Muslim man of Egyptian nationality married a Christian woman of German nationality. The two spouses agreed that the aforementioned Muslim man would enter the Christian religion and join the Christian creed.

    1. What is the ruling of Islam regarding this person’s situation?
    2. Are his children considered Muslims or Christians and what is their ruling?

    The Answer:

    All praises are due to Allah, lord of all the worlds. And peace and blessings be upon the greatest of all messengers, our master Muhammad and upon his family and companions all together. As for what follows:

    We inform that he has apostatized after having been in a state of Islam, so he should be asked to repent. If he does not repent, he should be killed according to the sharia.

    As for his children, so long as they are small they are Muslims. After they have attained maturity, if they remain in Islam then they are Muslims. If they leave it, then they should be asked to repent. If they do not repent, they should be killed. And Allah knows best.

    President of the Fatwa Committee of Al-Azhar

    Seal of the Committee

    September 23, 1978”

  5. Phil


    Yes, people are scared of the Muslim extremists. But there is far more chance they will be killed or injured by their fellow citizens speeding or drinking on the highway.

    Thus, the extensive focus on Muslim extremists is not reason based, and is instead the result of a successful emotional manipulation campaign by those extremists.

    There’s an unspoken alliance between those extremists and western media. The media needs dramatic content it can use to build audience to display ads too. That’s their business model. The extremists need billions of dollars of free advertising. Each party is serving the needs of the other, thus we are fed a steady diet of extremist emotional manipulation.

    As to the cartoons, let’s start posting insulting cartoons of each other here on this blog, and see how long the conversation remains constructive. There’s a good reason why Coel would limit our free speech here in that regard.

  6. Phil

    Coel fairly wrote…

    “To be fair, the poll says that 95% of British Muslims feel loyal to Britain, that 93% think Muslims should always obey British laws, and that 94% would report anyone planning a violent attack to the police.”

    So, 93% of Muslims think they should always obey British laws, which reduces the number of problematic Muslims in Britain to some number below 7%.

    Here in America, and I say this with great confidence…

    If you set your cruise control on the speed limit, the maximum legal speed, almost everybody will pass you. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

    So while 93% of British Muslims feel they should always obey the law, perhaps only 7% of my fellow Americans feel the same way.

    An automobile is a two ton weapon traveling at maybe 50-60mph or faster, often only feet behind the vehicle in front of it. Deliberate misuse of this weapon results in tens of thousands of deaths each year and a great many more injuries, in America alone, only 5% of the world’s population.

    And you’ll never find this story on the front page. Here’s why. The story is far too common to create the drama needed to boost audience and ad revenues in western media.

    Muslim extremists are demonstrating one of their main points. They are convincingly proving that the western world will willingly give our sworn enemies billions of dollars worth of free advertising, due to an insatiable need for drama required to fill a psychic void at the heart of our culture.

    All violent ideologists must be met on the field of battle. But while we confront our enemies, we would be wise to listen to what they are teaching us about ourselves.

  7. Anton Szautner

    Phil says, “That’s their business model. The extremists need billions of dollars of free advertising.”
    “They are convincingly proving that the western world will willingly give our sworn enemies billions of dollars worth of free advertising, due to an insatiable need for drama required to fill a psychic void at the heart of our culture.”

    What utter rubbish.

  8. Phil

    About 400,000 people here in the U.S. are killed by the tobacco companies each year.

    Yes, smokers are responsible for their own choices, that’s true. And we use this as an excuse to ignore the fact that the tobacco companies carefully engineer and mass produce highly addictive products that they know in advance are going to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, and many more around the world.

    You don’t know the name of the tobacco company executives because their crimes, while being vastly larger than those of Muslim extremists, do not produce dramatic stories with exciting video, and thus can’t be used to boost media profits.

    There should be a single website called something like Every news outlet should be free to report terrorism on that site in any way they see fit. This ensures that anybody who wants to learn about terror can do so from a variety of different sources.

    And then take the terror stories out of all other media. Stop giving the terrorists billions of dollars worth of free advertising. Stop rewarding the terror. Stop using terror as entertainment.

    We need to wake up folks. We’re being emotionally manipulated by an alliance between extremists and the media.

    1. Anton Szautner

      You have a position? Don’t be silly. Take off that absurd “billions of dollars of free advertising” thinking cap that convinces you the whole world operates under the rule of commerce and salesmanship. It stinks.

  9. Phil

    Why did bin Laden attack the World Trade Center? Because it’s right in the heart of New York City, the media capital of the world. Because knocking those buildings down created easily accessible really dramatic video.

    And what happened next? The media ran those clips over and over and over again, day after day after day, for months. And every time, a free ad for bin Laden’s power.

    The first time we saw the video, it had valid information value, it was news. The next 7,000 times we watched the Trade Tower videos, it was entertainment.

    Our need for compulsive need for endless entertainment is the terrorist’s primary weapon. And we hand it to them on a silver platter. The terrorists get this. We don’t.

    1. PeterJ

      It may not be the case that Bin Laden was responsible. In fact I don’t believe he was responsible. I have no idea who was. We train the terrorists and equip them and then attack and betray them and then declare a war on terrorism and then wonder why there is so much terrorism. What a laugh it all is.

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